The Children's Book Compass

Posts Tagged ‘Random House

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.




This last summer was filled with teaching summer school classes and a dream vacation to Europe.  One of the best parts was attending the IBBY conference in Santiago De Compostela, Spain.  Since returning home, I have been reading some wonderful books.  This post will focus on the excellent nonfiction and biographies I found.  These titles will tantalize the reading taste buds of youngsters who like to read about things that are “real and have really happened.” So I am back to blogging this time about biography and nonfiction.

Dave the Potter Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban C. Hill.  Illus. by Bryan Collier.  (2010).  Little, Brown and Company.  Pages not numbered.  All Ages.  Biography.

This unusual and stunning biography touches the heart as the sparse, lyrical text and powerful illustrations team to unfold the story of a slave, whose pottery and the poems he inscribed on them made him an important American artist.  The poetic text concentrates on Dave’s process of making the pottery.  The book ends with, “But before the jar/completely hardened,/Dave picked up a stick/and wrote to let us know/that he was here./I wonder where/is all my relation/friendship to all–/and, every nation.”  Collier uses collage and watercolors to show different perspectives of making the pots.  Some are a series of close-ups of Dave’s hands molding the pots.  Other images show the environment where Dave worked.  At the end Hill provides more information about Dave, his poems and a photograph of five pots.  Both the author’s and illustrator’s notes tell about the inspiration and research for the book.  A bibliography and list of websites offer ways for students to learn more about Dave.

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy.  (2010).  Simon & Schuster.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 1-5.  Biography.

This book has lots of kid appeal from the endpapers that feature colorful bubble gum balls on a bright pink background to the last pages with “Facts about Gum” and “More Facts About Gum.”  McCarthy concentrates on how Walter Diemer, an accountant for a candy and gum factory, got stuck on inventing a new kind of gum, bubble gum.  Walter “spent months playing with different mixtures” until the mixture “bubbled and popped.”’ Walter thought the mixture needed some color.  ““Pink coloring was the only one I had at hand,”” so bubble gum became pink!  Walter’s “Dubble Bubble” became a success and Walter was promoted to Vice-President of the company.  The colorful comic illustrations add to the fun.  The facts at the end will intrigue children, i.e. “If you chew gum nonstop for a year straight you will lose eleven pounds (good luck with that, though!).”

Bulu: African Wonder Dog by Dick Houston. (2010).  Random House.  323 pages.  Grades 5-9.  Biography.

This is a great dog story but also an account of a remarkable couple, Anna and Steve Tolan.  The Tolans, former police officers, left their comfortable life in England for new adventures in Zambia.  There they created a refuge for orphaned animals and a wildlife education center for the children of the area.  The Tolans acquired Bulu as a puppy and he is the star of their story.  They were warned about having a pet in the African bush, and some of Bulu’s harrowing adventures show why that warning was accurate.  He has encounters with a cobra, crocodile and lions.  Bulu has heart and unusual courage and he survives.  He fosters and nurtures many of the orphans – monkeys, warthogs, a baboon, a bushbuck, a baby elephant.  Black and white photographs enrich the text and show Bulu with the other animals.  There is humor and suspense in this book.  It would make an excellent choice to read aloud.

How to Clean a Hippopotamus: A Look At Unusual Animal Partnerships by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page. (2010).  Houghton Mifflin.  Pages not numbered.  Grades 1-4.  Nonfiction.

Jenkins and Page provide young readers with fascinating facts about animal symbiosis.  The text describes how the animals have formed relationships in which each animal helps the other.  For example, the oxpecker bird “debugs” large African animals like the giraffe, rhino, deer and buffalo by searching “for ticks and insects, pulling them off with its beak.”  The bird also warns its host when predators are approaching.  The collage illustrations feature each host animal and its partner with appealing details.  The book design makes it readable and attractive.  The back matter provides more information about each featured animal and symbiosis.  This is a book that children will pour over and return to again and again.


The next three books are outstanding new entries in the “Scientists in the Field” series.  Together the books demonstrate how scientists around the world are working toward saving our environment and the creatures that dwell in it.  Each book features stunning, full color, photographs that show close-ups of the creatures, the environments they live in and the scientists at work.  The writing in each book gathers the reader into the narrative with stories from the field.   These books are also outstanding in the way their text features, like sidebars, captions, insets, glossaries, indexes, further resources, guides to helping save the creatures, maps, bibliographies, appendixes are used to develop and extend the informative texts.

The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns.  Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz.  (2010).  Houghton Mifflin.  66 pages. Grades 5-8.  Nonfiction.

The first sentence in this book makes the reader an active participant in the story.   “Put on your veil, grab your hive tool, and light up your smoker… …we’re going into a beehive.”  Burns first explains the vital role played by honey bees in pollinating crops, fruit and nut trees and vegetable plants.  Then she describes colony collapse disorder (CCD), a mysterious scourge that is wiping out hives all over our country, and how scientists are working to understand how to combat it.  The reader learns about bees and the ways bee keepers are taking care of them.  Photographs of the bees in the hive and at their work are detailed and exciting to see.  It is especially intriguing to learn about the scientists’ careful detective work in addressing the possible causes of CCD.  An appendix provides more information about this amazing insect.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery.  Photographs by Nic Bishop.  (2010).  Houghton Mifflin.  74 pages. Grades 5-8.  Nonfiction.

Montgomery and Bishop have other prize winning books in this series.  This is sure to be another winner for them.  This book tells about a project on a remote island off the New Zealand coast to save the last ninety-one kakapo parrots on earth.  Compelling writing paints visual portraits of the unique parrots and the scientists’ efforts to save them.

It’s hours past midnight.  You’d think any self-respecting parrot would be asleep.  But not Lisa.

No, despite the late hour, this huge, soft, moss-green bird, looking somewhat like a parakeet who has eaten one side of the mushroom in Alice in Wonderland and grown into an eight-pound giant, decides this is a great time to waddle out of her nest—a nest that’s not in a tree, like a normal parrot’s, but underground.

A large size photograph of the bird accompanies these opening paragraphs.  Montgomery and Bishop became part of the story because they spent ten-days on the island learning about the work of New Zealand’s National Kakapo Recovery Team.  One of the last photographs shows Montgomery in “a dazzling encounter” with one of the parrots.

Project Seahorse by Pamela S. Turner.   Photographs by  Scott Tuason.  (2010).  Houghton Mifflin.   57 pages.  Grades 5-8.  Nonfiction.

This book also profiles an animal, the seahorse, which is in trouble because of environmental damage and overfishing.  The underwater photographs of the appealing creatures dazzle.  A variety of the species are pictured.  This book focuses on the coral reefs off Handumon, a small village on an island in the Philippines.  There the two women scientists who have founded Project Seahorse work tirelessly with local fishermen, villages and their research team to protect the seahorses and the livelihood of local fishing families.  The photos of the scuba divers, fishermen at work and the gorgeous life of the coral reef compel the reader’s attention.  Some chapters are just devoted to describing the unique aspects of the life cycle of the seahorse like the way the male seahorse gives birth from his brood pouch.  Other chapters outline the threats to this gentle creature like traditional Chinese Medicine that uses dried, ground up seahorses for medicine.  A final chapter describes the positive outcomes that have come about through the efforts of Project Seahorse.

Pointing the Direction to New Books for Children and Teens

Marilyn Carpenter, PhD.

Contact Marilyn

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