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Staff Picks: Books

For Lizzie freedom means learning

 In Lesa Cline-Ransome's book Freedom's School, one day mama told Lizzie and her brother Paul that they “went to sleep ‘slaves’ and woke up free”. Mama said that being free means you have to work harder. “Real freedom means ‘rithmetic and writing.”

Lizzie was eager to learn but it was hard for her and Paul to leave their mama and daddy working so hard in the crop fields. Getting to school was not easy and sometimes they had rocks thrown at them. The first school was burned down. Daddy remarked that “at least they got a little learnin”. Lizzie and mama didn’t answer “Cause they knew that halfway to freedom feels like no freedom”.

Well, Lizzie got her wish. One day mama woke them up and said hurry up and get dressed and we’ll go check on Mizz Howard. They got there to see men working on rebuilding the school and Mizz Howard was ready to start lessons. 


Gordon Parks

Carole Weatherford Boston has written many children’s books; this one, Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America, is one of her best.   A teacher told her black students that they would all grow up to be waiters and porters, and Parks did do that work, but then he taught himself photography and the rest of the world opened up to him.  Elegant illustrations and lyrical text help to tell the story of his remarkable life.

 

 

 


The book with no pictures

A children’s book with no pictures, just words? Where’s the fun in that? Well, those words might make you say silly sounds, in strange voices. And you do have to read what’s on the pages, after all….

This deceptively simple, imaginative book is titled (appropriately enough) The book with no pictures, by B.J. Novak. It introduces children to the idea that written words have power, and that words can also provide fun and just plain silliness.


A Thirst For Home: A Story of Water Across the World

Imagine our water supply and how easy it is for us to go to any of our faucets at home and get clear, cool drinking water. We don’t even think about it. I was reminded of this ease or lack of it several months ago. I needed to have a new washing machine installed. Easy enough said the salesman, when it is delivered, they’ll just hook it right up. Nothing is ever that easy – the deliveryman was not able to install the washer and that evening as my husband was tinkering with it, I heard a gush of running water – never a good sound! As my husband ran to the basement to shut off the water I realized this meant no running water until we could schedule the plumber. No shower, No flushing the toilet, no making a pot of coffee, no drinking water – we were lucky and it was only for 1 day – but I really missed running water for that day. Reading A Thirst For Home made me realize how we much we expect to have water.

A Thirst For Home is the story of Alemitu and her mama who live in a small village in Ethiopia. They often walk all morning in the blazing sun to the watering hole. Her mother told her that the watering hole gives them something even more precious than gold! She said they could live a lifetime without gold but not a day without a drink of water. Water is life and it connects everyone and everywhere.

One day Alemitu’s mama takes her to a place where she will find out what is on the other side, but mama cannot go with her. Her mama cries like raindrops and Alemitu catches the tears in the scarf she gave her. Alemitu waits for mama to return. Many weeks later a lady comes and the nannies tell Alemitu that this woman is her new mama. The new mama speaks words she does not understand but stays with her until she falls asleep. Alemitu feels safe again.

Now her name is Eva – it means life. She has a new family with a sister, 2 brothers , a mom and a dad. Every morning when she wakes, she has a glass of cold, clean water. Eva drinks every drop. One night a rain storm makes raindrops bang on the roof and Eva crawls into bed between mom and dad. She feels safe.

In the morning she finds a large puddle outside and cups her hand to take a drink. In that moment Eva realizes she is on the other side of the watering hole. She sees her mama smiling down at her and she knows she is connected to both worlds.

Christine Leronimo wrote this powerful story after she found her newly adopted daughter drinking from a puddle in her family’s driveway. Eva’s story is truly thought provoking. 

 


Do Bears and Libraries Mix? Silly Question. Of Course, They Do!

 A Library Book For Bear by Bonny Becker with illustrations by Kady MacDonald Denton is a humorous picture book about a bear who had never been to the library.

 

One morning, Bear hears a tapping at his door. He sees the bright-eyed face of his fervent  friend Mouse who is excited to take Bear to the library to show him around, and because he thinks that it’s just a doggone fun place to visit. While previously Bear did promise to accompany Mouse, today he thinks that this expedition will be a complete waste of his very precious time. After all, he already owned a grand total of seven books and believed that this private collection would more than adequately cover his needs for the foreseeable future. But a promise is a promise, so off they go.

 

Upon their arrival, a very grumpy Bear is once again quick to criticize. In his estimation, the library building is much too big and contains “far too many books”. All this, he declares, is nothing more than pure excess.

 

But enthusiastic Mouse persists with positives, pointing out that the library is quite exciting and declares that he will find Bear a perfect book about pickles, since pickles is the one topic that Bear seems to find most intellectually stimulating. But no matter which title Mouse suggests, Bear is dismissive of the selections and voices his displeasure in a very loud and disruptive manner.

 

Before long, he is shushed into quiet by two mothers (one squirrel, the other raccoon), whose youngsters are gathered around a smiling librarian conducting story time. Bear is upset at being told to quiet down and wants to leave the library pronto.

 

However, on his way to the exit, he overhears the librarian read a story about a very brave bear and a treasure chest filled with very special pickle slices. Oh my, Bear becomes entranced, and it is now he who quickly tells Mouse to quiet down!

 

After story time, Bear checks out a number of new books including one titled “The Very Brave Bear and the Treasure of Pickle Island”, which Bear reads to Mouse back at his home that very same day.

 

Wonderfully expressive illustrations compliment this top notch choice for young children, that gently promotes libraries and all that they offer!

 

And it’s a great selection to celebrate “Read Across America Day”, March 2nd, 2015.


Hoot Owl, master of disguise

 Hoot Owl is hungry. He is also clever, and a self proclaimed master of disguise. This wonderful new picture book, Hoot Owl by Sean Taylor, shows Owl first disguising himself as a large carrot to catch an unsuspecting rabbit. But Rabbit, not fooled, hops on by. Owl devises costumes as a birdbath, and as a sheep, with no success. How he manages to snag a tasty meal of pizza makes for a clever solution.

Illustrator Jean Jullien has perfectly captured the spirit of the story, and his large, colorful pictures add to the silliness. This is a wonderful book for sharing with a child!


Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes

Juan Felipe Herrera is the California Poet Laureate. He has collaborated with Raúl Colón, the award-winning illustrator of many books for children, to create Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes, the 2015 Pura Belpré Author Honor book. The award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. There are also Illustrator and Author Honor books, like this one. It's nice to have a high quality, beautifully illustrated book like this that can also be used for help with homework reports about famous Americans.


My Red Balloon

This is a delightful book by Kazuaki Yamada with simple double page landscapes featuring a yellow bus on its way to pick up various passengers consisting of one little girl and several friendly animals. The little girl is holding a red balloon attached to a string which she intends to show to her friends. Suddenly, the wind blows it away! With each turn of the page we are anticipating the balloon’s whereabouts and capture by the animal at the next bus stop. At each animal’s bus stop the sign pictures the animal whose stop it is. Will the rabbit catch the balloon? Will the penguin catch the balloon, or the elephant, or the giraffe catch the balloon as it floats up into the clouds? They follow it high above the mountains and when they almost catch the balloon, a bird pops it! The little girl cries and her very caring friends say: “cheer up”! They distract her and point to the sky and encourage her to look up and wave at another huge red balloon and they watch it as it slowly sinks into the horizon.


The Roots of “Frozen”

I noticed while the credits were rolling at the end of a recent household watching of Frozen that it is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. I brought The Snow Queen home to read to my 5-year-old daughter, and per her request we have read 4 or 5 different versions of the story in the last month. It is not very much like the movie, but it is still a fascinating fairy tale involving an enchanted shattered mirror that pierces and freezes the heart, as well as a colorful cast of characters: a young girl and boy who are best friends (Gerda and Kay/Kai), a witch-like woman with a flower garden, a prince and princess, a band of robbers including a robber girl, a crow and his mate, a reindeer, a Lapland woman and Finland woman, and the Snow Queen herself (who does not make a huge appearance in the story). 

This story is HC Anderson’s longest fairy tale and has 7 chapters. After reading several versions of this, we’ve moved on to The Emperor’s New Clothes, with plans to take on The Little Match Girl next… It’s fun reading different versions of fairy tales and comparing the differences in both text and illustration.

 


The Big Blue Thing on the Hill

Sometimes picture books are just meant for adults. Often I will add one of these gems to my lineup for a Family Storytime program, after all shouldn’t the caregivers have fun too!

In The Big Blue Thing on the Hill, it happens one night – a big blue thing roars to a stop right on top of Howling Hill. There in the middle of the Great Forest the day is peaceful and the animals sleep. But at night the forest comes alive. All the animals are out – they growl, they howl and the big blue thing disrupts the forest. The bears think it’s a meteorite, the wolves think a space ship but the foxes say trouble and they are right, and all the animals hide.

The next morning the animals creep back but the trouble is still there and now noise is coming from it. It’s a big blue elephant say the weasels, no it’s a big blue dinosaur say the badgers (equally birdbrained) but the foxes still say the big blue thing is trouble. The animals decide to leave it alone until night when the wolves howl and howl, but nothing happens. The bears growl and growl but the big blue thing doesn’t move one inch. The boars want to nudge it back down the hill. They huff, puff, push and shove but the big blue thing doesn’t move. Next the foxes think burying it will work and they dig and dig and dig, it might work when the big blue thing grumbles and rumbles but it doesn’t move. Now the animals know they need to ask the wise owls what to do. The old owl has a plan. They summon the help of the smallest forest friends – the bees and wasps, midges and skeeters and a snake or 2. They form a big bug flying squad. The plan – wait until dawn then send the squad into the mouth of the beast. They predict it won’t be long before big blue is gone for good. The squad whizzed and buzzed as they flew and crawled through every crack. It didn’t take long, with a roar and a rumble the big blue thing turned tail and fled. And with that the animals all make a hullabaloo. The forest and Howling Hill become peaceful once more.

It doesn’t take long for the reader to recognize the big blue thing as an old VW van complete with curtains. The people can be seen in the van having fun and playing music but with the bug invasion it doesn’t take long for them to leave the campsite. Everything is good or is it…that evening a space ship lands on the hill!

The illustrations are full of comical animal characters and the old VW van is perfect. Such a fun story to share for readers and listeners.