Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bats at the Library

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies is an adorable book about some winged rodents who find a window ajar to the public library and spend the night amongst the stacks. These bats are not unlike most of our patrons! They look up books, log on to computers, even make copies! Some of the bats get lost in stories, imagining themselves as characters (Lies treats us to bat versions of such literary stalwarts as Dorothy Gale and Bilbo Baggins). The young bats gather round for a nocturnal version of a children's classic, "Goodnight Sun." As morning arrives, the bats fly off, hoping the librarians will leave the window open again soon!

Twelve Terrible Things

Twelve Terrible Things by Marty Kelley begins with a warning: "If you turn the page you're going to see some terrible things. Some really terrible things. This book is full of them. Didn't you read the title?" Well, he's right. What follows are some of the most awful things a kid could think of, including monsters under the bed, trips to the dentist, scary clowns, dead goldfish, and a lunch lady demanding "What do you mean you don't like gravy? Everybody likes gravy." This book will remind parents of what it was like being a kid, when one of worst things you could think of was getting your cheeks squeezed by your grandma, and it can lead to fun discussions with your child about other truly terrible things!

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope

This book brings tears to my eyes every time I read it (I'm a very emotional librarian). Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope is an inspiring biography of our country's 44th president by Coretta Scott King Award winning author Nikki Grimes and illustrator Bryan Collier. A young boy named David asks his mother who that man on TV is andwhy people are shouting his name. She tells him the story of a boy with inter-racial parents who grew up in Hawaii. He pursued higher education, and longed to change the world. That boy was Barack Obama and he grew up to be our president asking, "Can we make America better? Can we work together, as one?" Yes. We can.

A River of Words

Noted by The New York Times to be one of the best illustrated children's books of 2008, A River of Words by Jen Bryant, is a wonderful juvenile biography of William Carlos Williams, American poet, 1883-1963, best known for works like "The Red Wheelbarrow" and "This is Just to Say." Willie Williams grew up in Rutherford, NJ. In school, English was his favorite subject. He loved to read and write poetry, and was inspired by simple things found in everyday life. But Willie knew that poets did not earn much money, and he needed to support his family, so he went to medical school and became a doctor. Although he spent his days healing the sick, he always found time for poetry. An inspiring story, with touching collage illustrations by Melissa Sweet.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Lump of Coal

The Lump of Coal is a charming Christmas story from the author and illustrator (respectively) of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket and Brett Helquist, which presupposes "miracles can happen, even to those who are small, flammable, and dressed all in black." In the story a lump of coal who "for the sake of argument" can walk and talk, and who, "like many people who dress in black" wants to be an artist. He could make beautiful black lines on a canvas, or a piece a chicken, if only someone would give him the chance! Maybe his dreams will come true when an drugstore employee dressed as Santa Claus puts the lump of coal in his disobedient stepson's stocking.

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach is a Cuban folktale, retold here by Carmen Agra Deedy, with lovely illustrations by Michael Austin. When Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha, most eligible of bachelorette pests, begins searching for a husband, her grandmother teaches her "the coffee test." When a suitor comes to call, Martina spills the hot beverage all over their shoes. How they react will give her insight into how quick to anger they might be in marriage. Martina doesn't hesitate to pour coffee all over the arrogant rooster, the hygenically challenged pig, and the sneaky lizard, but what happens when she falls for meek mouse gardener Perez? Perhaps he has a surprise in store for her...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett is a clever book set up as a small rodent's journal of all the things she's afraid of (which is almost everything). "I'm alarmed by loud noises!" Little Mouse writes. Gravett elaborates that this is called Ligyrophobia. Owls make Little Mouse twitch. According to the author she might have Ornithophobia (fear of birds) or Phagophobia (fear of being eaten). The book also features flaps and other interactive features, like Little Mouse's hand-drawn map of the "Isle of Fright" complete with directions: take the first right. No! Left. No! Right. I think... If you're at the forest, TURN AROUND! GO BACK! RUN! This is too much for me. Please ask someone else for directions. Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears is a very cute book. Skittish children will probably relate!

A Is for Art

A Is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet is a great book for parents who love modern art. And also, maybe, those that hate it. But above all it's really great for kids. When I first set eyes on this book, by Caldecott Award winner Stephen T. Johnson, I thought it had been placed in the wrong section. A child couldn't possibly appreciate such expressionistic and conceptual paintings, collages, installations, and sculptures. Or could they? The more I looked at the pictures in the book, the more I realized how perfect it is for a child who has little to no concept of what "art" is. They have truly open minds! Read this book with your child and let them explain which pieces they like or don't like and why. Maybe you too will see the art through new eyes. Each piece is inspired by a letter of the alphabet and also features an alliterative blurb.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

He's Got the Whole World In His Hands

Inspired by the well-known spiritual by the same name, Kadir Nelson brings us He's Got the Whole World In His Hands, a wonderful book, filled with beautiful images of vast landscapes and multicultural faces. The lyrics of the song are complimented by illustrations of rainbows, sunrises, clear nights, blue skies, clean oceans, and one special boy enjoying them all with his loving family. Try singing it to your child! Children retain messages better with music. That's why the alphabet is a song! If you like this book consider others you could sing, like Hush Little Alien by Daniel Kirk, or more stories featuring Nelson's art like Please, Puppy, Please by Spike Lee.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Lorax

Dr. Seuss's The Lorax is a great jumping off point for educating your child about current issues concerning the environment. Narrated by a regretful character called the Once-ler, it tells the tale of his destruction of the Truffula trees. The Once-ler discovered the Truffula's tuft could be knitted into a thneed, a sockish, sweaterish thing that despite seeming to lack any utility, starts selling like hotcakes. Motivated by greed, the Once-ler builds a thneed factory, chopping down Truffula trees left and right. Enter the Lorax, a stout mustachioed creature who acts a spokesperson for the trees. He begs the Once-ler to quit manufacturing thneeds--the pollution is endangering all the local species! But the Once-ler fails to heed the advice of the Lorax, and makes a total mess of the landscape, leaving us with an "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."


Zigazak! A Magical Hanukkah Night by Eric A. Kimmel is a story about two devils (who are actually pretty cute) who arrive at a town called Brisk during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah to create some mischief. They peek into the townspeople's windows. Families are spinning dreidels, frying latkes, and lighting candles. "Zigazak" the devils cry, and suddenly the dreidels sprout arms and legs, the latkes go flying through the kitchen, and fireworks shoot out from the candles! Can Brisk's Rabbi put a stop to their disruptive pranks? Find out in Zigazak! The book also features charming illustrations by Jon Goodell, and introduces children to the Kabbalistic concept of Tikkun olam which presupposes there are sparks of holiness in everything (even little devils)!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Owney the Mail-Pouch Pooch

Owney the Mail-Pouch Pooch by Mona Kerby is based on the true story of a remarkable terrier mix who became famous in the 1890's. He was adopted by Albany, New York postal workers, and guarded the mail, only letting the men in blue uniforms near. One day he hopped on a train carrying mail across the country. The Albany men were sad, but a few months later Owney returned. He wanted to ride the train again! This time the railway postmen attached tags to Owney's collar to show where he'd been. Soon he had so many, he had to wear a harness instead to hold them all! Owney traveled the world, guarding the mail on a steamship headed to Asia. This book is very well researched (the author even thanks a few Maryland librarians for helping get the facts straight) and features cute illustrations by Lynne Barasch.

My Friend Is Sad

My Friend is Sad is an Elephant & Piggie book by Mo Willems (of The Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny fame). It stars elephant Gerald and his best friend Piggie. Gerald looks sad, so Piggie decides to cheer him up. She disguises herself as a cowboy (Gerald loves cowboys), but he is still sad. She dresses up like a clown (a funny, funny clown), but that doesn't work either! Piggie enters in full robot costume (a cool, cool robot mind you), but Gerald seems even more depressed than he was originally. Finally Piggie tries to reason with Gerald, but as soon as he catches sight of her he is instantly happy! He gives her a big hug and tells her all the amazing things he just saw. How could one be sad around a cowboy, clown, or robot, Piggie wonders, but Gerald lets her know all those great things mean nothing without a best friend to share them with!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

John, Paul, George & Ben

John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith tells the story of what some of our founding fathers were like before the birth of our nation, taking us back to when John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Tom Jefferson were boys. John was quite bold, taking up the whole chalk board to write his name. Paul was always shouting since he suffered some hearing loss in a bell ringing club (that was "before fun was invented"). George was honest to a fault--when dad forgave him for chopping down the cherry tree, he readily confessed to leveling the whole orchard and a barn! Ben was very clever, constantly coming up with sayings, and Tom was independent (he probably refused to be included in the title). Read this as a fun way to teach your child about people who helped make our country free.

Wabi Sabi

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein is a book with many layers, much like its collage art illustrations by Ed Young. On the surface it's the story of a cat named Wabi Sabi, who is trying to discover the meaning of her name, but underneath it is influenced by Zen philosophy. Wabi Sabi is a Japanese concept which finds beauty in things that are simple, imperfect, natural, modest, and mysterious. This explains why everyone the cat asks tells her "it's hard to explain," why the city she walks through is not as pretty as the woods that surround it, and why she finally understands the meaning of her name when she sees herself, plain but beautiful, in the reflection of a wooden bowl of warm tea.

Frankenstein Takes the Cake

Frankenstein Takes the Cake is a humorous book of poetry by Adam Rex. It begins in a graphic-novel-esque format, with comic panels depicting Frankenstein's bride introducing her green fiance to her judgmental mother. Wedding plans follow, interrupted occasionally with blogs by the headless horseman, and musings from Edgar Allan Poe and his rather unimpressed pet bird (quoth the raven "What a bore"), among other meanderings, up until Frank's big day, featuring a very bewildered flower girl, and best man Dracula disgusted by the garlic bread at the buffet. Check out this story for a frighteningly good laugh.

The Water Hole

The Water Hole by Graeme Base is a really amazing book. In essence it's a counting story: animals show up in progressive numbers to drink from "the water hole." However it seems the more animals there are, the less water in the hole, leaving them to converse amongst themselves (in animal language) where they think the water must have gone. Then there is a very sad page depicting a complete lack of water. Finally it rains and all the animals return to drink. I think the story can be thought provoking for a child (where does water come from, why is it important, etc), and the illustrations are spectacular, depicting not only the drinking animals but also "hidden" animals you and your child can search for.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Measuring Penny

Measuring Penny by Loreen Leedy is a fun book to help teach your child a bit about math and measurement. In the story, a little girl named Lisa has to measure something for homework. Her teacher says she can measure anything, so she chooses her Boston Terrier, Penny! Lisa measures all sorts of things about Penny--how much she weighs, how much she eats and drinks, how fast she can run, how far she can walk. Lisa even takes Penny to the park to compare her to the other dogs there--who is the tallest? who has the longest tail? who can jump the highest? Find out what Lisa learns about her favorite pet in Measuring Penny.

A Mama for Owen

A Mama for Owen, written by Marion Dane Bauer, is a charming story of a baby hippopotamus named Owen who loses his mother during a storm and is adopted by a 130 year old tortoise. It's based on a true story! After a tsunami, in 2004, a baby hippo was rescued by Kenyan fishermen and taken to the Haller Park wildlife preserve. Upon his arrival, the hippo began following around an ancient male tortoise named Mzee, and Mzee didn't seem to mind at all! This strange pair became best friends, subsequently garnering a lot of media attention. To this day tourists come from across the globe to witness the unique relationship between these mis-matched animals. A Mama for Owen features adorable illustrations by John Butler and is a truly heartwarming story for children 1-5.
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