Archive | November, 2013

Oh, that Kevin Henkes

18 Nov

We thought it was a good idea, so we played nicky-nicky nine doors at Pauline Mary Knowles’ house. You may have called it something else but that was our name for it. We were on our way home from roller skating on  Friday night in grade 8 and decided to play this little joke. We certainly didn’t expect Mr. Knowles to chase us down the street. He was really nice about the whole thing. But my sister and I felt guilty when we got home. Even though we tried to go to bed, we couldn’t sleep, so we got up and told our mom, who was also pretty nice about it, too.

I got thinking about this while reading Kevin Henkes’ Penny and Her Marble.


Penny finds a marble in her neighbor’s yard. Then, one day, she sees the neighbor and thinks she has lost the marble Penny now has, and loves. What should she do? The problem gnaws at her.


I won’t spoil the ending for you, but young Henkes’ fans will really enjoy this book.

For older readers, Henkes has  The Year of Billy Miller. 


This is a chapter book, cleverly divided into 4 chapters entitled Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother. While moving the story along, each chapter gives us a glimpse into an aspect of Billy’s life. This is not a wacky novel full of second grade hijinks, but a quiet collection of important moments in a little boy’s life, that I think a lot of kids can connect with.

I always like to balance out my read alouds,  alternating male & female protagonists, action and quiet novels, comedy and drama. This would be an excellent read aloud right after something like Clementine. It is definitely well worth it.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

17 Nov

Cover art and titles are meant to draw us in. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If I hadn’t heard about


Africa is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger, I don’t think I would have picked it up. Once you’ve read the book the title makes total sense, and is, in fact the perfect title. But it didn’t work for me at first.

Did you know there were kids on the Amistad? I didn’t and neither did Edinger. When she found out, she had to write about it. She tried to write it as a non-fiction book, but so much was unknown she opted for historical fiction.

The book is inspired by the true story of one of the children on the Amistad, Magulu who became known as Sarah Margru Kinson. What I found most fascinating was not the trial, but her life. She was enslaved at age 9 and taken to Cuba, then put aboard the Amistad. Once in America and awaiting resolution of their case (which took several years) Magalu/Sara was converted to Christianity, educated and trained to be a teacher and missionary in Africa. Her actual letters still exist and helped shape the narrative.

The beautiful  ink and watercolor illustrations, by Robert Byrd, are all done in colors, shades and tones that reflect the greens and blues of Africa, the colorful images of Cuba, the darkness of the Amistad, and pastels of dreams and poems, enhancing and extending the story being told.


Although a picture book, the text is for older readers.

National Adoption Weekend

16 Nov

As much as I want t stay home, snuggled between Fiona & Lucy, knitting  and reading on this blustery day, I’m off to Salem for a National Adoption Weekend event with PetSmart Charities.

Oregon Basset Hound Rescue is a new partner with them and this is our first event. Today, I’m bringing Daisy & Molly, a bonded pair. we’ve had for 6 months.


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They are wonderful seniors, but most people don’t want a senior. My job today is to make people stop and think about adopting a senior.Daisy is an active 9-year-old female. She loves car rides and adores her best friend Molly, who loves to be the center of attention. They are up to date on vaccines, housebroken, walk well on leash. They are just a little older than what most people are looking for.

If you are in Salem, stop by. The store is located at 2925 Lancaster Dr NE. No dogs will actually go home with anyone today., but I’d love to talk with you.

Pedal Power

15 Nov

My eyes nearly bugged out of my head one day last summer, as I drove past the  Joan of Arc roundabout at Northeast 39th Avenue and Glisan Street. It was full of naked cyclists! Portland is a great place to bicycle and get naked.


All the people in the photos in Pedal It! How Bicycles are Changing the World by Michelle Mulder are clothed.


The book provides a survey of the bicycle: a cultural history, a course in mechanics, a bit of a physics and economic class and a springboard for innovation. In a  highly engaging tone, Muller proceeds roughly chronologically, and occasionally goes off on an interesting  tangent in colorful boxed asides. She twines the mechanics of bicycles with cultural phenomenon, the environmental benefits of cycling and even the change in women’s fashions. This book is way more fun than cycling naked!

Evolving ideas about dinosaurs

13 Nov

When I was the librarian, the dinosaur section was always a mess. The kids couldn’t get enough of the books. Some were checked out multiple times a year by the same kids. Some were repaired until they had to be retired. If I were still there, I’d add this book to the section:


In case you can’t read the tiny font, the subtitle is How do we know what dinosaurs really looked like?.

Sibert medalist Catherine Thimmesh takes not simply onto the world of dinosaurs, but into the world of scientists and how paleoartists use scientific processes to bring us face to face with the past.

Have you ever wondered what an artist does when asked to portray something that nobody has ever seen?It is  a combination of science and educated guesses followed up by corrections as new knowledge becomes available. The author gives a brief history of dinosaur art starting with the work of B.W. Hawkins up to the present day. The artwork included in the book is amazing and comes from the either historical artists or the artists that the author interviewed for the book. Endpapers provide a timeline of the Mesozoic Era and dinosaur groups. Material in the back  gives information on each of the different artists and their knowledge and experiences.It also includes a glossary, bibliography and index.

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus

12 Nov


I mentioned this book in my post yesterday. I picked it up almost by accident when I was at the library a few days ago. It was displayed on the new book shelf. I even considered not checking  it out because it seemed to be too much of an echo of  War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. It is reminiscent of the book, don;t get me wrong, but it is certainly worth reading, too.

Stanley’s older brother has gone to fight in the Great War and his father is prone to sudden rages after the death of his wife. Stanley devotes himself to taking care of the family’s greyhound and puppies. One morning Stanley wakes to find the puppies gone. Determined to find his brother, Stanley runs away to join an increasingly desperate army. Assigned to the experimental War Dog School, Stanley is given a problematic Great Dane named Bones to train. Against all odds, the pair excels, and Stanley is sent to France.

If you enjoyed War Horse, you will enjoy this book, too.

Lest We Forget

11 Nov


In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae
I memorized this poem years ago, not on purpose, but through hearing it sung for years at Remembrance Day services in the community room above the arena in New Hamburg. We all wore poppies.  Tied in my memory with the song is the sound of the lone trumpeter playing The Last Post. I get teary eyed just thinking about it. I remember old man, standing straight, hands at their sides. Some had tears in their eyes, too.
This day was chosen because it was the day the armistice ending the First World War was signed. So I have a couple of lists today: my favorite Canadian novels of WWI and kid books about WWI.
My Favorite Canadian novels of WWI 
The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart
Three Day Road  by Joseph Boyden
Deafening by Frances Itani
Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
The Wars  by Timothy Findley
 Children’s Books about WWI (fiction & non-fiction)
Truce  by Jim Murphy
War Horse  by Michael Morpurgo
Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
Lord of the Nutcracker Men by Iain Lawrence
Knit Your Bit by Deborah Hopkinson
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
Crossing Stones by Helen Frost
Soldier Dog by Sam Angus
And the Soldiers Sang  by J. Patrick Lewis


8 Nov

Have you read Lotería by  Mario Alberto Zambrano?


You really should. It is a distressing story, but so beautfully written. It is an adult book, although I did end the title to the committee responsible for selecting the Alex Awards, which are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.
With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, the young girl retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal , Luz tells the story of her family’s tragic demise using the a deck of Lotería cards.

That got me wondering about books for younger readers based on Lotería. I found 2.

The simplest is The King of Things/ El Rey de las Cosas by Artemio Rodriguez.


In this bilingual (Spanish/English) very early reader, Little Lalo receives inspiration from the famous Mexican lotería game. Since Lalo is the King of Things and three years old besides, he plays the cards and counts as his possessions the sun, the moon, a lion, a fish, a clown, a train, the crown on his head. Each card in Lalo’s kingdom has its own page, illustrated with a playful brightly colored woodcut.

A second picture book about Lotería is Playing Lotería/El Juego de la Lotería by Rene Colato Lainez.


This bilingual book is about the relationship between a grandmother who speaks little English and her grandson who speaks little Spanish and the game of Loteria (similar to Bingo), which is widely played in Mexico. The boy is sent to spend time with his grandmother to learn Spanish, but the boy ends up teaching his grandmother English as well.

I haven’t discovered a good middle grade novel centered around Lotería, but I’m still looking. Let me know if you know of any.

The turbulent 60’s

7 Nov

How much can a six year old understand her father’s deployment? In 1968, Suzanne Collins’ father was sent to Viet Nam. Her new picture book,  Year of the Jungle, gives us some insight.


Young Suzy’s understanding expands throughout the year. Beginning with a view of the jungle based on her experience  of a Saturday morning cartoon (I’m pretty sure she watched George of the Jungle) we see her excitement over the postcards her dad sends and her understanding of the temporary shifts in her family dynamic with her father away. Then, fewer postcards arrive and there is a long silence.We are with Suzy  the evening she first sees the war on the evening news on a TV set someone forgot to shut off. We watch the understanding dawn  and feel the pain  and worry that comes with realization of where her dad is and what he is most likely doing.

This sis a serious book and the cartoon-like illustrations by James Proimos are perfect and a little reminiscent of  George of the Jungle.  Here’s one from the book:


Here’s one from the 60’s cartoon:


On a more dystopian note, Todd Strasser’s Fallout imagines a world in which the Cuban Missile Crisis ended with nuclear war.


In alternating chapters, we see the neighbors scoff, as the narrator’s dad builds a bomb shelter to hold his family and what life is like when they are actually living in it. At first, this style irritated me, but then, I realized that it really helps understand the characters and how they behave in the shelter. In the middle of the night in late October, when the unthinkable happens, those same neighbors force their way into the shelter before Scott’s dad can shut the door. With not enough room, not enough food, and not enough air, life inside the shelter is filthy, physically draining, and emotionally fraught. I was slow to warm to the book, but was glad I didn’t give up on it.

Seventh heaven

5 Nov

It was a cold & rainy weekend here, so I spent much of my time curled up on the sofa with Fiona, Lucy and Willow. She’s the main character in Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.


I think  we have another Newbery contender here.

Willow Chance is a genius and a social misfit. As quirky as she is, she actually reminds of a couple of kids I’ve taught, so she was believable. Even the way she speaks reminds me of someone in 4th grade right now. It is not normal kidspeak, but it is authentic.

When her parents die, she is in limbo, as she has no other living relatives. She must leave her home and her beloved garden which she spent a lot of time in.   A friend’s family takes her in and so begins the cultivation of a new life for Willow. In the tradition of  Because of Winn-Dixie,  this is a story of the families we make. It is funny and heart-breaking. My only criticism is the ending, which seemed rather rushed, but was still satisfying.

Willow is obsessed with the number 7. Near the end of the book, she’s thinking about the number 7 and comes to this conclusion:

I think that at every stage of living, there are 7 people who matter in your world.

They are the people who are inside you.

They are the people you rely on.

They are the people who change your life.

So, who are your 7 people?

Randy Ribay

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