I have always been fascinated by polar expeditions. I’ve viewed many documentaries, visited museums such as Oslo’s Fram Museum and Tromso’s Polar Museum, and read a lot. One story that has long enthralled me is that of Earnest Shackleton’s extraordinary 1914 expedition and successful attempt to get his whole crew to safety after their ship was consumed by the ice. This story has been told many times and many ways, say by Jennifer Armstrong in Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World and by the American Museum of Natural History in their exhibit years ago where they created an awesome room with the James Caird (the small boat Shackleton used) itself featuring huge images of waves on every wall and sound effects. Now it is being told anew by William Grill in his gorgeous new book, Shackleton’s Journey.
This is a large, beautifully designed and produced book from Flying Eye Books, a small newish publisher doing absolutely terrific stuff. With a unique illustrative style, Grill balances small images with massive ones to evoke vividly Shackleton’s preparations, the early days of the expedition, the closing in of the ice on the Endurance, and their subsequent efforts to survive, and travel to safety. Grill’s text and images do a fabulous job communicating this incredible story. The large size of the book, the ample use of white to evoke the snow and ice of the region, and some jaw-dropping full-page images make this a book to look at over and over. (Jules at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast featured the book and a whole lot of its art here.)
My one reservation is the lack of documentation. There are several quotes, a glossary, and much provided to learn about Shackleton, his men, the ship, polar exploration, and so much more, but there are no citations. I would have dearly loved to have seen even a brief list of sources.
That said, the book is absolutely spectacular to browse through and worthy of owning. Kids and adults are going to pour over it and, hopefully, want to then go learn more.
… this is a romp that balances Ibbotson’s trademark whimsical humor with understated opinions about outsider and animal rights.
Read my whole Horn Book review of this entertaining title here.
One of my perpetual concerns is how we help children understand the complicated interrelated ways of wildlife and people, especially when it comes to endangered animals. My longtime experience in a school is that too often animals in places where lives are significantly different from those of my students are attended to at the expense of the people. That is, I fear that they will inadvertently develop a negative view of the people native to an area where animals are in danger rather than develop a deeper understanding of the complexities of the situation. So what a delight to read Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore’s Parrots over Puerto Rico where the intertwined histories of animals and people are thoughtfully, intelligently, and beautifully presented.
To begin with there were the birds — striking green and blue parrots with the distinctive flight call, “Iguaca! Iguaca!” There were evidently hundreds of thousands of them all over Puerto Rico when people started to arrive around 500 BCE. Among them were the Taino people who hunted the parrots and kept them as pets. After Christopher Columbus’s “claiming” of the island for Spain in 1493 the island became full of Spanish settlers and a century later enslaved Africans were brought there to work the sugarcane. These new arrivals also brought new life with them: ships’ rats and honeybees that managed to get to the parrots’ nesting holes and attack their eggs. Others needed timber and so the forests where the parrots lived were cut down. And even as their homes were in peril, so were the birds themselves as people continued to hunt them and keep them as pets.
For the first half of the book, Roth and Trumbore do a splendid job providing young readers with a history of the island, intertwining the birds’ history with its human inhabitants along the way. In the second part they indicate the awareness by Puerto Ricans that the birds are almost gone and then their efforts to bring them back. The book ends with a very informative afterward with photos as well as a timeline and a list of sources. Their research appears to be impeccable.
Of course, it must be said, that what brings this book to a level I might term “awesome”are Susan L. Roth’s remarkable paper-and-fabric collages. Elegantly designed, the book’s vertical orientation allows for her spectacular double page spreads throughout, increasing the sense of the birds’ habitats and movement as well as the way humans affect them.
I can’t say much more than that this is a fantastic book — I recommend it highly.
Poking around Netgalley not long ago, I came across Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy and, intrigued by the description, began reading and was quickly hooked. It is a lovely, moody contemporary reworking of Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” set in a museum, no less. I find books set in museum to be tricky things — sometimes the setting seems more important than the rest of it. Fortunately, in this case, it totally works. Our heroine, Ophelia, has arrived in the never-identified city with her older sister while their father works on a blockbuster exhibit of swords. They are all mourning the loss of the family’s mother in their own ways: the father throws himself into work, the older sister becomes eagerly distracted by the exhibit’s fashionable female curator, and Ophelia gloomily wanders the museum, counting the days and hours since her mother’s death. In her wanderings she comes across the Marvelous Boy of the title and so her adventure begins. Ophelia is a winning heroine as she fights fear to do what needs to be done (just…you know..saving the world and stuff), the Boy sad and stalwart (his own back story meanders through the larger story taking place in the museum), the writing elegant, and the plot compelling. There are creepy creatures, ghosts, a deliciously evil villain, magical things, and plenty more to keep middle grade readers engrossed.
Recently the publisher sent me a print ARC along with a key and a tiny tube of super glue (a particularly clever if — for those who haven’t yet read the book — enigmatic touch), all of which made me smile.
Divi is back in this sequel to the delightful middle grade novel, The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. She’s in DC briefly, after a year in India, for the American premier of the latest movie starring the irrepressible diva Dolly Singh, whom we first met in the first book. Of course, as in any Bollywood movie worth its salt, nothing goes as it should. Eager to see her best friend Maddy, Divi finds that someone new has arrived on the scene and wonders if they are still the BFF they were before she went away. Within hours of their arrival Dolly’s passport goes missing, not that she is worried. Nothing seems to faze that bubble-headed star! But Divi, Dolly’s new and adoring husband, and her morose and long-suffering agent are all kept on their toes trying to do what Dolly wants for the premier, say finding the right caterer, sufficient rose petals and an elephant. As in the first book, there are multiple plot threads that all come together in a very happy and celebratory ending complete with cake and dancing. As charming as the first, I hope there are more to come!
The new children’s book editor at the New York Times Book Review Sarah Harrison Smith’s first reviews were of two picture books from the Canadian publisher, Simply Read Books. The message was quiet, but clear: recognizing the importance of the youngest readers of all, Sarah is continuing the weekly online picture book reviews begun by her predecessor Pamela Paul, and paying close attention to titles from publishers small and large, near and far. Recently I chatted with Sarah about her background, books (of course!), New York City, and some of her ideas for children’s book coverage at the Book Review.
Sarah grew up among book lovers and creators. Her grandfather co-published the Babar books, she knew Rumer Godden’s editor, and illustrator Pamela Bianco was a family friend. After graduate studies in English literature at Columbia and Oxford she spent several years at The New Yorker as one of its famed fact checkers and later joined the Times in a similar role. The result of her expertise was The Fact Checker’s Bible: A Guide to Getting it Right. After some time as managing editor of the New York Times Magazine Sarah moved to the Metropolitan section where she has enjoyed exploring New York in all its variety. Sarah’s love and appreciation of the city comes through loud and clear when you speak with her. During one of our conversations she spoke with such excitement about the Brooklyn Navy Yard — a place she had recently visited for an article — that I wanted to put down the phone and go there immediately.
Books that she remembers with special fondness from her childhood are those that incorporate art, a favorite illustrator being Edward Ardizzone. Christina Brand’s Nurse Matilda books (on which the recent Nanny McPhee movies are based) were cherished; her children have also relished their naughty sensibilities. Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House books had a tremendous impact on her; they provided a great view for her on how a family lived with so little. Having noticed a tweet of hers about one of my childhood favorites, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, I asked Sarah about it and she spoke with enthusiasm for author Betty MacDonald’s ability to write for children while including clever touches for the adults reading the books aloud, say naming characters after the colleges Bryn Mawr and Cornell.
Sarah is excited about the potential for more online multimedia features such as podcasts and videos celebrating the artistic process. She is also eager to make more connections with related Times content, for example centralizing all articles about Roald Dahl’s Matilda from those related to the current Broadway show to others about Dahl and the book’s illustrator Quentin Blake. No doubt because of her love for New York City, Sarah is also interested in organizing information about children’s literature set there so that you could easily find material about such iconic literary spots as the pond in Central Park where Stuart Little sailed his boat.
Something that I found especially exciting was Sarah’s interest in looking into ways for children to contribute their own opinions about books on the Book Review site. Certainly, I know my students would love such an opportunity. Both of us admire the Guardian’s children’s book site where young readers are already writing reviews. I also encouraged Sarah to check out the Carnegie Greenaway Shadowing site, an ambitious program where groups of children read and consider the shortlists for those two prestigious awards (comparable to the US Newbery and Caldecott Awards).
Upon the announcement of her new position, Sarah tweeted “I’m VERY excited to be joining the Times Book Review as children’s book editor! #dreamcometrue” I think so too and wish her well as she goes forward in this new role.
Also at Huffington Post.
Tom McNeal’s just out Far Far Away is getting some well-deserved buzz so I figured I would post my brief goodreads comments, written after reading it (and liking it quite a lot) a few months back.
A very unique read, sort of spooky, definitely creepy as it goes on. With one notable exception, the characters are-not-quite Grimm characters, but nearly. The book is filled with Grimm tropes and you think the author is going to take you in somewhat predictable fairy-tale directions and he doesn’t. McNeal really knows how to make food sound really scrumptious and also various characters twinkly and fun until…they are not. It probably would have given me nightmares as a kid. That is, I was the sort of kid who always freaked out around clowns and there is a character in this book that reinforces just why they freaked me out. Can’t say more without spoilage.
Unlike the darker tone of Appelt’s previous two novels (Keeper and The Underneath — I’m a fan of both), The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp has a much lighter sensibility along with her signature folky and entertaining third person omniscient storyteller. This is the tale of a swamp in peril of being paved over by a couple of nefarious types who made me think of Carl Hiaasen’s, of a son and mother with a small cane sugar pie business threatened by those aforementioned meanies, some charming raccoon bros with quite an appreciation for art, snakes (one is mystical — a far relative perhaps to the one in The Underneath?), a tall tale-larger-than-life (truly) figure, and some quite outrageous hogs — just to get started. Over-the-top improbable, full of wild contrivances, absurd, and great fun to read indeed. One I could definitely see reading aloud to my fourth graders come fall.
Hope the publisher plans to have some of those sugar cane pies around when the book comes out. I’m craving one of them something fierce!
I am a big fan of subversive books, say the ”recommended inappropriate books for kids” featured in Lane Smith’s Curious Pages. That said, I also have observed that kids respond better to some of these more than others, an issue I explored years ago in a Horn Book article “Pets and Other Fishy Books.” So when I ran into Jon Scieszka a few months ago and he excitedly told me about the forthcoming Battle Bunny, I was intrigued but also wary — was this a book kids would get or would it be something more amusing for adults? Then an advanced copy of the book showed up in the mail and I took it to school to see what my students thought.
First of all, let me try to explain just what it is (and how tricky it was to read aloud). If you look at the cover above you can perhaps see that it appears to be a sweet book of the Golden Book sort, originally titled Birthday Bunny, that has been erased, scribbled on, and reworked by…someone. I began by showing the cover to the kids and we discussed what that original book was; some of them knew Golden Books, but all of them appreciated that it was meant to be one of those sweet little journey books they’d all read when very small. Next we explored the scribbles — evidently someone named Alex had received the book from his grandmother for his birthday (there is an inscription on the inside front cover), wasn’t too happy, and decided to make it into a completely new story. And so he thoroughly erased the original title and put his own in instead. As for the interior, he crossed-out text, added new words and art, and turns the story into something completely different.
The first day I tried reading the book aloud on my own— alternating between the original text and Alex’s. The next day I invited one child to join me, reading Alex’s story and then had the kids take over completely — one reading Birthday Bunny and the other reading Battle Bunny. They had a great time! It may well be that the best way to take in the book is solo or with one other child, but I still think it was a blast to read this way. The group reacted, pointed out small things to one another, and just had a lot of fun. Jon tells me they are planning on providing a copy of The Birthday Bunny online for kids to print out and rework just as Alex did. Great idea!
So for those like me who go for this sort of thing (and not everyone does, I know), Battle Bunny is an excellent addition to the world of subversive books for children.
Historical fiction has an interesting place in the world of children’s literature. Regularly celebrated by adults with awards like the Newbery, these books nonetheless raise the question of whether the intended audience feels the same enthusiasm. What I’ve observed as a classroom teacher is that while not in the multitudes that flock to the goofy fun of Wimpy Kid or the wild fantasies of Percy Jackson, there are still plenty of young readers who can’t get enough of the past.
Those among them who find the excitement and anguish of World War II especially fascinating, along with others who enjoy a gripping wartime tale whatever the time period, are going to relish Shirley Hughes’s realistic adventure, “Hero on a Bicycle.” A much-lauded British creator of picture books like the Alfie series, the octogenarian Hughes was inspired to write this historical novel for older children by a family she met during a postwar visit to Italy.
Read the whole review here.