Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas

TOON Books offers some of the liveliest picture books out there.   Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas by Philippe Coudray is just one of the colorful comic style books put out by TOON.  Each page is divided into several panels and tells a complete story.  Watch above to see how easily the stories can fit in with Common Core standards.  (Warning: Since this video is "educational", the presentation is much more static than the book.) 

Benjamin's adventures are sometimes funny, sometimes head-scratching, but all delightfully illustrated with a slightly retro vibe.  The stories are designed for early readers and budding logicians ages 4 and up.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Goodbye Dad

March 23rd, 2013
Today, finally, we say goodbye to our Dad, Franklin J. Chiles.  Wish me luck that I don't stumble, sob uncontrollably, hiccup, or otherwise mar this solemn day.

March 24th, 2103
Dad right before he is ordained as a deacon in the Catholic Church
I started this post yesterday.  I did just fine at the funeral.  My brothers and sisters who read managed to get through their readings with hardly a hint of a sob.  My older brother wrote and delivered a moving eulogy.  There were more clergy, including the Bishop, all decked out in gold and red vestments, than I have ever seen gathered in one place.

And the follow-up luncheon went well.

By late afternoon, we all needed naps.

Today is another story.  I was fine until my teeth started to hurt.  And, suddenly, I felt very, very, very sorry for myself.  Very, very, very, very... So I turned my hand of Hand and Foot over to my Mom.  (Who can concentrate on cards with a toothache?)  And I started home.  I called Hub for a ride and when he picked me up -  I dissolved.  It was a me-sized puddle of pitiful, pain induced tears that crawled into bed.  I am not as devastated as all that wailing implies.  Sometimes weariness, stress, and pain induce a huge physical need in me to howl.    It's like a dam breaking.

My teeth still hurt.  I am still sad.  But I don't feel so very, very sorry for myself.  I had my Dad for a good long time.  He loved me all my life and that love is with me still.  I'm a lucky woman.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Very Hungry Caterpillar Day!

Today, Wednesday, March 20th, is The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day!  Such an amazing book, it deserves its own day.

Visit Penguin Book's Hungry Caterpillar page for a video of Eric Carle, printables, activities and a listing of Eric Carle's other books.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Title generator

How many titles are formed by two nouns connected by "and" or "or"?  How many titles use a verb that ends in "ing"?  Sometimes titles follow patterns.  Take the titles for today's competitors in SLJ's Battle of the Kids Books. Splendors and Glooms and Liar and Spy.  See what I mean?

Do you need help coming us with a superb title?  Check out this Title Generator  from Fiction Alley. Do it for fun.  Do it for profit.  A good title can encourage sales - I think.

Just for fun, I entered ten random words.  Here are my results.

Your Titles

Title One: frivolous barns through windswept tantrumsTitle Two: the windswept pieTitle Three: the fern through frivolous barnsTitle Four: frivolous pieTitle Five: the turning fernTitle Six: whispering tantrumsTitle Seven: turning barnsTitle Eight: windswept whisperingTitle Nine: whispering for tantrumsTitle Ten: turning and whispering

I like Frivolous Pie, Turning and Whispering and The Turning Fern.  Have fun.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Crystal Ball, Crystal Ball

To predict tomorrow's Battle of the Kids' Books winner I need only my "incredible powers of book discernment".  But first I must cogitate.

   Both titles reference the stars:  Jepp, who Defied the Stars vs Starry River of the Sky.
   Neither book's action is from around these here parts - geographically or chronologically.
   Both books champion hope.
   Hmmmm, yep, I think that's about it.

   Jepp is historical fiction and describes the indignities suffered by people who appear different from the norm.  The writing avoids being ponderous even when considering the time period and the weight of Jepp's indignities and difficulties.   There is a touch of wishful thinking in Jepp's story that may toss the book overboard in this round.  For instance, I found the ending to be anachronistic - far too modern for the time period, even though the main historical character, Tycho Brahe, was famous for his wildly unorthodox behavior and teachings.

   Starry River of the Sky is fantasy through and through.  The author alternates the main character's story with folk tales that seem to move that character's story along.  The audience for this book seems to be younger than the audience for Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.  Because of that the plot is simpler and the problems the characters meet are more immediate - the heat, the darkness, grouchy neighbors.  The writing is more lyrical.  The pacing has more drama.  Less happens but more emotional ground seems to get covered.

Oh dear, what have I done?  When I started this post, I thought my choice was clear.   I must pause here and think carefully.  If I was the esteemed judge, truly, which would I choose?  (Note to BOB organizers:  I NEVER want to be an esteemed judge.)

(Deeeeep breath).  I stand by my initial inclination.  I choose Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh.  The books have different purposes and both purposes are worthwhile.

Jepp teaches us about a swatch of scientific history and gives us insight into the constant battle of all human beings to be treated with respect.   Jepp also encourages the reader to look inside for his or her own talents and pursue a path that is meaningful and satisfying. 

Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin is about anger, betrayal but most of all, this book is about forgiveness.  How Lin gets there is a journey worth taking.  The stories are like pearls disbursed on a strand with earthen beads.  Did I love this book?  Oh, yes, yes, I did.

And still, I choose small and sturdy, young and indomitable, clever, sometimes clueless, but eventually courageous Jepp as the winner of this battle.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Battle Joined

I have not read tomorrow's contestants in The Battle of the Kids' Books.  They are Endangered! by Eliot Schrefer and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.  The judge is Kathi Appelt.

Unfortunately for me, the two largest public libraries close to me do not own Endangered!  Yeah!  I know!  It's a National Book Award Finalist, for golly sakes!  They both own Three Times Lucky, but obviously the word is out that this is an awesome book because it is on hold at my hometown library and out at the "other" library.

(And, with huge apologies to all the booksellers out there who do such awesome work keeping literature alive, I only buy books that I have learned to love.  It's a cheapster thing.)

So I have read a few reviews and I have investigated the judge.  And, even though I am totally unqualified to make a prediction, I will!  I predict that the small-town girl will beat out the orphaned chimpanzee. 
  Who can resist a message in a bottle?

I predict that tomorrow, Three Times Lucky will move on to the next round.  I predict this for three reasons. 

Reason 1:  Kathi Appelt's own work leans toward small-town and rural characters.
Reason 2:  Sassy orphans beat out orphaned animals most of the time.
Reason 3:  The American South is more appealing than the Congo, especially now.

But the New York Times review of Endangered! gives me pause.
There just might be a surfeit of small-town mysteries in children's books right now.  The suspense and tension of Sophie's attempt to save her small bonobo friend may tip the scales in Endangerd!'s favor.
He looks so frightened.  I want to save him, myself.

I wish I had a chance to read just one of these books!!!

I have nothing to lose!  I stand by my prediction. Three Times Lucky will win tomorrow.  (maybe)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bomb - Da BOMB!

Over at Battle of the Kids' Books, Bomb has (insert your explosion related verb here) to victory!  I have already used one incendiary pun.  I can not in good conscience use more.

I had a sneaking suspicion that this would happen but since I have not even been able to get a look at the cover of the winning title, I could not make a reliable prediction.  I WANT to read this book. 

(Person, who is reading it from my local library, please return it, NOW.  Waiting is hard.)

HOWEVER, Wonder was a gasp-producing masterpiece of enlightenment and consciousness-raising.  I may have chosen it, anyway. 

Tomorrow, though, fiction will win out.  Titanic is a gripping revisit to the most famous maritime disaster of all time.  But Code Name Verity is ...I have no words to accurately convey this book's power.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Navigating Early - Clare Vanderpool

What an odd book... A coming of age story that incorporates math, mythology, a smattering of mid-20th century history, and backwoods adventure.  About two thirds through the book I flipped to the end.  I was afraid that one thing was going to happen.  Sigh, something else happened and I could continue to find out how.

In Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, Jack is the new kid at a boarding school on the coast of Maine.  He comes from Kansas but his father is stationed in Maine.  His mother has just died.  His father is a stranger having been in the service during the War (WWII).  Jack has never seen the ocean - ever.

Somehow, the weirdest kid in school, Early Auden, catches Jack's imagination.  Early doesn't bother to come to classes and when he does, he often leaves in the middle.  But he doesn't bother anyone so no one bothers, or bothers with, him.  He doesn't seek Jack out but he does help Jack.  So when Jack's father has to cancel a visit during Spring break, Jack joins Early on a quest to follow the Early-created mythical journey of the number Pi.

Pi's story reminds the reader of the travels of Odysseus, with shipwrecks, weird old women, pirates and more.  And Early's quest into the north Maine woods is every bit as exciting. There are some strange people out there in Main lumber country.

The ending was not what I expected.  Early was not what I expected.  Even Jack surprised me a time or two.  Good book, good adventure, good writing.  I approve!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The "Problem" Novel

Okay, this post is based on how I remember things, not on how they actually were.

So, back a little past the very break of the dawn of time, I studied Children's Literature. I wasn't much older than a child myself, but I had missed reading It's Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville and other books of that ilk.  Judy Blume may or may not have been on the scene back then.  This was, after all, a LOOONNG time ago.

So, we approached books that dealt with parents fighting, divorce, any kind of abuse, any kind of economic struggle or family difficulty - dead or dying parents, alcoholism, (gasp!) drugs!!!, even sexual awakening as if the books dealt with "problems".  That's what we (or maybe just I) called them, "problem novels". 

As opposed to what?  Dull boring, diaries of someone's life in which they never have problems?  Who would even read a book like that? Look at Nancy Drew!!!  Her books are teeming with snaky problems. 

My granddaughter's favorite lift-the-flap book, Where's Spot?  BEGINS with a problem.  Spot didn't eat his food and Mom Dog can't find him.  Huge problem.

Anyway, even today when doing reader's advisory, I approach some titles with the caveat, "This is a problem novel.  The main character has some really gritty issues to deal with."

And most of the books in this category of mine, fall into the deeply dramatic, heart-wrenching, oh-my-gosh how-will-this-poor-kid-survive description.  Think of Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers , a cross-over title, whose main character barely survives foster care, homelessness, and a surprise pregnancy before a hopeful ending.

But SOME problem novels approach their subjects with sympathy and a sense of hope.  Almost Home by Joan Bauer saddles poor Sugar Mae Cole with an absent, gambler father, a fragile - though not at first - mother and homelessness.  And yet, because this is Joan Bauer who is writing, we know that Sugar will find friends wherever she goes and that the people who help her will be genuinely helpful, not ineffectual or snakes in disguise.

In Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan, the 16 year old heroine has a problem growing in her belly and the problem's father, her now husband, is an even bigger problem.  All the prospective grandparents, in their attempt to...actually I don't really know what they thought they were doing.  I learned that prospective grandparenthood can be a problem in and of itself. - Anyway, they didn't help much. 
That said, this book was fun to read and it had an upbeat ending.

I know that real life is gritty and painful.  I know that kids suffer; some die.  I also know that these books are written to open young readers' eyes to the problems that others suffer; and to show those young readers who are suffering that help is out there.  Both kinds of "problem" novels are needed - the ones that hit hard and make us gasp with the cruelty of life; AND the gentler books that show us the wounds and then offer a salve that will leave the smallest scar.

Right now, I want the latter.  Death has become all too real to me.  I want my tales of woe with a huge serving of hope on the side.

Did any of you refer to certain teen books as "problem novels" or did I make that up?  Let me know.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Simple Awesome Robots

Inspired by the many, many wonderful robot crafts online, here is my version of a super simple cardboard tube robot.  I posted directions here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Dad

He's gone.  Poof! Like that.  Yesterday, he smiled and nodded and dozed; talked to his children and grandchildren on the phone; slept as we sat and reminisced about endless pounds of bluefish from his deep sea fishing trips and of gathering duck eggs in the Spring. 

This morning, we gathered in that hospital room again.  We cried.  We laughed, though not as much.  As each of the "locals" arrived, Mom cried a little more.  We waited for a nurse or doctor to tell us what to do as his shell lay there, an empty reminder of what we have lost.

And then Mom held out her hands and we joined in a circle.  Mom touched Dad's shoulder on one side.  My sister touched his shoulder on the other side and we prayed together, as one.

Oh, Dad, see what you have done?  Your children, together, loving you, loving each other?  We each prayed that prayer, believing different things as we did, but united in our loss. 

I want you back.  I have things I want to ask you.  I will ask my sisters and brothers.  Together we will tell stories and you will be there.  I hope.  I pray.  Hope sustains.  It is our family motto.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday Sighday

I have been very busy this week with non-bloggy things - sitting for a grandchild; following my Dad from the hospital to Rehab to another room in Rehab; catching up on Committee work for my worship community; and reading.

Ah, reading...  It is a salve to my weary - and sometimes restless - soul.  Over at Battle of the (Kid's) Books, you can now vote for the one book in the entire contest that you want to return to the Final Round if it gets voted off.  I LOVE this part of BoB because sometimes a worthy book falls short of a worthy judge's expectations.  Ya know what I mean?  Judges are human.

Here is how my reading and Battle of the Kids' Books stands.  I have ONE book yet to read in the first match-up of Round One.  I need to get hold of Bomb! by Steve Sheinkin before March 12th.

In the next set of match-ups, I have to read two books, Endangered by Eliot Schrefer and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

Round one continues, and I must read Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin.

In the next set of four contestants, I haven't read THREE of the books; Moonbird by Philip Hoose, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman AND No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.

Some very heavy reading will be going on in this house.

If you would like to see all the books in the competition, and by elimination the books I've already read, click here.

I've voted for MY Undead Choice.  It was a close call.  Join in the fun, today.