Friday, January 05, 2018

PLANETESME PICKS: Best Picture Books of 2017

Hello, dear friends, after experiencing a real life Series of Unfortunate Events I have been on a bit of a hiatus, but glad to be back in the library saddle to share the best of what is on my shelf from the past year as you are deciding what to add to yours.  As always, I am making recommendations with read-aloud, classroom use, potential for discussion, visual/art education and/or story time mileage at the forefront. This has been a strong year for appealing retellings, stories about friendship and a even a trend of children's books that may or may not be for children! I have nonfiction faves to be featured soon in another post, but for now, please peruse 2017's top picture book picks!


Little Red by Bethan Woollvin (Peachtree Books) 
No little girls getting rescued in this version of Red Riding Hood sans woodcutter.  Full of violence, calamity and surprise, my reaction upon reading was "finally, someone know what kids really like." Don't be fooled by the simplicity of the illustrations, their broad strokes and limited palette; every line is bold, intentional, effective, ingenious. I imagine would make the great Molly Bang of Picture This fame very proud, as really, this artist did everything right. If I ran the Caldecott, this would be my pick.


Mice Skating by Annie Silverstro, illustrated by Teagan White (Sterling)
Lucy is not like the other field mice, running for cover underground when the snow starts to fall.  She is so eager to share the delights of the season with her party-pooper roomies, what could possibly lure them out?  Stylized matte illustrations laid against warm tan paper offer an unusual visual warmth and features the sweetest pessimist mice penned since Leo Lionni's Frederick.  It should be purchased if only for these lines:
"Your fur is freezing," said Mona when Lucy came inside.
"Your nose is dripping," said Millie.
"Your teeth are cheddar-ing!" said Marcello. 
Your teeth are cheddar-ing? Says one mouse to another? Seriously.  Story time mike drop.


Accident! by Andrea Tsurumi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Another Caldecott contender! When an armadillo spills juice on furniture and incites reckless fleeing from the scene, fracas ensues, culminating at the library...where else! This slapstick story manages some visual acrobatics that when you're done laughing, gasping and pointing at all the worst-case cause-and-effect scenarios that can possibly be imagined, the cognizant reader would have to marvel at the kind of planning it would take to visually execute these spreads.  It's mind boggling.  While it might require some ingenuity to share this effectively in a large group setting because of the detail, it's worth it because of the big idea behind this book: that even when something is an accident, you need to say sorry (a similar idea receiving very different but complimentary treatment in Trudy Ludwig's Sorry). Descendants of Rube Goldberg and kids with a penchant for graphic novels (i.e. pretty much all kids) will find this offering suits them to a T.  Don't we all love a picture book we can look at a hundred times and always find something new?


Sarabella's Thinking Cap by Judith Schachner (Dial)
Teacher alert!  Teacher alert!  Woot!  Woot!  Woot!  Many people know Schachner from her wildly popular Skippyjon Jones series, and I'm glad sister is making bank, but in my opinion those are far from her best books.  I would invite readers to explore her inventive and visually glorious Yo, Vikings!The Grannyman and this latest offering about a daydreaming girl who figures out how to share what's inside her head via a beautiful hat (which of course now we all have to get brown paper bags and make our own).  Fans of Patricia Polacco's Thank You, Mr. Falker will fall for this empathetic and inspiring story with a classroom setting...but mostly I like it because every page is like opening a secret drawer full of colorful jewels and treasures.  Just what it should be like to look inside someone else's thinking cap.


The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illustrated by The Fan Brothers (Beach Lane)
Marco the fox has so many questions, but when he poses them to his skulk, their reply is: "what does that have to do with chicken stew?"  Clearly, when faced with an existential crisis, a little life experience is in order and a voyage on the high seas to a distant land with a crew of other adventurous (albeit inexperienced) animals fits the bill. I wavered somewhat about including this on the list; while a solid friendship story with a well-earned conclusion, the voice, while graceful, is a hair esoteric for my taste in terms of sharing with children.  But the production quality of this book as an object is so over the top (feel the paper quality of the cover in your fingers! I'm not kidding!  It's a thing!) and the illustrations...well, the scene with the ship crashing on the waves in a storm...these dramatic double-page spreads, you can almost hear the waves lapping, antlers crashing, boom of cannons! I couldn't help thinking of what Nicola Bayley's pictures did to a generation of children's picture book lovers in The Tyger Voyage, how could a new generation be deprived of another launch on to the sea of lifelong reading?


Franklin's Flying Bookshop by Katie Harnett (Thames & Hudson)
Completely charming story about a gentle, book-loving dragon who scares the heck out of townspeople in his search to find a literary soulmate.  When he does, the magic really begins as they invent a storefront on the dragon's back in hopes of sharing their favorite titles...and a lesson in the limits of xenophobia.  Folksy illustrations and varied layout from page to page keep an already strong read-aloud visually engaging as well. Besides being a beautiful book with a clear middle-beginning and end and problem to solve, I love it as a launchpad for envisioning inventive spaces for making our dreams come true, and talking about the role of bookstores and libraries in our communities.


Sparkle Boy by Lesléa Newman (Lee & Low)
Casey likes his sister Jessie's shimmery skirt, glittery nail polish and sparkly bracelet, but his sister is chagrined when these propensities elicit responses from parents like "I don't have a problem with that."  Can't they see how embarrassing and socially precarious this could be?  It's not until Casey is under his sister's wing while he receives the brunt of intolerance that she has to make a serious choice about how to respond. I confess I approached this book with caution, I am not a big fan of prescribing literature for children (don't let my prescription pad fool you). The real value of this sensitive but straightforward book is that it is not actually for the sparkle boys in the world but the people around the sparkle boys.  This story is age-appropriate, not about decisions of sexual identity per se but whether we can choose to be accepting of people as they are authentically, and question the legitimacy and arbitrariness of our own social parameters.  Holy smokes.  Excellent realistic fiction in picture book form like this should be cherished for classroom use. Sure to inspire very necessary classroom discussions of how we need to treat one another and what world we want to live in.  Then, on to math worksheets.


Today by Julie Morstad (Simply Read)
The cover is a bit minimalistic (read: drab) but picture book lovers know to trust, trust, trust Julie Morstad with your reading life and this gem is no exception. This book is a celebration of daily decisions: what to wear?  What to eat?  Where do we go?  What flowers to pick?  What book to read?  So many choices, and Morstad creates quite an appetizing visual menu that will have young readers clamoring to decide. This book is a celebration that brought to mind some of the work of early picture book geniuses Gene Zion and Gyo Fujikawa in their invitational approach and the immediacy of experience that is so empowering for young readers.  Specifically, I remember reading Jeffie's Party by Gene Zion when I was around six years old approximately, ohhh, six thousand times, just for the chance to revisit the choices of what costume to wear to the party.  I don't know what even would have happened to me if I had been given this book as a child, with beautifully illustrated choices on every other page.  I think my head would have exploded.  Worth the risk. 


City Mouse, Country Mouse by Maggie Rudy (Henry Holt)
First of all, do we ever get sick of magnificent visual reinterpretations of classic fairy and folk tales?  Answer: uh, NO.  (see Jerry Pinkney's The Grasshopper & The Ants should you require further convincing.) But in the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess, I have the biggest raging art crush on Maggie Rudy, it's hard to put into words.  I can't even.  Her doll work on her blog, MouseHouses, has inspired me to work on a novel for the past two years just in the most remote-as-Siberia hope she might consider illustrating it. Honestly. I think she is magic.  In this latest of her picture book offerings, I think she really has hit her stride and plays to her strengths. Each mouse in turn tries to share the virtues of their urban and rural environments, as the retelling goes.  What sets this version apart, besides the inimitable photographed scenes of her mice characters casting a spell of suspended belief in all other realities, is that she has captured the romance of a deep friendship. This is real; children can relate to the peril of situational loss of someone to whom they are connected, whether changing classrooms or having to move.  Readers can feel the palpable longing in the mice's separation, and the relief in their reunion and clever compromise.  This happy ending suggests that where there's a will, there's a way, and if you're lucky, there might even be a strawberry patch.  It's hard to find a good love story in children's literature that is not too mushy and even relatable.  Score.


Small Walt by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal (Simon & Schuster)
I received this book and was awash with wishes.  "PLEASE let it be as good as I hope!  PLEASE let it be as good as I hope!"  As a teacher in a tundra (Chicago), I have been waiting for, hoping-double-crossed-fingers for a good solid book about a snow-mover as Ethel Kessler's Stan the Hot Dog Man was just not cutting the mustard for my crew any more.  And here we go, a hybrid of Mike Mulligan and The Little Engine that Could and a spirit all its own as earnest Small Walt shows the bigger snowplows that he can clear a path with the best of 'em.  Well written in a rhythmical way just right for a post-blizzard storytime. 


Claymates by Dev Petty, illustrated by Lauren Eldridge (Little, Brown and Company)
An artist leaves a couple of glomps of clay on a workspace, and when the artist steps away they come to life and reinvent themselves repeatedly with more and more hilarious results.  This book reads like a photographic comic book with tremendous kid-appeal, and taps into the way friends can encourage one another to become their best selves...and to laugh harder.  Of course, this read-aloud must be followed by clay on every desk for imaginative play, puppets shows and photo narratives.  A creative and creativity-inspiring tour-de-force, and just. So. Much. Fun.


I'm Afraid Your Teddy is in Trouble Today by Jancee Dunn, illustrated by Scott Nash (Candlewick)
This ain't your mama's Corduroy, no, there's a new anthropomorphic stuffed animal bad boy in town. This is more like No, David! on stuffed animal steroids...you can even see the homage if you look carefully on the cover, and another one hidden inside.  I was concerned that the story might be too derivative of classics, but the very clever and original high-stakes device of having the reader coming home to police (!!!)  and receiving the harrowing play-by-play report definitely upped the ante from page one, and the visual jokes are fresh, zany and will have story time audiences roaring.  Starting from the teddy bear's acquisition of a cell phone to call other toys to invite them to a bed-jumping, dress-up playing, bath-taking, one-hundred balloon pancake party that unfolds with every turned page, how will this mischievous teddy possibly avoid being taken down to the station?  Sure to be a favorite.


La Princesa and the Pea by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers)  
A rhyming retelling of the Princess and the Pea with Spanish language interjected throughout with strong context clues for all readers, and the textiles depicted in the book are "inspired by the weaving and embroidery of indigenous people of Peru" (from the illustrator's note).  Fairy tale retellings that embrace diversity are always a boon in the classroom, but this little princesa is particularly fetching, and the theme of family is piled high.  


Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood)
One of the great purposes of literature is to carry us away to a different time and place, and to allow us the chance to use our empathetic imaginations to live the lives of others.  In this miracle of art, we are allowed to visit in the average day of a boy in a coal village in the 1950's.  We can see the sea from his window, the lupines in the wind, and every few pages, on a wordless double-paged spread, we can see his father, a figure nearly crushed under the weight of black scribblings overhead, and a fate that may await the carefree boy when his time comes.  No bells, no whistles, no jokes, just a family and a life and a chance to know it. Gosh, what a gorgeous book with more gravity than the average pick.  


Barkus by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant (Chronicle)
Five read-aloud ready vignettes about a new family dog in a perfect petit package of gumdrop-colored illustrations.  As I was reading, I thought, "how is the writing this tight?"  Then I looked at the author, oh yes, mystery solved, this is the woman who penned the beloved, short and sweet Newbery-winner Sarah, Plain and Tall.  If you have an emergent reader who likes animal stories, this is the kind of book that makes a child realize s/he can read, and s/he love it.  This is going to be somebody's favorite childhood book, so you might as well have it in your collection in case that child is yours.


Grandfather and the Moon by Stéphanie Lapoint, illustrated by Rogé, translated by Shelley Tanaka (Groundwood)
One of the big trends I noticed this year were books that appear to be children's books but they are really unbelievably beautiful illustrated books that children can happen to read. One of my favorite books this year, and maybe ever, is one of those: Pandora by Victoria Turnbull, clearly an allegory for a very adult situation.  Then there's Along the River by Vanina Starkoff, A Cage Went in Search of a Bird by Cary Fagan, illustrated by Banafsheh Erfanian, A River by Marc Martin (apparently grown-ups like rivers and birds in their picture books), even books getting Caldecott buzz like Windows by Julia Denos and illustrated by E.B. Goodale, The Book of Mistakes by Corrina Luyken and Here We Are:  Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers, for all their immense beauty, have a quietude and sometimes meandering feel to the storytelling that make me wonder who the intended audience really is.  I'm not sure they have pacing or messages that are intended for children primarily. That doesn't mean children can't enjoy them and experience them in a way that resonates and can be revisited; along those lines, Trina Paulus' Hope for the Flowers was such a book from my own childhood, another example is Sara Varon's heartbreaking masterpiece Robot Dreams, and many of us know Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince to be one book when we are young and another when we are older.  I hesitated to include Grandfather and the Moon to this list just because I wasn't sure it was a children's book but instead an illustrated book children can read. But then I remembered all of this, and I would be remiss in not including it because sometimes we just have to give children things that are beautiful and strange and if not for us now, for us someday.  This story, originally published in French in Canada a few years back and now in English translation, tells the story from a granddaughter's point of view of her grandfather and his decline after the loss of his wife.   The narrative then takes a somewhat sudden turn when the narrator wins a contest in which she is permitted, as a civilian, to travel to the moon, and discovers the adventure is not all its cracked up to be.  At the story's core is a truth about what it means to be there for someone else.  The illustrations are muted and unassuming but expressive and consequential. The prose's unique and personal detail afford the reader a sense of intimacy, like a friend telling one what one knows about the world as best as one can, that is, really, why anyone should write at all.  Not for the hordes, but for the one.  Bravely, the writer and illustrator in this book are here for us, one by one, in this unusual surprise.  


The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, illustrated by Sarah Massini (Nosy Crow)
Lastly, goodness knows this classic story of a toy rabbit made real is not a new book, originally published in 1922, but its reissue this year with the original text in this lovely oversized format perfect for read-aloud and larger group sharing is worth a mention.  Additionally, if we're talking oldies but goodies, I also want to remind folks to add my favorite book of last year to their shelves if it's not there already: Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis (Candlewick) is the exciting adventure of some whimsical garden creatures and the strange thing growing there, told in what initially seems like gobbledegook but within pages the reader realizes it is a new language.  Just as the fluency begins to blossom, so does the surprise in the garden.  The surprise that blossomed this year was realizing what a favorite it has become with ELL and ESL students in my school library, some checking it out repeatedly.  This big, beautiful book levels a playing field of accessibility to reading and experiencing illustrated literature, and is worth sharing with every child you know.  


Honorable Mentions and popular books of 2017 to explore, in no particular order:
Bunny's Book Club by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Doubleday)
How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green (Tundra)
Mr. Biddles by Kristine A. Lombardi (Harper)
Deep in the Woods by Christopher Corr (Frances Lincoln)
A Cat Named Swan by Hollie Hobbie (Random House)
Winter Dance by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Richard Jones (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell (Feiwel and Friends)
Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara di Giorgio (Chronicle)
The Mermaid by Jan Brett (G.P. Putnam's Sons)
Boo Who? by Ben Clanton (Candlewick)
Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza (POW Books)
The Bad Seed by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald (HarperCollins)
Creepy Pair of Underwear! by Aaron Reynolds (Simon & Schuster)
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall (Candlewick)
Escargot by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Sydney Hanson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
The Tree: A Fable by Neal Layton (Candlewick)
The Ninjabread Man by C.J. Leigh, illustrated by Chris Gall (Orchard)
When's My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook)
The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex (Balzer & Bray)

What are your favorite picture books of this year? Have you had any experiences sharing books that appeared on this list? Please share in the comments!

Links provided for information.  Please support your local independent bookseller

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Happy Appleseed! Freebies in Honor of Johnny's Birthday!

It's that time of year, coming up on Johnny Appleseed's birthday, September 26th!  In honor of my favorite historical figure, I wrote a biographical picture book a few years back, SEED BY SEED: THE LEGEND AND LEGACY OF JOHN "APPLESEED" CHAPMAN, illustrated by the talented and award-winning Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow Books).  I wrote about it here.


I put the lessons garnered from research about Johnny Appleseed's life into the book in the form of five footsteps that allowed him to walk into history:

1.  Use what you have.
2.  Share what you have.
3.  Respect nature.
4.  Try to make peace where there is war.
5.  You can reach your destination by taking small steps.


Lends itself very nicely to a bulletin board if I do say so myself (and in conjunction with artwork from Aliki's Story of Johnny Appleseed)!  Plus, you can use SEED BY SEED as a springboard for reading any picture book biographies and have the children come up with their own "footsteps," or tenets of the person's life that make them notable and worth remembering.  The main idea of Johnny Appleseed's life and the book I wrote about him is that you can change the landscape of our country by planting a small seed every day---doing one small positive thing with consistency.  What seed will you plant?

The best news is that the clever illustrator created free downloadable seed packets, a "Johnny Jump-Up" printable toy and a coloring page that you can share with your class! Click here to print your own! Thank you so much, Lynne Rae Perkins!  In the spirit of Johnny Appleseed...please spread the seed to read!


Links provided for information.  Please support your local independent bookseller.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Teacher Collection! Best Picture Book Read-Alouds for Back to School

Teacher budgets and bookshelf space are limited, so only the best of the best will do!  Here are my must-haves for September, perfect for treating your hard-working teaching self, or parents can start the year off right with a classroom or library donation of a favorite. Great children's books are also a bridge between home and school...we support a child's learning every time we read aloud!  So don't hesitate to add these winners to your circulation:


President Squid by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Sara Varon (Chronicle).  Of course, this fall is going to have lots of occasions to work an election theme into the classroom, and this is a number-one must-have. A bombastic, big-mouthed Day-Glo cephalopod has more bluster than charisma, but that doesn't stop him from seeking high office in the sea.  What does it take to be President?  Diplomacy Accountability? Responsibility?  Naaaahhhh.  Squid has a tie. That should do it!  The fact that he has a Titanic-sized house, fame, the gift of gab and the bones to boss are just bonuses.  But when a sardine is caught compromisingly in a clam, can President Squid step up and save him?  Maybe he'll learn what quality is most presidential of all...or will power corrupt?    The illustrator created one of my favorite books of all time, the thoughtful allegory of friendship that is Robot Dreams.  Here, Varon's wild palette and expressive style combined with Reynold's high-spirited humor make this any easy share and a perfect springboard for creating lists and conversations about qualities of leadership. By the way, I have it on good authority from the author that Trump wasn't running when he wrote this book.  But if the tentacles fit.


Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith (Scholastic).  Oh my goodness, I love when this happens: a big, beautiful, funny, well-paced read-aloud with chance to do voices and an unlabored, authentic multicultural representation, plus an opportunity to talk about parodies and differentiated versions of fairy tales. Sold!!! In this play on Red Riding Hood, winsome Little Red has to deliver acne medicine, but a lion is impersonating her auntie.  The makeover Little Red delivers on the lion's mane will elicit screams of laughter and delight, and the vantage point from inside of the lion's toothy maw rates ooh's and ahh's.  A happy ending and a little nudge toward asking for things politely paired with lively, colorful illustrations in a dynamic layout make this a perfect picture book.


Bear's Winter Party by Deborah Hodge (Groundwood).  I confess that every fall I have a penchant for purchases of all things bears and hibernation to add to my book cave.  This year, a close runner up was A Brave Bear by Sean Taylor, handsomely illustrated by the mighty mighty Emily Hughes (Candlewick), but the winner was this loose and juicily-watercolored story in which Bear plans a party to win over his cautious woodland neighbors before his big sleep. I was so admiring of the bear-faced honey ginger cookies that Bear was serving, and what do you know, an easy recipe is in the back! Why every classroom doesn't have a stove and oven, I haven't a clue.  But every classroom can have an invitation to this reading fete, and the inclusive message of "don't judge a book (or bear!) by its cover" that seasons these pages like warm cinnamon.


School's First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Roaring Brook).
A new school has been built.  What should be expected on School's first day?  The janitor is there to encourage via some earnest banter with the building, and the edifice is educated on how even the most reticent can come around to loving School....eventually. I love how School manages to learn a thing or two in the course of the day!  Robinson's folksy, friendly style is sunny and straightforward and realistically depicts a wide swath of cultures in the classroom.  Reminiscent of Sally's romance with her own school in Charle' Shultz's Peanuts cartoons, this book has a comforting combination of anticipation, problem-solving and reflection, and also touches on the value of all staff in a school building.  I often start the school year with a conversation about how lucky we are to be together at school, and how it is an opportunity not taken for granted around the world.  This book and its sampling of students who don't always have the most positive outlook lends itself nicely to a conversation about gratitude for the educational experience. It is also a perfect pick for introducing point-of-view, or eking out the point-of-view of your students on their own exciting first day.


Douglas, You Need Glasses! by Ged Adamson (Schwartz & Wade). "Nancy and Douglas were chasing squirrels.  At least, Douglas thought he was chasing squirrels." Poor, nearsighted Douglas is missing important signs, making silly mistakes and even finds himself in danger, all because he can't see well.  Children will laugh and correct Douglas' errors at his hilarious trip to the eye doctor, where Douglas finally chooses a life-changing pair of specs. From the blurry lettering on the cover  to the charming double-paged photographic spread at the end ("REAL KIDS WHO WEAR GLASSES!"), this hilarious book is the perfect prescription for empathy, fostering a deeper understanding from kids who don't wear glasses and a renewed sense of confidence in those who do.


Steamboat School by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband (Disney Hyperion).
"'Hurry,' urged Tassie.  "Reverend John doesn't hold with being late.'
At Third and Almond, we slipped into the church,
And headed down the basement steps, into the darkness,
to the Tallow Candle School.
'Why can't we have windows?' I whined, already missing the sun.
'Hush, you know why,' Tassie said.
And I did.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
'Welcome to out school, James,' said Reverend John.
'We make our own light here.'"
Even the small, surreptitious school in the basement of the church is forced to close when Missouri institutes a new law forbidding African Americans to learn to read or write.  But where there is a will, there's a way, and Reverend John ingeniously refurbishes an old steamboat in order to teach the children on the Mississippi River, where the law of the land did not apply.   Inspired by the true story of Reverend John Berry Meachum (1789-1854), the teacher and student are heroes.  We need these kind of heroes.   Cross-hatch illustrations against a limited palette of brown and black evoke the etching style of the period, but with broad spreads, expressive figures and paired with a high-stakes narrative, this choice lends itself beautifully to sharing in a modern classroom.


Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker by Christianne Jones, illustrated by Richard Watson (Capstone Little Boost).  When an (ahem) ebullient little owl loses her voice, it leaves room for a little more listening. It turns out her friend told really funny jokes, she was able to finish her classwork and earn a gold star, and she got more out of the movies and books. When Lacey's voice returns, she has a choice to make.  Simple, bright illustrations do the trick in accentuating the gentle message, and the busy endpapers of Lacey in full yammering mode are a jocular overture to the inexorable character readers will meet inside. I'm sure none of you teachers out there have a nonstop talker in your room, but on the off-chance that you do, this book may inspire them to strike more of a balance between talking and listening, like Lacey Walker.


Finding Wild by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Abigail Halpin (Knopf).
What is wild?  And where can you find it?
Succinct, elegant musings and twisting ferns and flowers follow a boy and girl on a nature hike. They use each of their senses in turn to discover what is wild, even in the face of concrete. Graceful and colorful watercolor and pencil illustrations maintain interest through a varied layout.  While the prose may prove a bit opaque for some students, the reason this is a worthwhile pick is that it is so invitational.  The question of "what is wild?" is so especially relevant in the face of works like Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods:  Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and the outdoor education, Reggio-Emilia and "forest kindergarten" movements that have taken hold in Europe and increasingly in the United States.  Whatever your school's mission and wherever you are, it is easy to take an observational stroll around the block following a reading of this book and allow for children to discover "wild" for themselves.  In fact, the whole idea and many meanings and connotations of "wild" (both in nature and people) makes for a very interesting exploration in general, made even more interesting paired with books like Wild by Emily Hughes, Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, Jemmy Button by Jennifer Uman, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown, and also by Peter Brown, the wonderful new serial read-aloud chapter book The Wild Robot.  A theme that will leave students wild about reading.


What are your favorite picks for the new school year?  Please share in the comments below.  Links are provided for information; please remember to support your local independent bookseller.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Big Summertime Laughs

Though the joys of June are many, beware the dreaded summer reading slide.  The easiest way to keep reading skills bolstered while the sun shines hot is by enrolling in the local public library summer reading games and offering kids books that are so fun, they feel like the furthest thing from homework.  Here are a couple choices that are the most painless, page-turning reading and imagery mash-ups since MAD Magazine.  


13-Story Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton (Feiwel and Friends). Follow the adventures of besties Andy and Terry (coincidentally, the name of the author and illustrator) as they make additions and improvements on their treehouse  (man-eating shark tank, rollercoasters, baby dinosaur petting zoo, antigravity chamber, lemonade fountain, ice cream parlor with robot scooper, high bounce trampoline, to name a few), hang out with their animal-loving neighbor Jill and her flying cats while having adventures (like unveiling a sea monster disguised as a mermaid or battling vengeful vegetables)and  desperately trying to make deadline for their cantankerous publisher, Mr. Big Nose.   I am beside myself with the genius of this series.  Honestly. The 13-Story Treehouse and its sequels are the best thing to happen to kidlit since Captain Underpants, and, sorry, Dav Pilkey, surpasses it by a country mile...in other words, these books are a major event in children's literature and a must-have in every library.  The imagination of this graphic novel hybrid is truly incomparable, and the hilarious storytelling/artwork combination is  seamless, as though the Andy and Terry in the book have come to life and really are working together to tell these stories, an incident of real live book magic. Like potato chips, I could not stop with one...could they actually keep this pace and maintain this almost psychedelic level imagination?  Yes and yes.  Any summer reading goal is easily met through the entire series, including the 26-Story Treehouse, 39-Story Treehouse, 52-Story Treehouse.  After all, who wouldn't want to spend their summer in a treehouse?


The Complete Adventures of Johnny Mutton by James Proimos (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Three words:  LAUGH.  OUT.  LOUD.  One more: VERYHARD.  Johnny Mutton was a baby sheep that was left on a doorstep and raised as a naive, well-meaning little boy.   All of his comic adventures from three volumes are compiled here. Johnny gives away all of the cupcakes meant for a cook-off, throws an unpopular party, dresses like a nose for Halloween, is a good sport at a spelling bee and many more adventures in the three books worth of comic adventures compiled into this one strange and brilliant treasury. Loose line drawing and an odd but addictive vintage Zap Comix quality, it also offers an optimistic spirit, affirmation of individuality ("Johnny Mutton!  He's so him!") and an insight into the human condition that makes it brilliant for all ages. If Spongebob and James Marshall had a baby, it would be Johnny Mutton. Like his mother says, "I love you, Jonny Mutton!  There is no one quite like you."

And I was a little late to the party on this one, but still so pleased to discover What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night:  A Very Messy Adventure by Refe and Susan Tuma (Little Brown).


Posed plastic dinosaurs wreak havoc all around the house, culminating in a mud-covered mess in the living room that would even have No, David! shaking his head.  Though the photos have so much havoc to discover, the volume is slim.  If this story time sized intro to these anthropomorphic antics leave you wanting more,  I hear tell there's an even bigger collection for fans that will engage older children as well.   Naughty is always nice when it comes to reading, and anyway, who ever heard of a well-behaved dinosaur? Velociraptors don't care. Follow up on the fun by letting toys take some selfies, with your help.

What children's books make you and yours laugh the hardest?

Links for information.  Please support your local independent bookseller.  

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Buggy for Books

As gardens spring to life, so does the wild and wonderful world of wigglies!  This amazing miniature world is mirrored so cunningly in the pages of these books, each in their own special way.


Stories from Bug Garden by Lisa Moser, illustrated by Gwen Millward (Candlewick).
Bee sat on a lilac branch and watched the clouds.
"Shouldn't you fly around?" asked Dragonfly."
"Shouldn't you sip nectar from the flowers?" asked Lightning Bug.
"Shouldn't you make honey?" asked Horsefly.
"I don't want to do any of those things," said Bee.
"What do you want to do, then?"
Bee settled back to watch the clouds.
"Just be," said Bee.
An abundance of friendship, gentle wisdom and well-developed characters are coupled with busy and whimsical ink, watercolor and pencil illustrations.  These sweet vignettes will inspire looking at all things that fly and crawl and buzz and wiggle with new eyes.



A Beetle is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle).  "A beetle is kaleidoscopic," the text asserts, and the aboslutely gorgeous and colorful illustrations confirm.  The latest in the breathtaking series (A Seed is Sleepy, An Egg is Quiet, A Nest is Noisy, A Butterfly is Patient, A Rock is Lively, and every volume is worthwhile), this is like paging through a talented naturalist's notebook, with critters so realistic you'd barely blink to see them crawl off the page.  The text reads like poetry and I challenge you not to learn something along the way...in other words, nonfiction perfection.


Gary's Garden by Gary Northfield (Scholastic).  This small-print graphic novel sleeper is a surprise gem that will be well-liked by any elementary-aged kid, following the adventures of the residents of a particular plot of land...who knew so many zany and intense adventures might be happening in our own backyards? The pests have tons of personality, and the Pokémon-like cards at the back of the book attest to the superlative qualities of the characters.  I hope to see this cast again in a sequel with the anticipation one usually reserves for springtime.

Links for information.  Please support your local independent bookseller.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

PLANETESME PICKS: Best Picture Books and Nonfiction of 2015

For a long time, I have been saying that children's books are our best hope for equalizing education in America.  A great book in the hands of a rich child is the same great book in the hands of a poor child.  But more than that, books in thoughtful combination are an education in and of themselves.  I love making these annual lists, because I can only imagine how a child who experiences these titles will be changed, and change is the definition of learning.  Through what will new lenses will the child view the world after experiencing this art?  What biographies will inspire them, what mentors will fly through space and time to scaffold their own dreams and efforts?  How will they view and understand the natural world?  What new friends will they find inside books that will inform them to know how to connect and empathize with people outside of books?  What will make them laugh, cry, think?  After perusing hundreds of books this year with my teacher-librarian eye, these are the finest that I spy.  I hope read in any combination, they will be building blocks...building books!...in an individual ready to meet and embrace the world.

Most perfect book likely to win all sorts of awards:  Swan:  The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle)

Personal favorite book that I clutch to my chest and sigh:  The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes (Flying Eye)

Most delightful read-aloud:  Winston & George by John Miller, illustrated by Giuliano Cucco (Enchanted Lion)

Best book for kids destined to watch Downton Abbey some day:  Daisy Saves the Day by Shirley Hughes (Candlewick)


Make your own category and please share it in the comments, with any of your favorites or the past year or from these lists below! Links are for informational use; please remember to support your local independent bookseller.

Picture Books:
Animal Beauty by Kristin Roskifte (Eerdmans)
Animal Supermarket by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani (Eerdmans)
Beep!  Beep!  Go to Sleep! By Todd Tarpley, illustrated by John Rocco (Little, Brown)
Big Bear Little Chair by Lizi Boyd (Chronicle)
Cats Are Cats by Valeri Gorbachev (Holiday House)
Daisy Saves the Day by Shirley Hughes (Candlewick)
Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein by Amanda Peet and Andrea Troyer, illustrated by Christine Davenier (Doubleday)
Dinosaur Rocket! By Penny Dale (Nosy Crow)
Doctor Nice by Valeri Gorbachev (Holiday House)
Finders Keepers by Keiko Kasza (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Fowl Play by Travis Nichols (Chronicle)
Happy Birthday, Cupcake! By Terry Border (Philomel)
Have You Seen My Monster?  by Steve Light (Candlewick)
I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt (Doubleday)
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien (Charlesbridge)
It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krozoczka (Knopf)
The Kind-Hearted Monster by Max Velhuijs (NorthSouth)
Leo:  A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle)
Little Red Gliding Hood by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Troy Cummings (Random House)
Little Tree by Loren Long (Philomel)
Love is My Favorite Thing by Emma Chichester Clark (Nancy Paulsen)
Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye (Nosy Crow)
My Wild Family by Laurent Moreau (Chronicle)
One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail (Atheneum)
Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard and Tanya Simon, illustrated by Mark Siegel (Roaring Brook)
P. Zonka Lays an Egg by Julie Paschkis (Peachtree)
Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera (Chronicle)
Poppy’s Best Paper by Susan Eaddy, illustrated by Rosalinde Bonnet (Charlesbridge)
Red:  A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall (Greenwillow)
Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins (Chronicle)
Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Schwartz & Wade)
Seen and Not Heard by Katie May Green (Candlewick)
Sharing the Bread:  An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (Schwartz & Wade)
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood)
Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-Ups by Stephanie Clarkson, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (Orchard)
Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs by Raphaelle Barbanegre (Tundra)
Some Things I’ve Lost by Cybele Young (Groundwood)
Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Roaring Brook)
Sunday Shopping by Sally Derby, illustrated by Shadra Strickland (Lee and Low)
Tacky and the Haunted Igloo by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (HMH)
The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel)
The Full Moon at the Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood (HMH)
The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery (Putnam)
The Grasshopper & the Ants by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)
Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney (Sterling)
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson (G.P. Putnam)
The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes (Flying Eye)
Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida (Atheneum)
The Sea Tiger by Victoria Turnbull (Templar)
The Sheepover by John and Jennifer Churchman (Little, Brown)
The Story of Snowflake and Inkdrop by Pierdomenico Baccalario (Enchanted Lion)
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (Simon & Schuster)
So Cozy by Lerryn Korda (Candlewick)
The Turnip by Jan Brett (Putnam)
Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng (Groundwood)
The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski (HMH)
The White Book by Minibombo (Candlewick)
The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna (Enchanted Lion)
There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight by Penny Parker Klostermann, illustrated by Ben Mantle (Random House)
Too Many Toys! By Heidi Deedman (Candlewick)
Tough Guys Have Feelings, Too by Keith Negley (Flying Eye)
Troll and the Oliver by Adam Stower (Templar)
Use Your Imagination by Nicola O’Byrne (Nosy Crow)
Where Bear? by Sophie Henn (Philomel)
Who Done It?  By Olivier Tallec (Chronicle)
Whose Shoe?  by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (Clarion)
Wild About Us! By Karen Beaumont, illustrated by Janet Stevens (HMH)
Winston & George by John Miller, illustrated by Giuliano Cucco (Enchanted Lion)
Written and Drawn by Henrietta by Liniers (Toon Books)
Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Candlewick)

Nonfiction:
100 Pablo Picassos by Violet LeMay (Duopress)
A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle)
A Tower of Giraffes: Animals in Groups by Anna Wright (Charlesbridge)
An A from Miss Keller by Patricia Polacco (Putnam)
Are You My Dinner? By Tracey West (Smithsonian)
Bigfoot is Missing! By J. Patrick Lewis and Ken Nesbitt, illustrated by Minalima (Chronicle)
Book:  MyAutobiography by John Agard, illustrated by Neil Packer (Candlewick)
Brother Giovanni’s Little Reward:  How the Pretzel Was Born by Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by Amanda Hall (Eerdmans)
The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (Arthur Levine/Scholastic)
Charlie Piechart and the Case of the Missing Pizza Slice by Marilyn Sadler, illustrated by Eric Comstock  (Katherine Tegen Books)
Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook by Paul Yee, illustrated by Shaoli Wang (Crocodile Books)
Counting Lions by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton (Candlewick)

The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects
 by Paul Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick)
Design Line: History of Men and Women’s Fashion by Sanna Mander (Big Picture Press)
Drum Dream Girl:  HowOne Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (HMH)
Eat Your U.S. History Homework:  Recipes for Revolutionary Minds by Ann McCallum, illustrated by Leeza Hernandez (Charlesbridge)
Enormous Smallness:  A Story of e.e. cummings by Matthre Burgess, illustrated by Kris DiGiacomo (Enchanted Lion)
Finding Winnie:  TheTrue Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Little Brown)
The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can by Dr. Tererai Trent, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Viking)
Home by Carson Ellis (Candlewick)
The House that Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Kathryn Brown (Henry Holt)
I Don’t Like Snakes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Luciano Lozano (Candlewick)
Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome by Brad Montague and Robby Novak (Harper)
Mad About Monkeys by Owen Davey (Flying Eye Books)
The Maine Coon’s Haiku and Other Poems for Cat Lovers by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Lee White (Candlewick)
Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra (Chronicle)
Mesmerized:  HowBenjamin Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno (Candlewick)
The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin (Henry Holt)
Mummy Cat by Marcus Ewert, illustrated by Lisa Brown (Clarion)
My Leaf Book by Monica Wellington (Dial)
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and The Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Milbrook)
Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane on the Bayou Story by Caroline Starr Rose and Rob Dunlavey (Schwartz & Wade)
The Popcorn Astronauts and Other Biteable Rhymes by Deborah Ruddell, illustrated by Joan Rankin (McElderberry Books)
Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane)
Santa Clauses:  ShortPoems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (Carolrhoda)
Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Swan:  The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle)
Trapped!  A Whale’s Rescue by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Wendell Minor (Charlesbridge)
Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Brian Collier (Abrams)
Water is Water:  A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook)
Where Did My Clothes Come From? By Chris Butterworth, illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti (Candlewick)
Where Does Kitty Go in the Rain?  By Harriet Ziefert, illustrated by Brigette Barrager (Blue Apple)

Happy reading in the coming year, dear book-loving friends !

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