A Blog of Children's Literature

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection April 18, 2011

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic CollectionTrickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection by Matt Dembicki
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembiki (2010)

Graphic Book, 231 pages

In a compilation of work from over 40 storytellers and artists, Trickster shares a diverse collection of trickster tales from various Native American cultures and regions. In some the crafty coyote plays the trickster who ends up being taught a lesson, in others it is the sly raven who gets away, while in some it is the rabbit or the raccoon, depending on the cultural origin. Many of the tales share a reason behind a natural landform (“Moshup’s Bridge”) or an animal’s appearance/ways (“How the Alligator Got His Brown, Scaly Skin”), while others teach a lesson about behavior to learn from (“The Wolf and the Mink”). The novel’s true success draws from its diverse collection of tales and the art that captures them. Each tale highlights a different artist’s style that sets the tone of the story. Specifically, the composition in “Coyote and the Pebbles” is to be lauded with its strong storyline by Dayton Edmonds and amazing illustrations by Micah Farritor. Trickster not only creates an anthology of trickster tales but creates an anthology of artist’s interpretations of the cultural stories, a unique gem in both Native American and graphic novel publications. This book could add so much to various units of study within folklore, illustrations, and cultural anthologies, as well as provide plenty of stories for anyone looking to read about wily characters. I would recommend Trickster to anyone ages 11 and up, especially those drawn to graphic novels.


Alabama Moon April 13, 2011

Alabama MoonAlabama Moon by Watt Key
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alabama Moon by Watt Key (2006)

Adventure, 304 pages

Moon Blake is only 10 years old, but he knows how to survive in the wild and live off of the forest. Moon and his Pap have been avoiding the law and living in a half underground structure deep in the woods for almost all of Moon’s life. When his father dies unexpectedly and tells Moon to go to Alaska and find others like them, Moon is thrust into a whole new world outside the comfort of his natural surroundings. Moon then really learns what it’s like to run from the law as a boys’ home director and a sadistic constable are out to get him. Using his outdoor survival skills, Moon attempts to break out of confinement, find his way to Alaska, and live free. However, Moon’s heart begins to change as he makes friends with boys at the home, particularly Kit a sickly boy who admires Moon and his former lifestyle. In his first novel, Watt Key does an exceptional job portraying a boy who knows everything about survival but has a lot to learn about friendship, trust, and himself. The reader sees Moon grow into a multilayer character with his increasing doubts in his father’s plans for him, his inability to make an adequate medicine for Kit, and his ultimate decision to stop running. Readers who like adventure, strong male characters, and stronger introspection will appreciate Moon’s narration and his journey home. I would recommend Alabama Moon in a booktalk to share with 9-12 year olds who enjoy adventure and heart.


The Underneath

The UnderneathThe Underneath by Kathi Appelt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt (2008)

Fantasy, 336 pages

Both a Newberry Honor Book and a National Book Award Finalist, The Underneath is a story about a pregnant calico cat that has been abandoned by her family on the side of the road. With nowhere to go, she tramps through the forest and the Bayou Tartine until she hears the baying of a lonely hound named Ranger. Forming a strange pair, the cat and dog have an instant bond of friendship and build a family together with the two new kittens, despite Ranger’s evil owner, Gar Face. The alternating narrative also offers the tale of Grandmother Moccasin, a Water Moccasin snake over a thousand years old, who patiently waits for the day she is freed from her imprisonment in an ancient jar. In her debut novel, Kathi Appelt does a stellar job intertwining stories to build a mystical bayou’s past and present full of animals and their human spirits, weaving in the culture and beliefs of the Caddo people. The Underneath shares characters’ struggles to put aside vengeance and accept love, desires to conquer their fears for their loved ones, and despair to find someone to fill the void in a solitary existence. David Small’s illustrations pepper the book, personifying imagery that Appelt creates in a dark forested tale that ultimately sheds light on the meaning of love. Reminiscent of oral traditions with repeated lines and poetic narrative, the book might not normally appeal to reluctant readers. However, the multiple layers and short chapters of the narrative will attract diverse readership in grades 4-8.


Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's SurvivorsUbiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman (2010)

Poetry, 40 pages

In a truly ingenious marriage between poetry and science, Joyce Sidman creates a colorful lesson of the world’s 1% of species that have survived its evolution, starting with bacteria 3.8 billion years ago. With a topic that might bore non-science lovers, Sidman pairs the history of each species or large group with a poem inspired by the creature to create an engaging book to satisfy various readers’ palates. Along with amazing colorful illustrations and different layouts for every new creature, unique poetry with different styles and forms creates a surprise at every turn of the page. On the right-hand page, each creature’s historical existence is shared along with its Latin term and size. At the end of the book is a glossary that defines poetry and science terms alike for extra curious readers. Most impressive are the end pages that capture the earth’s existence in a bending timeline that attempts to capture all 4.6 billion years and each creature’s birth on earth. Ubiquitous would be a great book to include in a science lesson or booktalk for first grade and up.


Born to be a Butterfly

Born To Be A Butterfly (DK Readers, Level 1: Beginning to Read)Born To Be A Butterfly by Karen Wallace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Born to be a Butterfly by Karen Wallace (2000 or 2010)

Beginning Reader, 32 pages

The perfect book for curious little explorers, Born to be a Butterfly gives readers an in-depth look at the developmental stages of butterfly life from egg to full-fledged winged beauty. As a level one DK Reader, the book is a great beginning read for children using high frequency words. Karen Wallace also includes some vocabulary that is neatly boxed with an image and the vocabulary word, all of which are reviewed on the last page of the book. With ample white or sky blue space, the layout provides large print and clear photography, allowing the reader’s eye to focus on main points. With very detailed close-ups of caterpillars and butterflies, some children may not enjoy the not-so-cute images. However, to those favoring nature, science, and nonfiction, Born to be a Butterfly will be a delightful introduction into the butterfly world. Parents will also enjoy its sturdy cover, allowing for easy packing and the opportunity to take the text with on a butterfly walk. I would definitely booktalk the book to ages 4-8.


Nic Bishop Lizards March 21, 2011

Nic Bishop LizardsNic Bishop Lizards by Nic Bishop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nic Bishop Lizards by Nic Bishop (2010)

Information, 48 pages

Nic Bishop vividly captures the ins and outs of the lizard world in his self-titled book, Nic Bishop Lizards. The design of the book will appeal to reptile and photography lovers alike with its mostly double-page spreads full of close-ups and very detailed images of colorful lizards. A feature of the book is a double fold-out midway through the book with a sequence of shots that capture a basilisk using its larger flapped feet to run across water. The visual presentation is captivating as Bishop does a fabulous job catching the most minute details at the right moments, from drops of water spraying off a fleeing lizard’s foot, to a chameleon’s bright orange and green coloring he uses to try and get a date, to the veiled chameleon’s lightening fast tongue that stretches almost twelve inches to grab a quick cricket bite. The photography is nicely complemented with well-written explanations and examples of specific lizard characteristics, including the main idea of the page in a larger, bolded, and different color font. Captions below the pictures connect the text and images to create one seamless presentation on the life and habitats of lizards, also informing the reader of the actual size of each pictured lizard. With a doctorate in biological sciences and the patience of a saint, Nic Bishop patiently waited for the right moment to get the perfect shot of each lizard. A reader will never guess that most of these shots were taken in his studio because of his meticulous eye for detail, knowledge of proper lighting and lenses, and love of learning about animals and nature. His passion is clearly present throughout the entire book and will make an avid lizard admirer out of anyone who reads his books. I would highly recommend this book to second graders and up doing research or just interested in the topic. With further reading, a glossary, and the link to Bishop’s website, the book is a great jumping point for reptile and biological exploration.


What Happened on Fox Street March 7, 2011

What Happened on Fox StreetWhat Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb (2010)

Contemporary Realism, 218 pages

Fox Street is a block full of families, best friends, and a dead-end that really is the beginning of a ravine and a Green Kingdom, overflowing with secrets and nature. For Mo Wren, Fox street is the best place on earth, even during the worst draught of her lifetime and without her mother whose memory still lives on in Mo’s surroundings. With her mother gone, Mo becomes responsible for many of her family’s needs and is shocked to hear that her hardworking father wants to sell their home to a business man who desires to take down all of Fox street, one house at a time. Fox Street is a story that unravels a great mystery of family, confirms young crushes, and reinforces the magic of hope. Springstubb’s language will speak to an 8 to 12-year-old reader while sharing a taste of beautiful metaphors and imagery describing family, friendships, and growing up. While the book does not have an abundance of action similar to that of the survival tactics in The Hunger Games, Springstubb’s plot development builds on age-relatable issues that touch on surviving life’s dilemmas day-to-day and the thought processes behind important actions and decisions. A great find for a longer chapter book reader who has the patience to let a story unfold like life’s small epiphanies!