The zoo! What a great setting for kids’ books. The zoo allows young readers to ponder so many concepts, from the concrete to the abstract, so zoo books are great ‘grow with your kids’ books. Emi and the Rhino Scientist (Houghton Mifflin, $18) is a fascinating look at the work of scientists in the wild and with captive endangered animals, and how both efforts support the continuation of the species. But that’s the boring description! Really, it’s about seeing a rhino sonogram, learning that rhinos are pregnant for sixteen months—egad! Kids will see pictures of Emi’s first adorable and rare hairy rhino calf as well as the staunch and stalwart Rhino Protection Unit that patrols Indonesian forests on the hunt for poachers. The entire Scientists in the Field series by Houghton Mifflin is excellent. You can actually use books like Emi or Wildlife Detectives, another book in the series, for bedtime reading. Why? Because in addition to fabulous photos and lots of timelines, maps and other cool graphics, there is a terrific narrative thread throughout the books. As an adult, I have very mixed feelings about zoos. This is a great thing to discuss with older kids. Can you justify keeping an animal in captivity because you are making the public at large more educationally aware and conducting research that will help dwindling populations in the wild? We need Aristotle to weigh in from the grave on that one. Learn more about the series at http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/features/science/children.shtml.
Monthly Archives: October 2007
Adam Rex is v. cool, as Bridget Jones would say. In his latest book, Pssst! (Harcourt, $16), a little girl is dum-dee-dee-dumming her way through the zoo, minding her own business, when—Pssst!—she is called over to the gorilla’s cage. He engages her in a conversation. He would really like a tire because, uh, his tire swing is broke. She doesn’t make it four more yards before—Pssst!—the javelina needs a trash can, the sloths need bicycle helmets and the baboon asks for a wheelbarrow. Weird, but okay. She complies. What else is a kid supposed to do? Turns out, the reader gets a peek at the plot she has unwittingly helped these animals hatch. Rex combines graphic novel elements with several different illustration techniques in that complex interconnected way only author/illustrators can do. Have your students muse about how the different artistic techniques advance the story. Or just enjoy the wry asymmetry of this kooky story. Love the nod to Robert McCloskey on the last page and the zoo map on the endpapers.
Reading is in my nature! And nature is in my reading. Check it out…I’m silent and still, till I leap out and pounce. Even prey twice my size I can easily trounce. To feast on a rabbit, a rat, or a mole, I stalk it, then capture it deep in its hole.
The above lines are contained in a poem with true reluctant reader appeal. They beg the question, who is this wily beast? But the answer isn’t immediately forthcoming as we must search through the photograph on the opposite page to find the cunning critter. Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed …and Revealed (Tricycle, $15.95) is going to interest your reading-averse kids. The poems are short and catchy. Kids must search through the accompanying photo for the featured animal camouflaged in their native environment. When they lift the flap, they’ll see where the animal’s been hiding as well as learn some interesting facts about it. With ear-tickling poems by David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy and eye-tricking photos by Dwight Kuhn, kids are going to vie to be the first reader of this cool nature book. Where did I spy Where in the Wild? At my local independent children’s bookstore, Pooh’s Corner!
P.S. The answer to this riddle? The weasel.
This one’s from the vault! Published in 2004, Trout, Trout, Trout! (A Fish Chant) (Northword Press, $15.95) appeals to the ADD kid in me. Written by April Pulley Sayre and illustrated by Trip Park, this high energy picture book is a veritable rappin’ romp through the wet and wild world of water dwellers. Check this out:
Threespine Stickleback, Freshwater drum Lake Chub Creek Chub Chum Chum Chum! Sockeye Salmon Arctic Char Mooneye, Walleye Gar, Gar, Gar!
Every page features the most Technicolor, kinetic, emotional fish you can imagine. Who would think fish could be so interesting? This is serious fun during brain gym or whenever the kids need to stomp, clap and rap about the great diversity of fish species. Northword Press doesn’t have the reach of the larger publishers, but you have to see this and try it out with kids to see the magic at work. All the fish are freshwater fish found in North America. Most are native, but here are some immigrants, such as carp. Pulley Sayre dishes about each fish at the end of the book. I’m going to check out her two newer offerings in this same vein and also just discovered the book can also be purchased in paperback for $7.95. Learn more at http://www.tnkidsbooks.com
Get out the Kleenex! Ballerina Dreams (Fiewel and Friends, $16.95) by Lauren Thompson is such a charming, heartwarming, bittersweet book that you cannot fail to be moved. Physical therapist Joann Ferrara wanted to help children with cerebral palsy and related conditions to experience a rite of passage for many young girls: a ballet recital. Four years ago, she began teaching a ballet class as a supplement to her physical therapy. Ballerina Dreams follows Abbey, 4; Monica, 5; Nicole, 3; Shekinah, 5; and Veronica, 7, from practice to stage perfection. Despite displaying the hearts of prima ballerinas, their physical challenges in balance, strength, and coordination are daunting. Though each girl has her own (dressed in black) helper who aids her in her stretches, extensions and twirls, each one worked hard to be able to do things like stand independently, even for a moment. The performance centers on celebrating each dancer’s unique personality and achievements. Winning photos by James Estrin, silky prose by Thompson, all are designed to give you a backstage pass to a very special performance. If you live in New York City, you can see the girls free at a special rehearsal at Mary Louis Academy 176-21 Wexford Terrace, Jamaica Estates in Queens. The performance is at 10 a.m. on November 11. The Today Show is filming a segment at that program as well.
Even for a crybaby like me, it’s hard to go from smiles to tears in the course of a picture book. But it does happen. My short list: The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, That Summer by Tony Johnston, and Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. What makes you weep?
For some kids, reading would be a lot better if it were kinetic. Exercise the Right to Read, a program from my listmate, Wendelin Van Draanen at Knopf, a division of Random House, gives kids incentive to burn up their energy while stocking depleting library shelves. From the press release: After ten years of author visits to schools across the country, Van Draanen became concerned that two-thirds of children in the United States did not pass school fitness tests. This, coupled with growing cuts in funding for school library books, inspired Van Draanen to create Exercise the Right to Read, a marathon-based “running for reading” campaign that addresses many schools’ wellness, literacy, and community service goals. Isn’t that cool? Find out more by visiting www.exercisetherighttoread.org, or, if you’re interested in interviewing Van Draanen, contact her publicist, Elizabeth Mackey, at Random House: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maybe you think a couch that can travel 87 miles per hour is not interesting. Even if it had a steering wheel made out of a pizza pan, a chocolate bar to shift gears and a cola can to brake, you probably wouldn’t be interested in it. If the couch mobile seems so dull you’d rather dig into a Henry James novel then you also won’t be interested in records like “longest ear hair,” “largest popcorn sculpture” or “most valuable comic book.” All are duly recorded in Guinness World Records: To The Extreme (Scholastic Reference, $14.99). Record books of all kinds, especially the Guinness kind with their silver reflecting colors and copious pictures of outrageous things are a hit with reluctant readers. For years, I’ve kept record books like these in the back seat of the car for spontaneous reading to and from practices and events. They usually invoke deep philosophical quandaries like, “How does the woman with the world’s longest fingernails pull down her underwear to pee?” Or “Does ear hair create significant drag in a swim meet situation?” Your children will doubtless be as brilliant as mine—or at least as much fun at birthday parties—if you buy them books like these.