Baby Brains and RoboMom

Simon James’ Baby Brains and RoboMom (Candlewick, $15.99) is a delightful ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario for uber-moms and dads. Mom and dad did everything right with their baby while in utero and now that he’s born he’s a baby genius! Their little darling begins inventing while in diapers, but soon sees that motorized strollers and electric baby rockers are less than ideal for an exhausted mom and dad. So he invents them a robomom. At first all is well as robomom washes the car, prepares the meals and bathes Baby Brains. But the life of a busy mom is even too much for this mechanical miracle. Soon the Brains family is having nuts and bolts with engine oil for breakfast, Baby Brains is dunked into the dishwater and hung out to dry on the laundry line. “I want my mommy!” says Baby Brains. Moral of the story: there’s nothing that can replace a mother’s tender love. Darling illustrations and lovely interplay with the text. It’s got a sophisticated premise, so might tender older, striving readers


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Mrs. Biddlebox

Woohoo! It’s Poetry Month. Just my humble opinion, but nobody does poetry like Harcourt. You see lovely poetry books from other publishers, but this is a publisher that seems to have a nose for lilting rhymes, playful, tummy-tickling, rollicking, good-time rhymes. Ferocious free verse. Just great stuff. Sigh. We’ve had quite a week here in Michigan: snow, hail and rain have pelted the adventurous spring buds. That inspired me to re-read Mrs. Biddlebox, Her Bad Day and What She Did About It! (Harcourt, $15) by Linda Smith. “On a grubby little hill, in a dreary little funk, Mrs. Biddlebox rolled over on the wrong side of her bunk.” Poor Mrs. Biddlebox. It looks as gray outside as newly paved cement and she’s just in a horrible mood—can’t you relate? But unlike the rest of us, who simply mutter, what can you do when you live in Michigan/Portland/Buffalo/Toledo? Mrs. Biddlebox decides to be proactive. “I will cook this rotten morning! I will turn it into cake! I will fire up my oven! I will set the day to bake!” Marla Frazee channels grumpy dumpy Mrs. Biddlebox with illustrator’s elan. Sometimes it just pleasing to be in a bad mood. Find more great books from Harcourt at http://www.harcourtbooks.com/childrensbooks/

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Tikki Tikki Tembo

Here’s one from the vault. I can still almost remember this name by heart from childhood readings (I was tempted to put a Ricky Ticky Tavi on the front at first). Tikki tikki Tembo (Square Fish, 6.95) by Arlene Mosel is not the full name of the first and honored son of his Chinese parents. No, his full name is Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo. The second son’s name is Chang. When Chang falls into the well, it’s no big deal. His older brother runs to find help to get Chang out. But when Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo falls into the well, Chang must get that mouthful out to his most honorable mother as well as the old man with the ladder…well, it almost undoes the child. The suspense both visual and narrative, the delightful illustrations and the ability of kids to chant with urgency Tikki’s long long name, make this book a winner. First published in 1968, Square Fish is devoted to re-issuing titles from backlists of MacMillan’s imprints: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers and Roaring Brook Press. Wonderful authors like William Steig, Polly Horvath, George Selden, Natalie Babbitt. Oh my. Visit them on the web and start drooling: http://us.macmillan.com/squarefish.aspx

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Welcome Back!

Dear Friends of Readia,

We have not gone away! We have simply been in a chrysalis stage. Over the next several months, Readia will transform from my sole efforts to alert teachers and librarians to books for struggling and reluctant readers to encompass many members of our community through my new position as Director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Aquinas College. I will be recruiting a band of retired educators to help me review books. But what is most exciting is that we have four independent bookstores that have agreed to highlight readia books for the public to purchase and donate to local schools. Here is an innovative way to get the best books where they are most needed.

What’s even more exciting is that you will be able to do this in your communities as well. All you need is a bookstore who wants to participate along with you. We’re heading to our local senior residential facility and asking the men and women who do woodworking to build displays to be placed in each store. Stores will know in advance what the next month’s books are so they can order copies. While the book is on display, members of the public can purchase it for donation to a local school in need. We’ll also be identifying these beforehand.

This is a way to highlight the importance of children’s literacy to our larger community as well as allow people to participate on a smaller scale in these efforts. We’ll be keeping you informed of our grand experiment! And of course, be bringing lots of book ideas and suggestions to you.

It’s an exciting time. Stay tuned!

brass.jpgHere’s a great resource for interviews with children’s book authors. Patricia Newman, an author herself (Jingle the Brass, among others), reads the body of an author’s work and then does an in-depth interview of him/her for California Kids Magazine. Post-publication, she posts them on her web site, www.patriciamnewman.com. Just click on “Meet Other Children’s Authors” on the left-hand side. I was struck by the time and energy Patricia put into the endeavor, which resulted in a much more interesting interview. So introduce your students to the authors, from Julia Alvarez to Jane Yolen.

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Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum

tatum.jpgPiano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum (Schwartz and Wade, $16.99) by Robert Andrew Parker is a peek into the young life of an amazing improvisational jazz pianist.  Parker, a lifelong fan of Tatum’s, felt that most of the scholarship surrounding the musician focused on his adult years.  What was Tatum’s childhood like?  Born with severely limited vision, Art Tatum’s eyesight only grew worse as he got older.  Fortunately, there was a piano in the family home, and, as soon as he could reach the keyboard, Tatum began wearing out the keys.  Tatum’s hearing and his sense of feel had to fill in for missing visual cues.  By ten, he was playing in church and at parties.  While the neighborhood children ran outside on summer nights catching fireflies, Tatum played “Shine on Harvest Moon” and “Moonlight Bay” to serenade them.  His distinctive playing style evolved from a pastiche of sources: radio, listening to live performances, and some formal training.  But it was his ability to get inside a song, to feel it as he played, that distinguished Tatum from other musicians.  What a wonderful message for kids, to turn a dis-ability into a different ability. Parker’s moody illustrations and his succinct poetic text complement the story’s subject matter.

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Pitching in for Eubie

eubie.jpgOkay, add another picture book (this makes four) to my list of short books that can make you cry. Jerdine Nolen’s Pitching in for Eubie (Amistad, $16.99), illustrated by E.B. Lewis is a quiet story about love and commitment. Eubie, the eldest daughter in the family has been accepted to college. She’s even gotten an academic scholarship! But the amount the family must pay toward her room and board seems insurmountable. There is a moment of elation when the acceptance letter arrives, follow by stunned silence. Papa breaks the silence, declaring: “We can do it! We can raise that money if we all pitch in! We have the whole summer. After all…dreams are meant to come true.” Okay, I teared up again just thinking about this poor family committing to their eldest daughter—a girl! Lily, the baby of the family at about eight years old or so, wants to help, too. But what can she do? She tries several options and none work out. It means a lot to Eubie that Lily is trying so hard. Daddy’s working Sundays, Mama’s taking in sewing, brother Jacob gets a job in town, so Lily has to do more at home: feed the chickens, do the dishes. But this just isn’t enough to satisfy Lily. In the end, there’s a wonderful solution. And it comes about as a result of Lily’s determination to help her sister. This isn’t just a book about the importance of family and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone else. It’s a book about stating to the universe your intentions, and having those intentions met in a way that you couldn’t originally see.

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Your for Justice, Ida B. Wells

Another book about intentionality and, okay, one of my all-time favorite rabble-rousersjustice.jpg follows Eubie.  I must say that picture book biographies often err on the side of too much text, but Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells (Peachtree, $18.95) by Phillip Dray, illustrated by Stephen Alcorn, balances illustrations and information in a way that really works for the picture book format.  Ida Wells, born a slave, rose to become one of the greatest advocates for social justice this country has ever seen.  When yellow fever killed her parents, she became the head of her family of eight at 16 years old.  After receiving her education and becoming a teacher, Wells worked tirelessly as a journalist and speaker, educating the public about the violent aftermath of slavery, particularly the lawless practice of lynching.  Wells’ life was often in peril, but she managed to stay one step ahead of her tormentors.  While this is a hard subject for children, Dray’s illustrations do a great job of symbolizing the aggression without making it too frightening.  These moments in history are not ones that teachers or parents like to share, and yet bravery such as Wells’ needs to be celebrated.  Dray’s afterword is succinct, but sums up Wells’ career and personal life admirably. 

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