Monday, April 30, 2012

Book No. 148.

There's something to be said for writing an alternate version of the classic fairy tale of the three little pigs.

In our library collection alone we have 12 different spins:

  •  The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark (Ken Geist)
  • The Three Little Rigs (David Gordon)
  • The Three Little Pigs and the Fox (William H. Hooks)
  • The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (Eugenios Trivizas)
  • The Three Little Pigs (David Weisner)
  • The Three Little Pigs (James Marshall)
  • The Three Little Pigs (Tony Ross)
  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (John Scieszka)
  • The Three Little Pigs: The Graphic Novel (Lisa Trumbauer)
  • The Three Little Pigs = Los Tres Conditos (Merci Escardo i Bas)
  • The 3 Little Dassies (Jan Brett)

Of course, this also includes Susan Lowell's The Three Little Javelinas, and rightfully so. If I have anything to say about these twelve takes on a familiar story it's that they each stand out as being fully original and independent takes on the story. And additionally, they all pull it off really well.

The Three Little Javelinas is no exception. Take the story you've heard since you were in nursery school out of the woods and drop it into the southwest. Swap the swine for hairy hog-like animals. Trade the straw, sticks, and bricks for tumbleweed, saguaro sticks, and adobe. Oh, and give the wolf a day off. The coyote will take it from here.

Perhaps the most effective aspect of the story for me is how it wraps up. Much like the pourquoi (or "why") tales of the Native Americans, this story concludes with an explanation of why the coyote howls or calls out each night.

A fitting end to this Shelf Challenge, as I found myself pushing through the final 45 books of the collection in order to finish off the "L's"...not without some howling of my own!

- Matthew

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Books No. 118-121.

The final day of the Shelf Challenge is tomorrow. I am feverishly reading through bags of books. However, late this evening, a selection of works by an author/artist I have never heard of stopped me cold in my tracks. 

His name is Thomas Locker. 

His work is primarily oil paintings of nature. The books for children he has developed around these paintings feel, to me, as if they are words transcribed from a wise elder sharing a story of experience. The two don't quite fit together, and yet each illuminates the other. The affect is moving and, at times, haunting. 

I no sooner determined that his work must be the focus of today's post than I realized his recent passing. Mr. Locker left this world on March 9th, 2012. I will leave you with these images from our collection of Locker's books as well as a quote from Paula Wiseman of SImon & Schuster Children's Publishing from Locker's obituary. 
“Thomas was a pioneer in how he approached children’s books,” said Paula Wiseman, v-p and publisher of Paula Wiseman Books at Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, who was his publisher when she worked at Harcourt. “He captured nature as a living thing in his paintings and had a way of seeing and rendering that beauty that is a gift to anyone who read his books or knew his paintings.”
I am thankful his work remains in our library for others to discover.

- Matthew

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book No. 105.

A misshelved book is sometimes a really great thing, especially when it's a book like Being a Pig is Nice!

This is one of my favorite reads and I forgot that it's in our "L" section (but I now won't soon forget author Sally Lloyd-James). This child's-eye view of manners has a girl listing all of the animals which she would rather be on account of their socially acceptable misbehavior (that is, we would consider it rude, but it's second-nature in the animal world).

Don't like being clean? Why not be a PIG!

Always told to pick up the pace? Why not try out life as a SNAIL!

Can't resist splashing and squirting others whenever near a water source? You should be an ELEPHANT!

The story goes on and on with increasing silliness and delight.

Definitely a perfect pick for teachers to use at the beginning of the year when establishing class rules. Or just before winter break, when class behavior becomes unruly. Or maybe even just when you need a good laugh. 

Or two. 

Ot tons!

- Matthew

Friday, April 27, 2012

Books No. 100 and 101.

Lobel's place in history may forever be marked for his Frog and Toad series. And it should be. Those stories are brilliant and they continue to give and give no matter at what age you return to them. 

The very mention of Frog and Toad may even be causing some sort of emotional hiccup in you right now. I know I've got raking leaves on my mind... and it's nearly May.

Rarely do we get to see the genesis of a great idea which probably explains why publishers jumped on this opportunity so quickly. As explained in the author's note from his daughter, Mr. Lobel loved to create hand-drawn books for his family and friends and, as it turns out, three such handmade volumes were discovered at the estate auction some time after Lobel's passing. 

I think the best part about these books is that you don't have to be a huge Lobel fan to appreciate them. They're great books, plain and simple. It's not as though they were published for sentimental or collector value, as happens all too often in the music industry in the form of rarities, lost tracks, etc.

I doubt they would be the way a student now would "discover" Arnold Lobel and then the Frog and Toad books because of the continued popularity of monsieur Frog and close friend Toad, but they would most certainly be enjoyed by readers nonetheless.

I'm due a new bag of books to read and finish off before the end of the Shelf Challenge and, therefore, the end of the month, but I'm looking forward to Frog and Toad Together as the very first read of the last set.

- Matthew

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book No. 95.

I'm cheating and I know it.

I was well-aware that Follow the Line was on the upcoming read and it just happens to be one of my collection favorites. I pulled the book early. My son and I have been reading it nightly for the past two weeks. I never get bored with it.

How can you not talk about a book like that, right?

For those new to the (now) series of continuous line stories by Laura Ljungkvist, a line runs nonstop and page-to-page, cover-to-cover, through twists and turns, in loops and outlines of familiar objects. The reader's task, as the title implies, is simply to follow the line. There are "I spy"-type questions along the way, as do accompany any great road trip, and the fact that most readers will follow the line's path by physically tracing it with their finger brings such a high kinesthetic appeal to the book.

It's just amazing. 

In fact, it's inspired me to have students create similar artwork by drawing background prints and, using an expansive length of colorful thread, create a path to follow from one side of the page to the next. Maybe we'll go an extra impressive length and have each of the students' works connect to one another. 

Oh, that's it. It's on now. Keep your eyes peeled on for an upcoming post, assuming I can reprehend enough string.

- Matthew

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book No. 91.

Queen Latifah, Jay Leno, Spike Lee, and now John Lithgow. Apparently "L" is a good section for celebrity authors. Lucky for me, Lithgow knows his way around a book.

My favorite quality of The Remarkable Farkle McBride is that it's a fantastic read regardless of what name is published on the cover. In fact, it makes me appreciate Lithgow even more.

Farkle is a born musician, a virtual virtuoso, the Mozart of his time. Only, like most kids, Farkle quickly gets tired of his instrument and ditches it for another. The realization Farkle experiences at the story's climax when the conductor has suddenly fallen ill is perfectly befitting and just feels good to read.

Bonus: What an excellent book for a guy married to an elementary Music teacher to come across! Her students are going to love this book!

Now, onto Mr. Lithgow's seven or so other titles. I'll test drive them at the public library, but I have a feeling Farkle McBride won't be the only remarkable one!

- Matthew

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book No. 89.

Only one week remains in April. Seven days until the end of the Shelf Challenge. At this point I'm not sure I'll complete the entire "L" section in time, but I'm thankful where I've ended up tonight.

...because tonight I reached E LIO.

Leo Lionni.

Fish is Fish. Swimmy. Frederick. Inch by Inch. Tico and the Golden Wings. Pezzettino. Matthew's Dream. It's Mine! An Extraordinary Egg.

And a favorite of mine from ages ago. A story of not feeling like you fit in. Of changing with your surroundings. Of finding a color of your own.

And as bad as we cling to fit in, don't we all struggle, seeking exactly that?

Don't we all just want a color of our own?

- Matthew

Monday, April 23, 2012

Book No. 78.

What is it about fortune cookie fortunes that so many people enjoy (myself included)?

The fortunes are intentionally vague. They're associated with Chinese food and yet they are entirely an American tradition. And sometimes they are not even fortunes at all.

Yet, the idea of something good coming our way gives us hope. The chance to look for something in our world to fulfill the words of the fortune gives us meaning. It's as if the messages are just a vessel transporting us, only if we're willing, to an understanding that the good fortune we long for is already here in our lives.

Grace Lin's book offers the same feeling.

And it's a really great feeling.

- Matthew

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book No. 77.

There is more here, in 1993's When This Box is Full, than I first thought to give credit. And it came when I thought about what I was doing in 1993.

I was helping my little sister get ready to start school. The sister whom I used to watch Sesame Street with. Whom I walked to the playground with after school to play on the slides. Whom used to collect things with and store in our pockets when we went around the neighborhood.

In this simple story a child counts through the months, adding an item to her box to remind her of something special.

A snowman's scarf for January.

A wild daisy for May.

A red leaf for September.

It begs the question, What would you keep in a box to remember the year?

I wonder what she would have kept... and what we would have rediscovered as we explored the contents at the end of the year, when her box was full.

- Matthew

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Book No. 70.

I rarely come upon stories from the Northwest Coast. Having said that, I think I need to emphasize that the art and relics I've seen in the National Museum of the American Indian are both haunting and beautiful.

Paul Owen Lewis has captured not only the feel of ages-old story spoken by an elder to his tribe, but also the reverence for these stories, both in his selective words and powerful illustrations.

I think it's time to find more books by Paul Owen Lewis!

- Matthew

Friday, April 20, 2012

Book No. 67.

I love coming across a story with a cadence readers can pick up on easily. A group of children unearth a giant pumpkin on Halloween and must flee as it rolls downhill, gaining momentum.

And as for the sound it makes as it goes?

'Round and 'round
across the ground
makin' a
bumpin' sound
came that
round and roll-y

As mentioned... love it!

- Matthew

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book No. 66.

It's the publishers job to pair the right illustrator with a given author's story. It's so much their job, in fact, the authors have little or no input on the matter. This makes sense for a lot of reasons, but flops for this particular title.

The late Dirk Zimmer offers up his classic creepy characters, but the story is more about the wonder sold by a traveling merchant, the doubt of a single onlooker, the resulting betrayal of the entire village for the merchant, and the eventual, although ill-timed, renewal of the villagers' hope in the merchant's goods.
Zimmer's characters look more scheming, as if of Addams family descent.

They just don't match up and that's too bad. The story is actually pretty great and the illustrations, in my opinion, could probably be really successful if they found a new home.

For now, I think we've found a weeding candidate.

- Matthew

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book No. 63.

A boy waits along the shore of a small island in the Galapagos and, while his father repairs their boat's engine, encounters a variety of native animals included a giant tortoise.

I don't know what's not to love about this book and Lewis's lifelike, captivating water colors, the exotic animals, and the boyish adventure.

And yet, when I opened Nilo and the Tortoise for tonight's read, it felt as though I was the first reader to crack its spine. I keep telling myself that a reality where no one has ever read this book in our library is impossible... but is it? And if that's the case, how many other books have sat on our shelves since purchase, never once read by a child?

And I am suddenly really sad.

- Matthew

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Book No. 61.

Jafta is a simple and sweet story who likens his feelings to animal behaviors, wanting to purr like a lioncub when he's happy or stamp like an elephant when he gets cross. Numerous African animals are connected with different emotions and the illustrations, done in earthy sepia, show Jafta along side each animal. The pairings are as poetic as they are relatable and the ending... Oh! The ending!
But actually, said Jafta, I don't think there's anything quite so nice
as being a flamingo flying off into the sunset...
Enough said.

- Matthew

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book No. 57.

A woman tells her granddaughter the story of her immigration to America and, like the child, I wanted to hear the story again.

There are many immigration stories and perhaps the enjoyment we find in them is knowing that America has only grown stronger with each new culture brought to our shores. The journey is not easy, but it is filled with hope and with promises.

In the grandmother's story, she and her brother left their home to journey across the ocean to America, where they would meet up with their Mama, Papa, and sister. The text is minimal. The pictures are overcrowded where they need to be.

It works really, really well. I'm thankful to have found this book and this author.

- Matthew

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book No. 55.

Books have come a long way since 1991... and thank goodness! I'm thankful for the few books I've come across earlier in the challenge like The Raft and Saturdays and Teacakes for reminding us that grandparents have a lot to offer.

For books about senior citizens being a little bit bat crazy, we turn to Mrs. Medley.

The story's ridiculous thought I understand the appeal: a boy visits his grandmother's house and they plan to spend an afternoon at the beach. She grabs towels for the beach but no sooner do they get out the door then Mrs. Medley suggests they go back for an umbrella... and then some games... and then a folding table... and chairs... and a wagon... and a tape deck and cassettes... and various musical instruments. And after no less than four trips to and from the house, each time getting progressively closer to the beach, the grandson finally demands they get to the shore. At the beach Mrs. Medley abandons all of the tagalongs to dip her feet in the ocean. Her grandson can't understand why they lugged all the items all the way to the beach if only see them go unused. And then the story ends with them chuckling over not forgetting to bring the piano and several other unnecessary items for their next beach visit.

I'm sure the kids would roll their eyes any number of times in this story, but they'd probably also get a sense that the elderly tend to be a little senile and irrational.

No exactly the message we want to send, right?

But then again, this was 1991.

- Matthew

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book No. 50.

Sam and the Tigers is a retelling of Helen Bannerman's 1889 classic The Story of Little Black Sambo. There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding Little Black Sambo and many deemed the book racist and reminiscent of "darky iconography", as explained by Lester and Pinkney in a note following the story.
Bannerman's 1889 story.
The story centers around a boy who is wearing many brightly colored garbs which attract the attention of several tigers, each of whom make the boy hand over an article so that they can look more impressive than the others. Lester's retelling is second to none, thanks largely to his expressive and poetic language (and it also doesn't hurt that Pinkney lends his unmatched and beautiful watercolors to the story). The protagonist in Lester's story is a boy named Sam who is from a village where animals and people live and work together "like the didn't know they weren't supposed to" and everyone in the village is named Sam, but "nobody every got confused about which Sam was which."
The tigers look rather ridiculous in Sam's clothes.
Just listen to the way the articles of clothing are described as Sam discovers each in the village market:

...a coat as red as a happy heart.

...a pair of pants as purple as a love that would last forever.

...a shirt... as yellow as tomorrow.

...a pair of silver shoes shining like promises that are always kept. umbrella as green as a satisfied mind.

...his new clothes shining brighter that Mr. Sun when he comes back from his winter vacation.

I'm smiling like the birds are singing my name, and that's just from reading this here book!

- Matthew

Friday, April 13, 2012

Book No. 49.

It's amazing when someone can take something so creepy (such as a termite) and tell a story that makes it so cool (such as when said termite becomes the architect of his time).

I will be sure to keep this great read in mind for all of my insect enthusiasts. I think one look at this book trailer and the book will fly off the shelf!

Oh! To be a fly in the wall of Roberto's studio!

- Matthew

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book No. 41.

Oh, for the love of speech impediments! I was introduced to Wodney Wat when I first became a teacher librarian and it was wove at first wead!

Poor Rodney gets teased endlessly because he can't pronounce his L's or his R's. So much so that he pulls his shirt up over his head and hides himself from further embarrassment. But then along comes Camilla Capybara, a bully if there ever was one and quite a boastful child at that. But she doesn't realize what she has coming to her when Wodney's name gets selected to be the day's playground leader of Simon Says.

Helen Lester's got a lot of children's books to her credit and she recently released a Wodney sequel called Wodney Wat's Wobot, which I'm very excited to read.

If you've already read it, let me know what you think!

- Matthew

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book No. 39.

Flag Day
 was published in 1965, five years before our school opened. It's from a different era and a different way of thinking. The sense of patriotism present within the book is, in my opinion, almost unfamiliar to the generation reading it now.

To quote the opening:

To an American, his flag is one of the most beautiful sights he can see.
To an American who loves his country, every day is a flag day.

Have we lost our sense of patriotism? I know this book is dated. It refers only to significant male figures. It only represents one race (and they all seem to be really, really happy). And yet, I feel a sadness when I read it, like I'm missing something.


- Matthew

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book No. 36.

Hold on now. Is this the way it's going to go down? I just posted about my 35th read, and here I go posting about number 36? The very next book on the shelf was that good?

Oh yes... it is that good and much, much more.

Is it because it was written by none other than Madeleine L'Engle herself? Maybe. But more likely it's because of the way it functions as a picture book.

If you read the text alone I don't think the story would make much sense. The narrator would appear to be a dog complaining about a new canine addition who seems (to the narrator) to be a bit unnecessary.

On the other hand,  if you were to just look at the pictures I don't think the story would seem any more than that of a new born and a poodle cohabiting a home.

What works so well here is that they (the text and the illustrations) need one another in order to be effective. Better yet, in a world of animated movies where animals give insight as to how they perceive humans and human actions, this work feels completely original.

Oh yeah... it's that good!

- Matthew

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book No. 35.


An Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler is a book I've seen in our collection a hundred times. I've put it on display on our shelves and have even recommended it to kids looking for a funny fairy tale book. And yet, I have never read this book. Unacceptable, right?!

I've read the dust jacket description, but I had no idea this story was so hilarious... so outrageous... so unexpected... so downright ridiculous.

Here's a quick premise: Ned (the painter seen on the cover) is still working on the illustrations as you pick up the book to read it. A portly man interjects throughout the story of Sir Wilbur's attempt to save a princess, only to tell you that the illustrations are incomplete and proceeding to the next page will mean Ned will have to find a replacement object for his unfinished work. Knights in armor become knights in tutus. A king's crown becomes a donut. Mighty steeds are swapped for giant goldfish. And this is all within the first few pages of the story.

I can easily see this read aloud turning into a comedic event rivaled only by the likes of books such as Kevin O'Malley's Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude or Mo Willems' We are In a Book!

Glad this book found me.

- Matthew

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Book No. 30.

Happy School Library Month, National Poetry Month, and, let's not forget, Mathematics Awareness Month.

I hadn't read this title before, but I know Leedy, like Stuary Murphy, is a go-to for quality math books. As the title implies, a frog and a lizard compete for who can complete the best graph. Each encounters a different set of data and chooses the right graph for the job. It's certainly not a subtle message, but I think it's no less effective. And since it's housed in our Everybody section (and not the 520's), it's definitely one I'll keep in mind for our classroom teachers.

Now there's a math-worthy idea! ...of all the books I read in this "L" section, how many are incorrectly classified? And from there, how many can I estimate are misclassified in the remainder of the Everybody section?

- Matthew

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book No. 28.

Please, Puppy, Please is the second book I've read so far by a celebrity author. (For those keeping count at  home, I read Queen of the Scene by Queen Latifah early this week.)

Go read this book now

Read it twice. Or three times. 

Read it to a kid, then see if they ask you to read it again. 

This is the first book our son has ever requested over and over again. Tonight we read it at bedtime. He immediately requested a second reading. I was able to sneak in Llama Llama Red Pajama (Dewdney), but didn't make it half way through Brown Bear (Martin, Carle) before more requests for "Puppy! Puppy! Puppy! Prease? Prease? Prease?"

Our son is 20 months old. He knows what he likes. 

Puppies. Cats. Red balls. Repetitive words that he knows.

Of course, I couldn't help but enjoy Please, Baby, Please, as it's something I say to him several times a night as we brush our teeth, put on pajamas, take a bath, and go night-night (not in that order, of course).

- Matthew

Friday, April 6, 2012

Book No. 24.

This single word, translated into 8 languages.

I was overjoyed to realize Wave is written by an "L" author. That author, Suzy Lee, is marvelously talented at powerful, imaginative storytelling without the use of words.

The danger of wordless picture books is how quickly we "read" them. The reward, of course, is how much they offer without ever needing to speak.

Taunt a wave and you may get more than you bargained for.

To me, Wave is a perfect picture book in every sense of the word. The story evokes strong childhood memories. The pictures capture perfectly a child's playful afternoon with a wave, taunting and fleeing the tide until finally being knocked off her feet. The wave leaves behind a wonderful, tangible gift that makes me long for my shovel and bucket.

Oh, to be five again!

- Matthew

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book No. 22.

Three classic poems by Edward Lear including The New Vestments,
The Owl and the Pussycat,
 and The Pelican Chorus.
April is National Poetry Month. What better time to introduce students to the zany, ridiculous, and sometimes absurd works of Edward Lear?!

I'm not exactly sure why this book is shelved in our Everybody Section, but I'm glad I found it! I hadn't read The New Vestment before and now I'm excited to share it with my students. As if inspired by Emperor's New Clothes, an old man wishes to have a purely original dress and so a team of tailors create an outfit of a loaf of bread, dead mice, animal skins, pork chops, jujubes, pancakes, biscuits, and cabbage.
We've all experienced that moment when a good idea goes sour.

Unfortunately for him, the beasts, birds, and boys of the town did him in.

In a work too hilarious to miss, this looked over gem is going to get a lot of attention this month!

- Matthew

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book No. 18

The Story of Ferdinand recently celebrated its 75th anniversary. It's for classics like these that I'm proud to say I work in the business of books. This was a brand new read for me and the more I think back to the story, the more the story gives back to me.

For those that haven't read it, Ferdinand is a bull who prefers to stop and smell the flowers over head-butting and roughhousing with the other bulls. An unfortunate incident with a bee lands him a starring role in the Madrid's next big bull fight, but despite courageous banderilleros, a brave matador, and a cheering crowd, Ferdinand would rather park it in the middle of the arena and take in the smells of the fresh flowers worn by the women in the seats. He returns to his pasture unscathed by his failure, content to sit beneath the cork tree smelling the flowers.

"And for all I know he is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly.
He is very happy."
Can you see yourself in this story? Despite what others would have you become, do you remain true to yourself? Even following failure in front of your peers, would you still be content to return home and lie among the flowers?

- Matthew

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book No. 10.

The 90's had some ridiculous trends, but as an 11-year-old with a budding interest in comics thanks to the X-Men cartoon,  I can vouch that the coolest was the novelty use of holograms. Twenty years later, I'm not sure they have the same effect.

The Haunted Castle doesn't hold much literary merit, but it does boast "six spooky holograms" (one is actually repeated). A realtor takes a family on tour of a house presumed to be haunted, only to discover the likes of mummies, monsters, and a skeleton in the bathtub still clutching his rubber ducky. He is horrified. They fall in love with the house. The story concludes with a dead pan line: "This house is perfect. Why, it's the house of our nightmares!"
Collectible X-Men hologram cards from the 1992 Marvel Universe collection. 

If it weren't for the holograms, I'd say this book would be a prime candidate for weeding. But for now, it looks like the 90's turn out on top once again.

- Matthew

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book No. 7.

Boo and Baa is a beginning reader series from Denmark authors Lena and Olof Landstrom about a brother and sister sheep. As I learned through a little research, several books have been translated to English, though this appears to be the only one in our collection.
In the original Danish.

In this story, Boo and Baa try to rescue a cat stuck in their tree. Prior to noticing the cat (and perhaps the line that charmed me most), the sheep collect leaves in their wheelbarrow but have to grease the squeaking wheel. Boo then comments, "Now it meows when I push it." Not long after, the two discover the stranded cat.


- Matthew
PS: How cute are these two?!
Click the picture to order your own.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Book No. 1.

The first book in our "L" section is a fable by the 17th century French poet La Fontaine. Admittedly, I know absolutely nothing about La Fontaine, but I'm catching on quickly. He adapted many well-known fables from the likes of Aesop, Babrius, and Phaedrus, and originally intended the adaptations for a sophisticated audience, though they quickly become popular with children. 
Even in the English translation, La Fontaine's words are poetic!

In publishing his collected works, La Fontaine expressed his intent to give [children] "an attraction to useful lessons which are suited to their age [and] an aversion to the profane songs which are often put into their mouths and which only serve to corrupt their innocence."(cited)

Ha! Where can I get my hands on a copy of that book?!

- Matthew


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