Friday, September 29, 2017

Sara Lost and Found

Author: Virginia Castleman
Aladdin (2016)
Age: 8-12 years

Ten year old Sara takes care of her 12 year old sister who struggles to communicate and function. This is a story of what happens to these two girls who are abandoned by their parents and are bounced around the foster care system. The darker side of this world are present but minimal with the primary emphasis on the kindness of complete strangers and the healing power of a community that rallies around these girls. 

It is rare that the characters in a book and the events that happen to them move me enough to cry but this author did just that. Castleman's writing style is age appropriate and flows smoothly.

The opening scene of this book will stay with me for a long time. This book is happy and sad but most certainly thought provoking and a discussion starter for sure. 

Review by Colleen Boff

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

Author: Jen Bryant
Illustrator: Boris Kulikov
Alfred A. Knopf (2016)
Ages 5-9

This is the biography of young Louis Braille and his journey to becoming one of the youngest and most influential inventors. Readers will learn how Louis became blind as a young boy and the spirit and ingenuity that went into his invention of a simple system of reading and writing for the blind that uses just six dots.

The author weaves the story of young Louis's life using him as the narrator. Told in first person, it feels like Louis is sitting in the room telling us his story. 

The illustrations in this book need no words to accompany them. Through the use of facial expressions and the use of light and dark, the reader easily comprehends when young Louis goes blind. Kulikov creates beautiful illustrations using watercolors with calming, warm color and soft edges. 

This is a wonderful story of a young boy who used his ingenuity to make an invaluable discovery in the 1800s that is still in use today. This is also a story of someone who simply loved to learn and couldn't be kept from doing so. It is no surprise that this is the recipient of the 2017 ALA Schneider Family Book Award.

Review by Colleen Boff

Radiant Child: The Story of a Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Author/Illustrator: Javaka Steptoe
Little, Brown and Company (2016)
Ages 5-10

This is a biographical story about Jean-Michel Basquiat, a talented young artist who made his debut in the 80's but whose life was cut short when he died at 27. The reader learns who and what influenced this young artist.

The author's writing style is simple and succinct with the pictures telling most of the story.

Steptoe uses similar techniques to Basquiat's to illustrate this book and to tackle the tough task of conveying the biography of this important artist through pictures. The illustrations are rich in color, texture and detail. There is so much to take in and absorb in each two-page spread, both in artistry and plot.

Winner of the 2017 Coretta Scott King and the Caldecott Awards, this picture book is a must have for all libraries, classrooms and personal collections. It tackles tough issues and includes a tapestry of different cultures and influences.

Review by Colleen Boff

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cloth Lullaby: the Woven Life of Louise Bourgeous

Author: Amy Novesky
Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault

Abrams Books for Young Readers (2016) ; Grades 2 and up

This is the story of the life of Louise Bourgeois, world-renowned artist best known for her giant spider sculptures. We learn what inspired Louise's artistry from her childhood including her mother, the family business and the outdoors.

The prose in this book are age appropriate. Hand written in upper case letters makes for easier reading. The author provides additional notes in the back of the book for the more curious.

The illustrations in this book are beautiful. The colors of soft with an interesting blend of mostly blues and reds intermixed with pops of yellows. But what makes these illustrations really interesting is that the illustrator employs a technique that makes the images feel textured.

I did not know about the life of Louise Bourgeois but was inspired by this intriguing book enough to do more research on this artist. This book would provide a wonderful backdrop for a discussion about the inner workings and habits of those who are creative.

Reviewed by Colleen Boff

Wolf Hollow

Written by: Lauren Wolk

Dutton Childrens Books-Penguin Young Readers Group (an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC)

2016; Grades 5-8

Eleven year old Annabelle, the straightforward and sweetly honest protagonist of this story, must cross through Wolf Hollow on her way to school every day with her two younger brothers in small town Pennsylvania in the mid 1940's. Eccentric and loner Toby, a veteran of WWI, quietly watches over them as they pass through the hollow each day and attempt to navigate the cruel antics from the class bully, Betty. A particularly violent incident occurs one day in the hollow instigated by Betty that embroils this cast of characters and the whole town in an investigation that brings out both the disappointing and commendable sides of human nature. 

It is no wonder that this author won the Newbery Honor Award for this book. Each character has depth and the plot makes the reader anxious to read to the end. 

There are so many rich discussion points in this book from grappling with moral dilemmas and bullies to what happens when a whole town sets its mind to liking or disliking someone. There are several heartbreaking moments in this book but I loved the unflappable character and dignity of Annabelle. I would highly recommend this book. 

Review by Colleen Boff

Monday, July 03, 2017

It Came in the Mail

Written and illustrated by Ben Clanton
Simon & Schuster (2016) Ages: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade

Have you ever noticed how much the love of receiving mail changes with age? Of course, as one gets older they are likely  unenthused by mail, as mail for adults typically consists of advertisements, appointment reminders, and dreaded bills. However, for kids, receiving mail is like opening a gift on Christmas. It is a magical experience for them because, as kids, they typically receive much neater items in the mail such as gift cards, letters from grandparents, and many other goodies. Liam, the main character, experienced the magic of receiving neat things in the mail, but perhaps things that are a little out of the ordinary such as dragons, flying wails, talking pineapples, and comical funny bones. One might think that receiving mail such as this is the best gift of all. But the young boy soon finds that there is indeed something better than receiving mail. Check out this book to see what it is! 

This author appears to have a set means of approaching the reader. I admire his style as I found subtle hints of humor an adult may understand and enjoy. It reminds me of childhood movies that I rewatch today as an adult and hind more humor and jokes that I may not have understood as a child. 

The illustrations are clever in my opinion because the picture are clean, organized, and keeps the reader engaged, wanting to turn to the next page to see the next illustration. Ben Clanton very cleverly adds stamps to the mailed animals and other magical creatures that may be found on mail packages. 

I recommend this book to families that love to read to their children before bedtime. It is humorous for both children and adults, it is quick to read, and engages children to be excited and informed about the mailing system. For teachers, it may be a useful way to lead into a letter writing unit.

Reviewed by Katherine McPhillips

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Written and illustrated by Kelly Barnhill

Algonquin Young Readers, 2016

This fantasy fiction is about a little girl who was sacrificed as a baby to the evil witch in the swamp so that those in the Protectorate could be spared the wrath of this legendary witch. She ends up being raised by a benevolent threesome including a swamp monster, a witch and a tiny dragon. This little girl is adored and nurtured as she grows into her own magic which will eventually help lift an evil spell cast over her village. 

Each chapter is told from the perspective of a rich tapestry of characters in this book. Winner of the 2016 Newberry Medal, this story is captivating and beautifully written with suspense and good humor along the way.

There is a little something in this book for all readers of any age from magic and sorcery to intrigue and creativity. 

Reviewed by Colleen Boff

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White

Written and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2016), Ages 8-12

This is a biography about E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan. We learn how his travels and life long love of the Maine woods shaped his literary career from being a regular contributor to The New Yorker to becoming an accidental author of some of the most beloved books for young readers.

Caldecott honor winner, Melissa Sweet weaves together a magical book full of White's original typewritten manuscripts with penned edits along with photos and her own illustrations depicting the author's work and life.

Sweet's original illustrations in this book are perfect. A combination of her drawings and watercolors compliment the text and the primary source material she carefully selects to make readers want to take their time with this book.

This book made me want to dig deeper into the life and writings of E.B. White. I especially want to read some of his earlier pieces in The New Yorker. The care that Sweet took with the illustrations in this book makes me want to have a copy of my own on my bookshelf at home. 

Reviewed by Colleen Boff

Monday, May 22, 2017

Con Academy

Con Academy

Written by: Joe Schrieber

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company (2015), Ages 10-16

At the heart of this story is an intricate web of one con act after another. But there are greater issues of morals and values at play here. Will Shea is the main character and the primary con man who scammed his way into an elite prep school only to run into quite a few other clever con artists along the way. This story has it all--intrigue, cleverness, a tad bit of romance.

Character development is a particular strength of this author. Some characters are likeable whiles others are definitely not! Because Schrieber develops his characters so well, it is easy to begin thinking of which actors might play these different characters if this story were made into a movie.

This was quick read and a real page turner. It reminded me of Ocean's Eleven of Catch Me if You Can.

Reviewed by Colleen Boff

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

Written by Steve Sheinkin 

Roaring Book Press (2015), Ages 10-14 

This is the story of Daniel Ellsberg, a government analyst and Washington insider during the Johnson and Nixon administrations who some would claim was a traitor of the United States and others would say was the American people’s most important watch dog of democracy. His claim to fame is that he leaked decades of government secrets, known as the Pentagon Papers, to the Press which ultimately led to the end of Nixon’s presidency and the conclusion of the United States involvement in Vietnam. 

Sheinkin knits together the key details of this complex time in American history in a way that makes this book a page turner. Photographs from the press interspersed throughout personalize Ellsberg and important government figures of the time. 

Complete with many references, this book will inspire more in depth research into primary sources such as an exploration of the articles that hit the headlines of major newspapers around the country once Ellsberg leaked the contents of the Pentagon Papers. Recipient of the Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction by YALSA-ALA for this book, Sheinkin does a masterful job of telling this complex story in such a way that would appeal to even the most reluctant non-fiction reader. 

Review by Colleen Boff

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box

Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box 

Written by David McPhail 

Henry Holt and Company, LLC (2015), Ages 3-10

This story is a semi-biographical story about the author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter. As a young girl she was given her mother's paint box. She instantly fell in love with creating and painted small pictures where ever she went. As she grew older, she continued to paint and one day she heard of a friend's son who had fallen ill. In order to cheer him up, she wrote him a story in a letter and after much convincing from her friend, she eventually made it into a book. "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" quickly became a best seller and Beatrix went on to write several other beautifully illustrated children's books. 

The author's style is very simplistic. There is no more than five sentences per page and each sentence is written using very basic language. The chronological order of events flows seamlessly from page to page and there are no major jumps or missing pieces in the story. The constant theme of painting or the paint box on each page gives the writing style a very cohesive flow throughout the story. 

The illustrations are beautiful watercolor-like paintings. The light washes of color are very similar to Beatrix Potter's painting style. They are simplistic scenes depicting the action being described in the text on the opposite page. The sketchy lines and light washes of color gives the illustrations a light, nostalgic, whimsical feel. 

I loved this book! I thought it was adorable and would be a fantastic way to introduce the idea of an author/illustrator or biography to students. Being an art teacher, I would use this book at an elementary level to introduce a new lesson. I would collaborate with the classroom teacher in having the students learn about authors/illustrators and specifically Beatrix Potter and "The Tales of Peter Rabbit". I think that it would be a great connection between art and English but could be used at a general classroom level as well. I would highly recommend this book to any one trying to introduce the ideas of biographies or Beatrix Potter to younger children. 

 Review by Sara Andrews