Saturday, April 30, 2011

Armchair Traveling

To A Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron
HarperCollins, 2011

Isn't that a gorgeous picture on the cover? This is my first book by Thubron to pick up - I did so because I'm fascinated by Tibet. This is a slow book, a book to your time with, but alas, I was too slow and had to return it to the library before I was finished. I'll definitely pick it up again to finish. The very nature of travel, especially to a far and different place, encourages personal reflection; the trick, at least when I'm looking for travel narratives, is to find a book that balances this with details and descriptions of the places and people met along the way. Thubron strikes that balance well.

This is gorgeous writing; I could give you so many examples! Here's an excerpt from a paragraph in chapter 3:
"I emerge from my tent to a sky washed clear...Ahead the river winds between mountain spurs that recede and overlap even fainter, before misting away through gullies dense with deciduous forest...And the last horizon to which the river points - far away under high cirrus cloud - seals the sky in a glistening, snow-lit wall to which we are unimaginably going." (p.28)
Want to do a little armchair traveling yourself? Here are some of my favorites:

Charles Kuralt's America by Charles Kuralt - Kuralt spends each month of the year in a different city, telling the stories of the places he visits and people he meets.

Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovendon - Not a travel narrative, but a fascinating look at historic and current transit maps of cities through the world. Map lovers (and design aficionados) will get lost in this book.

Without Reservations: the Travels of An Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach - Steinbach takes an extended leave of absence from her job at a newspaper and spends the better part of a year in France, England and Italy. Each chapter begins with a postcard she sent to herself.

Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey Into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa - While planning for grad school, Zeppa has a change of heart and commits to two years of teaching in Bhutan. Her book covers the challenges she faced, her daily life, and the relationship she begins while there.

My Life in France by Julia Child - This tells the story of Julia and her husband's move to France, and how she fell in love with the food and began the cooking for which she was so known. I listened to this audiobook, and it really brought the story to life.

Rick Steves' Postcards from Europe: 25 Years of Travel Tales from America's Favorite Guidebook Writer and Rick Steves' Travel as a Political Act - I'm a fan of both Steves' writing and television shows and enjoyed both of these books. Rick Steves' European Christmas has wonderful pictures and focuses on the holiday happenings in various cities.

What about you - do you travel by armchair? If so, what are some your favorite travel books?

Friday, April 22, 2011

My New Favorite Bear

The Bear Who Shared by Catherine Rayner
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011

Meet Norris, my new favorite bear. He's very cute, and very wise, that he knows plorringes are the best fruit of all, and that if he waits under the plorringe tree, something special will happen. He waits, very patiently, for his fruit to fall. He waits lying on his back, one leg crossed over the other, with his arm across his chest. He waits lying on his stomach, head propped up on one hand, looking like he is drumming the fingers (claws?) on his other. Did I mention he is very cute?

However, in the tree, above the plorringe, are Tulip and Violet, a mouse and a raccoon, who also want the plorringe. It looks delicious, and smells of "honey and sunny days." Just as they decide to take a lick of the fruit, WHOMP! It falls on Norris and his wait is over. But what about Tulip and Violet? Luckily, Norris is not only wise, but also kind, and he knows just what to do.

I really like that while this has a sweet message about sharing, it's not a beat-you-over-the-head type of message. The illustrations, ink sketches filled in with watercolors, are absolutely gorgeous! From Rayner's website, it looks the background (the tree) may be a silk screen print. The effect is just perfect, and better still, the pictures are large enough for this book to work well with a big storytime group.

Reviewed from library copy

Friday, April 15, 2011

The cutest pesky bunnies EVER!

Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!
by Candace Fleming
illus. by G. Brian Karas
Atheneum, 2002

Did you know April is National Garden Month? In celebration, I wanted to share this book with you, because I'm not likely to plant an actual garden.
Candace Fleming is a prolific writer, having done picture books to chapter books to biographies, and I'm a fan of everything of hers I've read. I also adore the illustrations of G. Brian Karas! This book, I think, is the perfect pairing of writer and illustrator.

Mr. McGreely has always wanted a garden, and this spring he finally decides to plant one. He plants lettuce, carrots, peas and tomatoes, and can't wait to eat them. But, as he's watching his garden grow, so are three little bunnies. And one night, these little bunnies go "Tippy-Tippy-Tippy, Pat!" into the garden and then "Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!" as they help themselves to the veggies. Mr. McGreely is not happy. He builds a wire fence around the garden. It does not keep the bunnies out. He builds a wooden wall and digs a trench, and still the bunnies make their way into his garden. He eventually ends up with locked fortress around his garden. The bunnies can't get past the lock and cement and other barriers Mr. McGreely has put in place, and when he arrives to check his garden the next morning, he is very happy. So happy, he does a victory dance...but does he really manage to outsmart the bunnies?

I tend to use the term favorite very loosely when it comes to picture books. After about ten years of being a children's librarian, I can just tell you there are A LOT of fabulous picture books out there. But this book? It's at the top of the list. It's so fun to read aloud (although I think it works best with a small audience so everyone can really see the pictures). It's got lots of laughs, a perfect ending, and is a wonderful pairing of words and pictures.

Want more bunny fun? Fleming and Karas teamed up to revisit Mr. McGreely and these bunnies in Tippy-tippy-tippy-hide!

Reviewed from library copy

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Paisley's Pick - The Trouble With Chickens

The Trouble With Chickens: A J.J. Tully Mystery
by Doreen Cronin, illus. by Kevin Cornell
Balzar + Bray/HarperCollins, 2011

I was so excited when this book finally came in at the library! As a huge fan of Cronin's picture books, including Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, Duck for President, and Diary of A Worm, I couldn't wait to see what she would do with a chapter book. And this book didn't disappoint - it is just as witty as her picture books.

J.J. Tully is a retired search-and-rescue dog, now living in the country with his trainer. One day a mother chicken shows up at his doghouse with two chicks in tow - Little Boo and Peep. Or, Dirt and Sugar as J.J. begins to call them. Turns out she also has two other chicks, who've gone missing. J.J reluctantly agrees to help find them, in return for a cheeseburger. When a ransom note appears, using big "inside" words like behoove and rendezvous, it starts to look like inside dog Vince the Funnel, "a cross between a dachshund and a lamp," is responsible.

This would be a fun read-aloud, as well as a great transition from beginning readers to chapter books for those reading independently. The illustrations (black and white sketches) break up the text and really add to the story. Discerning readers will notice that in an illustration of the house's library, some of Cronin's other books are on the bookshelves.

Lots of fun, a great mystery, and the promise of more of J.J. to come! Don't miss this one.

Reviewed from library copy

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Great Book for Middle School Boys

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander
Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins, 2011
grades 5-8

This past week was rough. Rough. This book helped - I laughed out loud several times while reading it, and that's not too common.

This is a humorous book and it has some great one-liners, but Rylander also manages to successfully balance that humor with poignant truths about middle school, friendship, and tough family situations.

The kids in Mac's school, whether in first grade or eighth, all know that they can count on him to solve their problems. He mostly deals in things like test answers and forged hall passes or doctor's notes. He's built up a network of sources and collected some favors, and runs his business from the fourth stall in the East Wing bathroom, with his best friend and business manager Vince. Business is booming, and that's a good thing - the guys are die-hard Cubs fans, saving up for baseball tickets in case their beloved team makes it to the World Series.

But, when Mac tries to protect a third grader who has gotten in over his head in a gambling ring, he may have finally taken on a problem he can't fix. Not to mention he's discovered some discrepancies in his bookkeeping and a possible traitor in his midst.

I had a little trouble at times keeping the characters straight, especially when the nine bullies are introduced...Snapper's the biter, Great White is British...beyond that, I couldn't exactly remember the others but decided it wasn't central to the story. And honestly, that could have just been my tired brain. The book slows a bit in the middle, but the mystery of who stole the money (and why) and the need to see how Mac's problems end, kept me reading. While most things are wrapped up neatly, there's definitely a hint that another book about Mac may be in the future.

Reviewed from library copy

Friday, April 8, 2011

Introducing...Friday Favorite!

I'm going to try to make Fridays my picture book day, and each week I'll highlight one of my favorites - sometimes a new title, sometimes an older one. (I've only been attempting to post this for the last three Fridays...)

This week, I've chosen Duck On A Bike by David Shannon. I feel like Shannon probably gets the most love for his No, David! books, but this is my favorite.

This is a great book to read aloud. In fact, if I need a book in a hurry, this is one of my go-to books. It's so fun! Duck decides to ride a bike, and he rides around the farm, past all of the other animals. As he rides past each animal and says hi, the animals offer a greeting in return. However, you also learn what they are really thinking. The horse, for example, thinks that Duck will never be as fast as him. And the goat thinks he would like to eat that bike!

The pictures are bright and colorful; I usually read this and point to the animal as Duck rides past, and let the kids say the animal. I'll say, "Duck rode past..." and the kids say, "cow!" I read Duck's greeting and ask the kids what the cow said. And so on. Identifying the goat, and knowing what he says, sometimes gives younger kids pause, but that's usually it.  However, I read this a couple of weeks ago to a group from a daycare, and when we got to the page with the chicken, and I asked what the chicken says, half the kids replied, "chick chick chick." It wasn't an instance of one kid saying it and the others repeating her; they all said it unison. I said, "Oh. Okay. Sometimes they also say cluck cluck."

And the ending? Perfection.