Monday, August 29, 2011

Ready for Fall

Maybe it's the gazillion days of triple-digit temperatures we've had, but I am so ready for fall. Definitely the cooler weather and sweaters and sweatshirts, but also the changing leaves, pumpkin spice lattes and yellow mums. Fall also has some of the best storytime themes: fall itself, as well as apples and pumpkins, and in October, spiders and monsters...I can't wait. Here are some of my favorite fall picture books to read aloud.


I Know It's Autumn by Eileen Spinelli, illus. by Nancy Hayashi
This book discuss all the things that signal autumn, going beyond changing leaf colors, to include "morning light that comes late," getting out jackets, classroom art projects, blooming mums and more. This will really make you ready for fall!

Every Autumn Comes the Bear by Jim Arnosky
Sometimes I wait and use this one closer to winter, with Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and other bear/hibernation books. It very simply tells, and shows, the activities of a bear and the animals he sees as he walks through the woods. As more and more snow starts to fall, the bear ends up asleep in his den.

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
The story of Leaf Man, who blows away - everything he blows past, such as chickens, orchards, and cows, is made of leaves. Perfect for reading before letting kids make their own leaf creations.

Mouse's First Fall by Lauren Thompson; illus. by Buket Erdogan
In this short and simple story, Mouse and his big sister Minka play in the leaves. It has basic colors, shapes and counting, and gorgeous illustrations. In the end, Minka hides in a pile of leaves, and kids will have fun looking for her and spying her tale. It's one of the "Mouse's First..." books, a great series for toddlers that introduces seasons and holidays.


 Fall is Not Easy by Marty Kelley
Such fun! Kids always get a kick out of this tale of tree who has a hard time with fall. His leaves never seem to do right thing, but instead change into displays that look like rainbows, hamburgers and other silly things.

Apples and Pumpkins by Anne Rockwell, illus. by Lizzy Rockwell
A young girl and her family visit a local farm to pick apples and pumpkins. When they get home they carve their pumpkin. The books ends with trick-or-treating, so I usually use this one closer to Halloween. (Or sometimes I simply end the book when the family leaves the farm...)

In November by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Jill Kastner
This is a calm, quiet story about the things in November. It's not one I usually use for storytime, but it is a lovely book for one-on-one sharing, or a small group.

Fall Leaves Fall! by Zoe Hall, illus. by Shari Halpern
Two kids talk about their favorite season and how they know it's coming - by watching the leaves. When the leaves finally fall from the trees, the kids show us all the things they do with them.

Ska-tat! by Kimberly Knutson
Another book about leaves, this one begs to be read aloud, with words like sha-shoo and ska-tat, as three children play in the falling leaves.

Red Are the Apples Cover
Red Are the Apples by Marc Harshman & Cheryl Ryan; illus. by Wade Zahares
The illustrations, pastels on paper, are gorgeous in this book, which discusses the colors of fall as seen in a garden. Some foods are familiar, like apples and corn, and others, like eggplants and beets, may be new depending on your audience.


Friday, August 26, 2011

My New Favorite ABC Book

Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray
Disney/Hyperion, 2011

ABC books are sometimes hard to pull off, and there aren't a lot of them that I really like - this one, I LOVE. And yes, it does have a dog in it...

The dog is curled up sleeping while the little girl puts the finishing touches on an apple pie. The dog wakes up when he smells it baking, and they both watch it "cool." While the girl gets a piece, the dog does not. The illustration here, of the dog determinedly pushing his bowl across the floor, "eager" for a piece, is one of my favorites. Soon, we see him curled up in his bed, "miserable" without any pie. But he is "not giving up", and we see him "pine for it", and "ogle it." X is often tricky, and in this case, a true X word isn't used (it's exit) but in this book, I'm not so bothered by it.

The letters are a good size, and each one stands for a word or short phrase. It easily works as a story, instead of just a collection of things to show off the letters of the alphabet. It's also a cute and clever introduction to new vocabulary - how often do you use the word ogle, especially when talking to a child?

The slightly retro-looking illustrations are just delightful, and the dog's personality just shines through in his antics.

This book is actually based on an old, really old, alphabet rhyme (yes, I did just do an un-librarian type thing and use wikipedia as my source) but it's been updated brilliantly and is a million times better than the books that use this rhyme and seem quite out-dated. You can also visit the book's website, where you'll learn the dog is named Georgie and the girl is Grace. You can also print a coloring page, and make your own Georgie.

Reviewed from library copy

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pottered Out

So, you may remember my goal to read all the Harry Potter books this summer. I read the first three really quickly and enjoyed them so much; I was surprised by how much I didn't remember.

And then I picked up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And it was long and it seemed like the book that would never end. I can't say for sure that I would have finished reading had I not found myself home sick for a couple of days. But I soldiered through, and when finished, was even more determined/obsessed with reading the rest. I read book 5 (while watching the first movie, the only movie I'd seen) and moved on to 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Do you know what I remembered from book six? That Bill and Fleur were engaged and the ending, where Dumbledore dies. A lot happens in between! I'm really not the person that reads the beginning and skips to the end, but I'm wondering if I did that with this book. How could I have forgotten so much? And, the whole reason I didn't read the last book when it came out, was because I heard someone talking about horcruxes, and I thought, "Horcruxes? I don't remember those. Are they important? Maybe I better figure that out before picking up a book I'll be lost in." Well, we learn about horcruxes in the middle of book six. Which apparently I might have completely skipped. Anyway, I finished book six, and watched the movie, and now, I'm a bit tired and I still haven't read the last book!

Here's the thing - I read the first book not too long after it was published. I introduced several friends to Harry Potter. I went to a midnight showing of the first movie. I eagerly awaited the next book. And somewhere along the way, the books began to matter a little less.

I will finish this series. I'm determined. But, having read the first six in a little under two weeks, I'm taking a break. I'm reading something else (probably Rules of Civility by Amor Towles - New York, late 1930s - it couldn't be more different than Hogwarts). I'm pottered out.

Side note:
Here's an interesting article - Conjuring the Next Harry Potter, from The Wall Street Journal.

For A New School Year

Follow The Line To School by Laura Ljungkvist
Viking, 2011

I really, really like Ljungkvist's books, and this one is perfect for the start of a new school year, as readers follow the line throughout the school. The line leads to the classroom, and the science corner, and then to library. From the library, it takes us to art room, the cafeteria, the playground, the math area, the music room, and finally, back to the classroom for show and tell, before it's time to go home.

There are so many things to look at in these pictures, and so much to discuss. Each room/area has three questions to answer. One of the great things about this book, is that while there are basic questions asking about colors, and counting things, and looking for things, there are also questions that provide more of a discussion, such as, "Which of the foods shown here would you pack in your own lunch box?"

Be sure to also look for Follow the Line, Follow the Line Through the House, and Follow the Line Around the World.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray
Little, Brown & Co, 2011

I loved this fabulous retelling of Hamlet! In a modern-day setting, complete with tabloids, tv and the papparazzi, Ophelia has an on-again, off-again relationship with Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. Ophelia, whose father is still an advisor to the King, lives in the castle, and finds herself caught between the drama of dating the prince, and trying to be a regular senior in high school. When Hamlet's father is murdered, Ophelia watches as her boyfriend slowly goes mad.

Ray manages to perfectly capture the essence of Shakespeare's story and cleverly add her own unique twist. The story is told in three formats - it alternates between an interview Ophelia does on a popular talk show (think Oprah) after everything has happened, the story as it plays out, and an interrogation (after everything has happened, but before the talk show) of Ophelia by agents with the Denmark Department of Investigation. While it may sound confusing, or jarring, to go back and forth between the three, it really works. The story flows, and it serves as a great way to draw out pieces of the story at a time.

There are original quotes used throughout the book, such as "To thine own self be true," and Hamlet scribbles his famous "To be or not to be" in a notebook - it's great to see these incorporated into this retelling.

The end has an author's note, in which Ray discusses her inspiration for this story, as well as other details such as why she used the original names, yet gave Ophelia friends and classmates with modern names, and why she kept Hamlet a prince. I loved getting her insight!

The author's website:

Reviewed from library copy

For a completely different, but equally wonderful, take on Hamlet, try Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Alan Gratz.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hello, August!

  • Here in Texas, it's a given that summer will be hot. But, we have now had 30 consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures - we may hit 107 later this week - and it is HOT. I would like nothing more than to hide in my air-conditioned house and read all day.
  • I am so excited for The Help to come out this month! Are you planning to see it?

  • I decided sometime last month to re-read all the Harry Potter books this summer (and read the last one for the first time). Summer is slowly ticking along, and ummm....I haven't started yet. But, I convinced a friend to re-read them, too, so she's supposed to keep me on top of this project. It's not that I'm not excited by this, it's just I have so many other things I want to read as well. My new plan is to get all the books read, watch the first part of the last movie, and see the second part while it is still in theaters. We'll see...
  • I'm currently reading Wrapped by Jennifer good! I was hooked from the very beginning, when the book opens with:
"Put the book down, darling," my mother said from her chair beside the mirror. "The chapter's end is only a short way off," I replied, reaching out with my other hand to flip the page. Despite the ache in my shoulder from holding the book at arm's length so the dressmakers could work on my gown, I didn't want to give it up. (p. 3)
Agnes Wilkins, an avid reader and huge fan of Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice, is getting ready for her debut. One of the first events of the season is a party in which a mummy is unwrapped! Guests take turns cutting the wrapping, and anything they find - trinkets, jewels, etc. that were wrapped with the mummy - they get to keep. Only it turns it this mummy might be cursed. I'm loving this!

Texas Forever*

Paradise by Jill S. Alexander
Feiwel and Friends, 2011
young adult

One of my favorite books of 2009 (and I use "favorite" kind of loosely sometimes) but in this case I mean favorite books, was The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander. I fell in love with 15-year-old Austin Gray who wanted more than anything to be a hood ornament in the annual no-Jesus Christmas parade, and joined the Future Farmers of America and raised a rooster named Charles Dickens. She is a strong, likeable character, and Alexander's Texan voice captured me from the start.

Needless to say, I was beyond excited to read her second book, Paradise, when it came out early in July, and it didn't disappoint. Paisley Tillery dreams of becoming a drummer in a band, of making it big and leaving her small-town life behind. Her mother, however, is not exactly supportive, and Paisley hides the fact that not only is she in a band, but that said band is going to play in Austin at Texapalooza, which she hopes will be her big break. Life gets a little more complicated when a cute boy joins the band as lead singer and accordion player, and soon Paisley is realizing she wants her family's support and that she must stand strong and tell them, especially her mother, of her plans for the future.

The characters and the dialogue and the challenges they face are realistic. The secondary characters are well-developed; interspersed throughout the book, between chapters, are lyrics written by Cal, one of the other band members. I think it was a great way for Alexander to share his voice and story.

POSSIBLE, SLIGHT SPOILER - I know some people haven't been happy with the ending. And all I can say is that while I didn't see it coming, I didn't have a problem with it - I don't think it lessened the story in any way - and, you know, sometimes that's the way life happens.

Have I mentioned the writing? I love when we get sentences like the following:
"Despite a dark cloud drifting southward, the sun set west of Austin and left in its wake a striking afterglow of dusty pink, lavender, and orange. The most beautiful part of the day isn't always the brightest." (p. 222)

Reviewed from purchased copy

*A shout out to one of the best t.v. shows, which doesn't have much to do with this post, except that both the show and this book capture the voice and feel and dreams of small-town Texas...I watched the last season of Friday Night Lights on dvd, so my ending came in between the endings of those who watched it on DIRECTV and those who watched it on NBC, but I got caught up in the ending all over again after the last episode aired, which was about the time I was reading this book...and listening to a little Pat Green and having Texas On My Mind.