Book Review – Rabbit and the Not-So-Big-Bad Wolf

rabbit-and-the-not-so-big-bad-wolfMichael Escoffier hits a home run with his 2012 book Rabbit and the Not-So-Big-Bad Wolf, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo, (I totally thought this was a new book because I hadn’t seen it before and we just got a reprint.)

This book reminds me of two things that I love: The Little Mouse, the Big Hungry Bear, and the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Looney Tunes cartoon with Daffy, Bugs, and the yeti (my husband occasionally hugs me hard, pats me on the head, and calls me George.  He’s weird like that.)

The narrator of the book tries to get the rabbit to draw an accurate picture of the Not-So-Big-Bad Wolf, but the rabbit has to keep redrawing the picture.  Once the rabbit gets it right, the Not-So-Big-Bad Wolf comes after the rabbit!

The book is short, very cute, and I think it will be a hit in storytime.  And, it has small piles of bunny poop on the pages.  I find that hilarious.  Maybe I’ve been in children’s services too long?

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Book Review – The Water Princess

water-princessAn excellent picture book came in this week.  The Water Princess by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, is based on the childhood experience of supermodel Georgie Badiel, who grew up in Burkina Faso.

Gie-Gie is a young girl who has to wake up before sunrise each morning to walk with her mother to fetch water.  They walk for miles, then bring the muddy water home to boil it for drinking.  Then, they get up the next morning and do the same thing.

If that sounds boring, it’s not.  Gie-Gie is animated and proud.  Reynolds does an amazing job of conveying the young girl’s frustration and determination with just the tilt of a head, or the positioning of an eyebrow.  The colors convey the searing heat of the African plains, but also the beauty of the landscape.  Verde’s words show us a delightful personality dealing with the weary rhythms of survival without being defeated by them.

I seldom pick the winners, but I would wager that this becomes a contender for the Caldecott, and perhaps the Coretta Scott King awards.  It’s an excellent book for developing understanding of different cultures, and the problems faced by millions of people around the world who do not have access to clean water.  It would also be an excellent book to accompany units about Africa, or the water cycle for elementary students.

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Book Review – Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

escape-from-mr-lemoncellos-libraryI have no idea why I wasn’t interested in reading Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein when it first came out in 2013.  I mean, it does have all the elements that would typically interest me.  Maybe it was hard to get?  I don’t know.  At any rate, when a new copy came through in our new books, I checked it out.  It’s really good!

Kyle Keeley loves games of all kinds, but he’s not a big reader.  So he’s not really interested in the new library that famous game inventor Luigi Lemoncello has constructed in town.  But that changes when Kyle learns that the twelve winners of an essay contest will be the first ones allowed into the library for a lock-in with food, free movies, prizes, and games.  He writes a winning essay and lands a spot for the lock-in.  What none of them realize is that the entire library has been turned into a game, and the prize for solving the clues and escaping is greater than anyone knew.  Will smarts and teamwork win the day, or will smarts and manipulation steal the show?

I enjoyed this book more than I expected to, and I expected to enjoy it.  I don’t particularly like brain teaser games, but I liked how everything was laid out for you in the book.  Something that always frustrated me about Sherlock Holmes novels was the fact that the reader isn’t seeing what Holmes is seeing, so how do we know that we aren’t as observant?  But, that’s a rant for another day.  In Grabenstein’s book, the reader is given all the same clues as the game participants.  We can’t always see what they’re seeing, but they usually tell us what they’re seeing, so we’re capable of figuring things out along with them.  All that’s great if you’re into games, but like I said, that’s not me.  However, I loved the social aspects of the book, the teamwork, the leadership, the way that Kyle was able to engage with his fellow students and play to their strengths.  I think the book is a great example to kids of how to be a team player.  Kyle takes leadership of the team, but he always appreciates the aptitudes of his team, and doesn’t order people around.  He is humble and takes the biggest risks himself, leading by example.  I think this book would be great for your game players, and anyone who needs to learn about teamwork.  And, of course, anyone who enjoys a library story.

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Audiobook Review: James and the Giant Peach

james-and-the-giant-peachOkay, confession time.  I’ve never read James and the Giant Peach.

I know.  I’m sorry.  But please, don’t make me turn in my librarian credentials just yet.  I DO think that it was read to me in class when I was quite young, because it always seemed familiar, but I just couldn’t remember any of the details.  Or, well, any of the story for that matter.  But we recently celebrated Roald Dahl’s birthday in the library, and it seemed to me that it was time to change that oversight.

At any rate, it seemed time since I finished listening to the entire Harry Potter series, and also listened to Until You Reach Me.  And, I was searching our audiobook shelf for something else to read, when James came into my hand and I thought, “Why not?”

I have to tell you that Jeremy Irons, who reads the book is absolutely delightful.  His resonate British voice seems perfectly suited to telling the tale of James Henry Trotter and all the bugs who take a magical peach for a ride.  I would start smiling as soon as I turned on the CD player (which, I assure you, is not a common facial expression for me when heading into rush hour traffic), and I would smile all the way home (or to work.)

I’m very glad that I didn’t just pick up the book and read it, because I imagine that I would have blown through the book very quickly, and not really taken the time to savor the wonderful characters.  Irons did distinct voices for each of them and brought them to life for me.  I think this would be an excellent book for the whole family to enjoy on a car trip.  Just remember the wicked aunts and their shocking meanness if you’re going to have very little ones listening.

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Book Review – Making Friends with Billy Wong

making-friends-with-billy-wongPoor Azalea’s summer has been ruined.  Instead of the lazy summer she anticipated next to her best friend Barbara Jean’s pool, she’s been sent to Paris Junction, Arkansas to take care of her injured grandmother.  A grandmother, by the way, that she’s never met.  Turns out her grandmother is rude and bossy, and doesn’t like Azalea’s father much.  Still Azalea manages to keep her cool, and even makes a friend, Billy, at her grandmother’s urging.

Billy Wong has just been sent to live with his great aunt and uncle so that he can attend school.  See, in 1952, Chinese Americans were just as segregated as Black Americans.  Billy wants the chance to attend a decent school, and the only way he can do so is to stay with his extended family in Arkansas.  This doesn’t make him more accepted by his peers, however.  He faces bullying and discrimination, but is determined to overcome it all and excel at school.

Told in Azalea’s prose and Billy’s poetry, Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood was an enjoyable read.  I like finding good historical fiction.  The 50s are recent enough that there isn’t too much to distinguish the characters from today’s kids, but there are enough differences to make it interesting.  I liked that the racism going on in the story isn’t something that’s typically written about—Chinese people in the Midwest in the midcentury.  It’s also a great book about boy/girl friendships that are not romantic.

And Scattergood’s characters are very well done.  Azalea is generally a good kid, but she’s just been unfairly dumped in Arkansas.  She makes a good job of an unhappy situation, makes some mistakes along the way, but tries to do what’s right.  Billy is determinedly good natured and kind, but his poetry shows his inner turmoil and unhappiness.  Even the main bully, Willis, is multilayered and his meanness has rationale (at least to an adult mind).  I think that the book offers terrific discussion material about bullying, and about what people are thinking versus what they are doing.  Why does Willis behave the way he does?  What’s he afraid of?  How do we judge people based on what we see?  Such wonderful opportunities here!

Put this book into the hands of 4th – 5th graders who like historical fiction, or people dealing with bullying.

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App Review – Sheldon’s Adventure: Cornered

sheldons-adventure-corneredI’ve been away from apps for a while, but saw a crop of free-for-the-day ones that I thought I’d try.  Sheldon’s Adventure: Cornered by Intense Media (iPad, iPhone, iPod $1.99) is an app about a square-shelled turtle who is facing bullying at school.  I downloaded it because we can always use a good app about bullying, but I was disappointed by this one.

Story app developers all seem to think that their stories need to rhyme, and sometimes they really stretch to make it happen.  That occurs a few times, but not enough for me to get upset about.  I’m not thrilled with the story itself, because Sheldon’s shell is presented as something he could change if only he had enough money rather than being an intrinsic part of himself.  His mother talks about it as if it’s part of him for a reason, but he takes his grass cutting money to the store to look for a new shell and tries several on.  This is weird for me on many levels.  At the end, of course, his shell saves the day (in a bizarre way that a round shell would serve as well), and he’s pleased with it.

Aside from the weakness in the story, I found the functionality to be seriously lacking.  It’s really difficult to change pages, the interactivity is not intuitive, and when I pressed around on the page to see what would happen, the app kept flipping the pages backward.  The interactivity that did exist was not impressive, didn’t really have anything to do with the story in most cases, and just fell flat.  There is no way to choose whether or not to have the app read to you, although I guess parents could just turn the sound down if they wanted to read it to the child, or let the child read for themselves.

Altogether, give this one a pass.

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App Review: MyRadar NOAA Weather Radar

noaa-radar-appWith Hurricane Matthew hitting the East Coast, I thought it was fortuitous to run across the MyRadar NOAA Weather Radar – Forecasts, Storms, and Earthquakes app by Aviation Data Systems (iOS, Free).  I went ahead and downloaded it because I thought it would be a cool addition to a storytime or program on weather or earthquakes.  After looking at it, it would even be cool to have in the library of apps on the iPads we have available for public use.  It’s funny to me how a kid can be playing with a drawing app or something, and sitting right next to them is a parent playing with Google Maps.  You wouldn’t think it would be as fascinating as it is, but it’s always in use!  I think this app could get the same amount of play.  Fair warning, the app does have in-app purchases that open different types of maps.  You don’t need those maps to make it interesting, though.

The HD radar is really interesting, and plays the last hour of radar on a loop.  Map types are Gray (dark background which highlights the radar images), Roads (which shows you the roads under the radar on the map) and Aerial (which presents a topographical view under the radar).

The app also has layers that you can add.  There’s a classic radar, HD, a temperature map, and an upgrade offered for a “per-station” map.  You can chose for it to show lots of different things like wind, clouds, temperatures, and aviation layers to name a few.  The app also has an earthquake map.  Each layer has choices that you can enable.  For instance, in the earthquake map, you can choose what severity and what time period you want to see.  Then, the epicenters of the earthquakes display on the map, and you can tap them to get the specifics of the earthquake in more detail than I understand!

The app lets you save and share images, upload pictures, and naturally gives you the forecast.  And, if you don’t want to enable your location, it still gives you all that information.

One caveat—unless you upgrade, there is a banner advertisement along the bottom of the screen.  Still, the app is worth the free download, especially if you’re trying to keep track of a hurricane.

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