Thursday, April 24, 2008
Boys Life Magazine. March 2008.
Boys' Life is the official magazine for the Boy Scouts of America. First published in 1911 it has a long history of reaching out to boys of all ages. The magazine has a good mix of articles about sports, nature, science and scouting in general. Regular features include "Hitchin' Rack" (where a cartoon character named "Pedro" answers reader mail), "BL Headliners" (Scouts with Big Stories), "Collecting" (a space to share news about special collections), and "Games" (always a winner!) Comics sections such as the "The Wacky Adventures of Pedro" and "Pee Wee Harris" are a monthly staple in Boys' Life. The feature story for the March 2008 issue spotlights two scouts who have a rock climbing adventure at Kentucky's Red River Gorge. Adding to the outdoor theme is another section called "Hiking Through History" which provides information on hiking historic trails in the American wilderness. Another interesting article called "Mind Your Own Business" gives great tips for budding entrepreneurs. "A True Story of Scouts in Action", a regular part of the magazine, offers a true, inspiring story of a scout who saved the life of someone who had fallen in icy waters. The bright colorful magazine, containing many photos, will appeal to any boy (and maybe some girls) who enjoy the outdoors and sports. Boys' Life has three demographic editions for different reading levels: Ages 6-8, Ages 9-10,a and Ages 11 and up. The Ages 11 and up edition is available to all Boys' Life subscribers.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Jenkins, Steve. 2004. Actual size. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Did you know that giant squids have eyes the size of basketballs? Or that the Goliath frog, of Western Africa can weigh as much as seven pounds? The world's largest earthworm is found in Australia and grow to over three feet long. These and other interesting "believe it or not" facts about animals can be found in this captivating book. Similar to a trivia book in style, it presents real facts in a palatable way that kids will gobble up. The collage illustrations are cleverly rendered using cut and torn paper. The animals represented are all shown in their actual size. The scariest illustration is a two page spread of a Siberian tiger, which in real life can be up to fourteen feet long and weigh up to seven hundred pounds. It looks as if it wants to jump off the page and eat someone. Notes at the end of the book provide more facts on the animals for children wanting to learn more. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. This is a quick and fascinating read with great possibilities for getting children hooked into reading more informational books about animals. It is recommended for ages 5-8, but may also appeal to older more reluctant readers.
Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. 2004. The flag maker. Ill. by Claire A. Nivola. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.
The "star spangled banner" mentioned in our national anthem, is a flag that still exists today in the Smithsonian Institute. It was sewn by a flag maker named Mary Pickerell, with the help of her young daughter Caroline. The flag weighed eighty pounds, took about four hundred yards of bunting, and about 350,000 stitches to complete. The story is told in a way that helps children see things from Caroline's perspective. They will see the amount of work that went into creating such a large flag, especially when it was sewn by hand. Also, they will be taught a slice of our early American history. The author did her research well and recorded facts accurately. Some of her reputable reference sources include the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. among others. Actual letters from the Pickerell family and others living at the time were other sources consulted by the author and lend additional credibility. The colorful illustrations by Clair Nivola, rendered in watercolor and gauche, will be appealing to children. She has fully captured the dress, architecture and lifestyle of the times. This is a great read for children ages 6-10
Ryan, Pam Munoz. 2002. When Marian sang. Ill. by Brian Selznick. New York: Scholastic Press.
Marian Anderson, one of the greatest singers of all time, was also the first African American to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. This woman from a humble background, never lost her humble spirit, even though her life helped to bring great social change in the United States. In this well researched biography we learn how this talented woman filled audiences all over the world with awe. Yet in her own country she was prohibited from performing in Constitution Hall because of a white performers only policy. The book documents facts from her early and adult life in an interesting, readable story fashion. Illustrations by Brian Selznick, done in Liquitex acrylics, are rendered in warm brown tones. In his notes at the end of the book Selznick relates that he used photographs he took of Marians' house to help him research before doing his illustrations. He and Munoz also did visual research at the Archives of the Metropolitan Opera which lends additional authenticity. The book and its illustrations have a stage theme at the beginning and end. The author/illustrator notes at the end are appropriately called "Encore" and "Ovations" which build on the idea. Extensive research by both author and illustrator lend accuracy from both factual and visual fronts. A list of notable dates gives an accurate timeline of events which can be documented. The author also includes lines from actual songs sung by Anderson sprinkled throughout the book. A Selected Discography is included at the end for those who want to hear Anderson's talent. This book is recommended for ages 5-10.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Jacques, Brian. 1986. Redwall. Ill by Gary Chalk. New York: Philomel Books.
Matthias, a young mouse lives in Redwall Abbey, a place where creatures live peacefully. He is a part of an order that seeks to offer help, hope and healing. Their peace is threatened by the evil Cluny, a rat who wants to take over and rule the Abbey. His intentions are evil from the word go. Matthias, although young and inexperienced, feels a calling to defend the Abbey. He joins together with the other animals to fight against the evil forces of Cluny the Scourge. This action packed fantasy grabs readers right from the start. The well developed animal characters are personified in ways that we normally think of these animals. Rats are always considered worse than mice in most people’s minds and Jacques follows this line of thinking. The story seems to be set in an older time period in England. The language/dialogue used fits well with the type of story being told. The story has a definite theme of good and evil and the characters seem to fit into one camp or the other. We find ourselves rooting for the good characters and are anxious for Cluny to get what he deserves. The animal characters have very human traits, at times humorous, and readers can relate to some of their idiosyncrasies. The names of some of the characters fits their personalities well, particularly the rat characters such as Cheesethief, Mangefur and Skullface. In contrast, the mice and other gentle characters have names like Cornflower and Constance. The oldest and wisest character is appropriately named Methuselah. This story will keep children on the edge of their seats without weighing them down with complicated themes found in some of the more higher fantasy novels. The style of writing is successful in creating action and excitement that keeps children involved. While there are some scenes that could be considered a little too violent for some younger children, it is not as extreme as what some kids see on tv every day. The story has a very satisfying ending and children who like this type of fiction will be clamoring to read the others in the series. The book is recommended for ages 9-12.
Jones, Diana Wynne. 2001. Mixed magics: Four tales of Chrestomanci. New York: Greenwillow Books
Chrestomanci, an enchanter with strong magical skills, is the common element in this collection of four stories. All of the characters are influenced by his strong personality. In these four tales, the settings take place in several other worlds/universes. For example, when a warlock gets into trouble in one universe, he wants to escape to another. The problem is, the second universe is worse than the first. In another tale, an evil magician who wants to become stronger than all the other enchanters holds two boys captive. In “Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream” a young girl whose dreams have become her claim to fame (she bottles them so other can view them) needs Chrestomanci’s help to figure out why she’s losing her gift. In the “Sage of Theare” the worlds/universes are threatened by Dissolution. Chrestomanci is the strong guiding “force” in all the stories. We see other characters misusing or losing their powers but he always seems to have the “wisdom” they lack. This book is high fantasy but readers are drawn into the worlds and characters and at least temporarily, they become “real”. The problems they face can seem very scary but are also humorous at times. While each story is set in a separate world the unifying factor is Chrestomanci. While he is almost god-like, he has some surprisingly human traits. While the themes of good magic vs. evil magic exist, sometimes the line between the two seems a little blurred. The plot moves quickly through these short stories and those who like action will find these enjoyable. Jones style of writing will capture children who enjoy high fantasy and will be happy to suspend their disbelief. Others, who prefer lower fantasy, may find it a bit much. This book is recommended for children ages 10-13, but some older teens will also find it appealing.
Boston, L.M. 1954. The children of Green Knowe. Ill. by Peter Boston. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.
Toseland, a young boy comes to live with his grandmother in a mysterious old house, and discovers that the house is haunted with the spirits of children who lived there hundreds of years ago. . The ghosts of the children begin to present themselves to him. He learns that his grandmother also hears and sees the children. Toseland (nicknamed Tolly) listens to his grandmothers stories about the children who are also his ancestors and learns about his own history. A lonely little boy who seems to be largely ignored by his father and stepmother finds a connection with the ghosts of the children who played in the old house many years ago. While the story is mysterious and spooky, it also emphasizes the themes of good and evil and also the love a grandmother can have for her grandchild. The setting takes place in England, in the old mysterious house where his grandmother lives and sets us up for the events to follow. While the setting is realistic, the story takes a fanciful turn as Tolly begins to see unusual things begin to happen. The authors style of writing seems a bit outdated and in some ways this book could also qualify as being historical. The language used is definitely authentic to the times. Where some children may be able to relate most to Tolly, is his sense of feeling isolated from his father and new stepmother. Children being raised by grandparents may relate to his relationship with his grandmother. The book is not quite as action packed as some of the newer fantasy (either low or high) and some children may find it boring. While most kids like a good ghost story, this doesn’t quite have the same scary appeal as more modern ones because the ghosts are friendly. Even so, it can be a satisfying story for children who are willing to give it a shot. This is the first in a classic series by Boston and is recommended for children ages 9-12.