On my blog:
All of the books I read last week were purchased or gotten for free at NCTE!
Loree Griffin Burns’s Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey is a nonfiction picture book that follows the journey of the blue morpho butterfly through its life cycle from a butterfly farm in Costa Rica to its eventual life at a museum in Boston. The photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz are beautiful, especially the photographs of the different butterfly pupae. I had no idea they came in so many different shapes and colors! As you can see from the cover, they can be exquisitely beautiful. Burns’s text is clear and lively and written in a style appropriate for quite young readers. (No more than a short paragraph of text per page, and sometimes just one or two sentences.) There is ample back matter including an explanation of insect life cycles, insect words, a glossary, suggestions for further reading, and an index–all written in a style appropriate for younger readers. (I so appreciate being able to read back matter aloud to children without having to “translate” first!). I do wish that two captions depicting Costa Rican farm workers caring for the butterflies had identified the men as “farm workers” instead of “farm hands.” Earlier in the book, an unnamed white woman shown at her workplace is identified in the caption as a “museum worker.” It seems demeaning to identify human beings as “hands.” I realize that the term is still used in agriculture, but it disturbed me to see a white person described as a worker and brown people identified as hands.
Sandra Markle’s The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats: A Scientific Mystery is a terrific nonfiction title for older readers. (Lots of text–closer to what you’d find in a Scientists in the Field book, just not as long. With support and perhaps slower reading–a few pages a day rather than the whole book at once–this would still be a great book for younger elementary.) There are ample photographs that also tell the story of the vanishing brown bat population, which has been hit hard by a mysterious fungus. Markle’s book becomes a page-turning mystery as scientists race to figure out what’s killing off thousands of bats and how they can save the existing population. Excellent back matter, including tips to save bats locally and globally. Scott Campbell’s Hug Machine is just as sweet as you imagine it would be. Wonderful story with exactly the right art. I didn’t automatically think Caldecott when I read it, but Thom Barthelmess’s post for Calling Caldecott is pretty darned persuasive.
I picked up Susan Vaught’s Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy (ARC; to be published in March) because the cover was intriguing, and then I read the first paragraph and was hooked because it’s a zinger. And I would totally quote it here but I gave the book back to its rightful owner (one of my pre-service teachers who traveled to NCTE with me). You’ll just have to trust me: it’s a great first paragraph. I am thinking this book is going to get a lot of Nerdy Book Club love. What I loved about it: its main character, the feisty strong-willed Footer; voice–Footer’s got that in spades; interesting secondary characters; thoughtful look at mental and physical disability that is well-integrated into the story (Footer’s mom has bipolar; her best friend has Cerebral Palsy and his little sister has autism; another character has PTSD); a mystery that needs solving; the incorporation of illustrations, sketches, and other materials (excerpts from journals, school assignments, notes, lists) into the text. What didn’t work as well for me: the plot device of having Footer conveniently remember all the solutions to the mystery as she experiences flashbacks throughout the story.
I was very excited about several ARCs I got at NCTE, but I think I got MOST excited when I found Completely Clementine in one of my pre-service teachers’ treasure bags. The seventh (and final) Clementine story will be published in March. It’s a fitting end to the series, as it focuses both on goodbyes (the end of 3rd grade) and new beginnings (a wedding for Margaret’s mom, a new baby for Clementine’s family). I enjoyed it (how could I not?! It’s Clementine!) but didn’t find it as strong as the other books, and I’m trying to decide why. Partly it’s a lack of interaction between Clementine and some of the key adults. There are nice scenes between Clementine and her mom, but Clementine is mad at her dad and not speaking to him, so his strong character isn’t quite as present as he usually is. And she is also avoiding her teacher, as she doesn’t want to leave him and move on to third grade, so we don’t see enough of Mr. D’Matz. Oddly, Mr. D’Matz doesn’t show up for school on the last day of the year and so the good-byes don’t really get to happen (though Clementine does write him a letter later on). It would be quite unusual for a teacher to miss the last day of school without explanation. Perhaps there was an explanation that I somehow missed (I was reading quickly, as Kelsey did not agree to my plan to permanently keep her book hostage). There is also a clunky plot device towards the end, as Clementine’s problem with her dad is resolved after she recalls a verrrrry long speech he once gave her after they saw Beauty and the Beast together. Clementine has an attention problem. Her dad never would have used that many words. And if he had, Clementine never would have remembered all of them.
Still. In the context of a Clementine book, these are minor quibbles. When I say I didn’t like Book 7 quite as much of the other Clementine stories, that means very little because I still liked it more than 90% of the other books I read. I am sad that this is the end. What a series! (Pennypacker is working on a new series about Waylon, a boy in Clementine’s class. So perhaps there will be some glimpses of Clementine and the most excellent Principal Rice to come!)
If you’re eager to read Jory John and Mac Barnett’s new illustrated middle-grade, The Terrible Two–and why wouldn’t you be?!–you won’t have to wait long because it comes out in January. It’s about Miles Murphy, the new kid in town, who gloried in his reputation as a genius prankster at his old school. He thinks it won’t be a problem to start pranks at his new school and plans to establish his reputation early on, but then he discovers that his new school already has a prankster–someone who’s even better at pranks than Miles. How they eventually meet, compete, and team up is the plot. The book has been blurbed by Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney, and it’s certainly a story that will appeal to their readers. It’s kind of like Captain Underpants for older readers with the (to my mind) improvement of two main characters with more smarts and more heart. I think the cows were really my favorite part. Miles’s new town has very little to offer besides cows–lots and lots of cows. Something about cows is just funny to me. They moo quite a bit in this story and also figure prominently in the final prank.