Friday, November 4, 2011

Book Review: Fish, by Gregory Mone

     Uncle Gerry glared, one hand still holding the top of the purse. "This is important."
     "Yes, of course."
     "No," Uncle Gerry said, pausing. "This is very important."
     "I understand," Fish said.
     "You will deliver this to the Mary, a passenger ship docked in the harbor, bound for America. You will deliver it, specifically, to a certain Reginald Swift, who will be sailing on that ship."
     "Yes."
     "He is an uncommonly small man with uncommonly large eyeglasses. Aged about thirty years, a good few less than your father and myself. He is expecting you."  

Summary: Maurice "Fish" Reidy is eleven years old when Shamrock dies. Without their horse, the family can't afford to feed itself, let alone farm their land. Someone has to go into the city to work and send money home. Since Fish is the worst at farming, it's agreed he should be the one to go.

His father arranges for Fish to work for his uncle as a courier. When Fish is entrusted with a mysterious package of coins, he's robbed before he can make the delivery. He tracks down the thief amongst a bunch of pirates, aboard their ship, the Scurvy Mistress. Determined to get that package back and to its rightful recipient, Fish sneaks aboard and joins the pirate crew. He soon learns the coins are more than what they seem, and some of the crew are not as loyal as they'd have their captain believe.

As the Scurvy Mistress sets sail, Fish finds himself on an adventure he never saw coming, with friends he never imagined making. It's a journey that promises to change his life - and that of his family - forever.

For Teachers and Librarians:
Fish has all the action and excitement your reluctant readers are drawn to. It has all the complex twists and turns your stronger readers crave. And? It has pirates. And treasure. And mystery. And did I mention pirates?

So beyond being a great story your students will not be able to put down, how can you use this book in your classrooms? Under the umbrella of a full Pirate Unit, there is a treasure chest full of activities and mini-units you can choose from. Create an activity to compare and contrast the life of a farmer with the life of a pirate, or a sailor, or both. That will nicely set up a research activity on the life of a pirate: superstitions of pirates, swimming abilities (or not), ship's politics, the running of a pirate ship (jobs aboard ship, procedures followed), pirate's code, pirate-speak, etc. Present a mini-unit on types of ships used by pirates, and their pursuers: sloop, galleon, caravel, frigate, man-o-war, merchant, schooner, brigantine.

Sneak in some more history by having your students research real pirates from history. Let them work in groups and creatively present their findings. Your kids will have great fun with a mapping mini-unit: land maps, treasure maps, sea maps. (You can probably sneak in a literary map, or a character map here, too.) How about a code activity: creating them, then seeing if their classmates can crack them? And just for fun, try a pirate name activity. Have your kids create a chart of the pirate characters from the book, and why they have those names. Then let them create their own pirate names, with explanations, to use for an entire Pirate Day in the classroom.

This is by no means the bottom of that treasure chest. What gems can you come up with?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Fish is a book your kiddos will love to read. And so will you. It has pirates! It has treasure! It has action! It has intrigue! Scurvy pirates with odd names and even odder reasons for those names! It is an adventure from start to finish, and along the way, your kids will learn a little bit about ships, and pirate life, and family, and friendship, and loyalty, and being true to yourself. Read it aloud together, or each of you read it on your own, or a little of both. You'll be glad you did.

For the Kids:
Fish is a book about a boy from a farming family. Though Fish is no good with dirt, it turns out he's pretty good with water. When the family horse dies, Fish is sent to the city to earn money to send home. He becomes a courier, delivering important packages for his Uncle Gerry. One day, he's given a package of mysterious coins to deliver, but they're stolen from him. Fish tracks the thief to a pirate ship. That package must get to the right recipient, so Fish does the only thing he can think of to get it back - he sneaks aboard and joins the pirate crew. But how can a boy who, as author Gregory Mone says, "loves to swim and hates to fight," survive on a pirate ship?  

For Everyone Else:
Fish is fast-paced and action-packed. It has humor, and fact, and a great story. Plus? It has pirates. What more could you ask for?

Wrapping Up:
Fish is not your average pirate tale. Find. Read. Enjoy.

Title: Fish
Author: Gregory Mone
Cover Artist: Jake Parker
Pages: 246
Reading Level: 8 and up
Publisher and Date: Scholastic, Inc., January 2011
Edition: First Scholastic paperback printing
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $4.99
ISBN: 978-0-545-33335-1

Author Spotlight: Gregory Mone

Before he started writing for kids, Gregory Mone wrote for adults. And before that, he worked as a paralegal in Ireland. And before that, he did a bit of banking work. And before all of that, he was history major at Harvard University, graduating in 1998.

Now, Gregory Mone is a novelist for both kids and adults, a magazine writer, a science journalist, and a speaker. He has written two novels for adults, as well as many magazine articles on a wide variety of topics, including: artificial intelligence, robots, physics, biology, Irish mythology, and cartoons.

His first novel for kids, Fish, was published by Scholastic Press in 2010. His second, Dangerous Waters: An Adventure on the Titanic, is scheduled for release in March, 2012, from Roaring Brook.

Born on Long Island, New York, into "an Irish-American family of swimmers and storytellers," Gregory Mone now lives in Massachusetts with his wife, two daughters, and one son.

Sources:
Gregory Mone blog: About page
Fish: About the Author - Official site for the book, Fish, by Gregory Mone
In Print: Fish by Greg Mone is a great catch, by CK Wolfson

Saturday, October 15, 2011

National Grouch Day is October 15th

  • Ebenezer Scrooge (from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens).
  • Carl Fredrickson (from the Disney-Pixar movie UP).
  • Grumpy (from the fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves).
  • Miss Gulch (from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum). 
  • Yosemite Sam (from Warner Brothers cartoons).
  • Statler and Waldorf (from the Muppets).
  • The Grinch (from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss).

What do all of these family-friendly, fictional folks have in common?

Why, they're grouches, of course. You know: churls, cranks, crosspatches, grumps, soreheads, sourpusses, crabs. And let's not forget my personal favorite: 

Curmudgeons.

If you have more than a little bit in common with these literary and cinematic grouches, then today is your day. Celebrate your grouchiness...or not. (After all, jollification in any form is in direct conflict with the typical Grouchy Nature). And if you're more of a Ray o' Sunshine kind of peep, today is the perfect day to try on some cranky pants for size. 

Either way, you've got to start National Grouch Day off somehow. And who better to start you off, than that grouch of all grouches: Oscar the Grouch?


Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: Love, Ruby Lavender, by Deborah Wiles

                                          June 8

Dear Miss Eula,
     Well, you are gone. I hope you are happy. I am not.
     For your information, Melba Jane is still here. I am working on a disappearing potion to make her vanish.

Summary:
Ruby Lavender is not your average chicken thief. For starters, she's only nine years old. Plus, she wasn't stealing those chickens as much as liberating them from a future lying cooked and crispy on someone's dinner plate. Ruby is looking forward to a summer of caring for her chickens, and spending lots of time with her partner in chicken thievery: getaway driver Miss Eula.

But Ruby's plans quickly unravel when Miss Eula decides to up and leave Halleluia, Mississippi for a while. She's going to Hawaii to visit her new baby granddaughter. She won't be gone forever, but she doesn't know when she'll be back, either. Up until now, Ruby has been Miss Eula's only grandchild, and Ruby is jealous. Plus, how will Ruby care for the chickens and their newly laid eggs, without Miss Eula's help? How will she deal with the torment that is Melba Jane, without Miss Eula to talk her through it? How will she get through helping out at her grumpy Aunt Mattie's general store, without Miss Eula to smooth things over? And who will leave Ruby letters in their secret mailbox, with Miss Eula gone?

As it turns out, that secret mailbox isn't the only way to exchange letters with Miss Eula. And Ruby finds herself spending a summer she never saw coming, and likely will never forget.

For Teachers and Librarians:

Besides being a story that will find a place in your students' hearts, Love, Ruby Lavender has a whole mess of ways for you to use it in your classroom. Use it as part of a letter-writing unit, as a connection with the letters Ruby and Miss Eula write back and forth. Have a fun side-unit on chickens: their behavior, care and feeding, and learning how a chicken gets from egg to chick. 

It's a great book to use in conjunction with a map unit, as the book includes a map of Ruby's little town. Have your students create maps of their own neighborhoods, or your school's neighborhood. Connect with social studies and examine maps of Mississippi, and Hawaii. Is Halleluia a real town in Mississippi? Mark it! If not, research what town the author based Halleluia on, and mark that instead. Mark the town where the new grandbaby lives in Hawaii. Conduct mini units on each state.

How about connections with transportation? Car, walk, plane, bus and bike are all mentioned in the book. A unit on travel would be fun: trying new foods, visiting new places, learning new cultures or ways of life. Or perhaps a unit on jobs: small business owner, anthropologist, newspaper columnist, egg ranch, or farming. Even retirement: what is it? How does it work? 

Guidance counselors can use this book too: lots of material here to help students work through conflict resolution issues, dealing with grief, working through bumps in the road of friendship, examining the many relationships we have with others (friends, neighbors, coworkers, family). 

So much material here. How will you use it?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers: 
Love, Ruby Lavender is a book that will touch your heart, as well as the hearts of your kids. You could each read it alone, or read it together. You'll be glad you did. And did you know? This particular edition has nice little extra: a Reading Group Guide in the back, geared especially to grandmothers and granddaughters.

This book touches on a host of real-life issues that your kids (and you) may be dealing with, in a gentle, loving way: death of a loved one and figuring out how to understand and live with that grief, conflicts with friends and kids at school, jealousy over new babies in the family, conflicts with family members and learning how to live peacefully among them, and even living in a one-parent household and the positives and negatives they may feel about that. But perhaps most importantly, Love, Ruby Lavender is about love, and forgiveness, and friendship, and family. Don't let this one pass you or your kids by.

For the Kids:
Ruby Lavender is a nine-year-old chicken thief. And who is her getaway driver? Her own grandmother, Miss Eula! They saved three chickens from ending up on someone's dinner table, and now one of them has laid three eggs. Ruby can't wait to spend her summer with Miss Eula, caring for those eggs, and the chicks that will hatch from them. But one day, Miss Eula tells Ruby she's going away for a while. All the way to Hawaii. Worse, she'll be visiting her brand-new baby granddaughter. (Up until now, Ruby was Miss Eula's only grandchild.) 

Here in Halleluia, there's that torment of a girl, Melba Jane to deal with. And Ruby's cranky aunt, Miss Mattie. How will she manage the chickens, and Melba Jane, and Miss Mattie, all by herself this summer? Who will answer the notes Ruby leaves in their secret mailbox? With Miss Eula gone, Ruby is expecting the summer to be awful. But then her new teacher, Mr. Ishee, moves into town. And he's brought his nine-year-old niece, who dresses like she's ready to head into the jungle. And soon, things start to get a lot more interesting... 

For Everyone Else:
Love, Ruby Lavender is a book that will find a place in your heart, curl up, and never leave. Adults will find themselves remembering what it was like to be nine and learning about the world as they moved through it. Kids will find themselves relieved to see that a lot of the things they have to deal with, others do, too, and that somehow it all works out, eventually. 

Wrapping Up:
Love, Ruby Lavender is destined to be a classic. Buy it. Borrow it. But - good garden of peas! - make sure you read it. You'll be glad you did.

Title: Love, Ruby Lavender
Author: Deborah Wiles
Cover Illustration: Marla Frazee
Pages: 212
Reading Level: Ages 8-12
Publisher and Date: Gulliver Books (Harcourt, Inc.) 2002
Edition: First Gulliver Books paperback edition, 2002
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $5.95
ISBN-10: 0-15-202314-3
ISBN-13: 0-15-205478-2pb


Author Spotlight: Deborah Wiles

Sometimes, a writer's path to publication takes many twists and turns. Deborah Wiles has held a variety of jobs. Some of those jobs sound very writerly, like freelance writer, and journalist. Some sound a little writerly, but in a different way, like her days as an oral history gatherer, and a teacher. Some don't sound very writerly at all, but could give an observant person a ton of ideas for stories or characters, like she may have collected during her school bus driver days, or her time as a burger queen. She was even an underwear salesperson once. And, now, in the most recent part of her winding path, Deborah Wiles has become an award winning children's author.

Her first title came out in 2001: the picture book Freedom Summer. She followed that with the middle grade novel, Love, Ruby Lavender, which came out the same year. Ms. Wiles has gone on to publish a total of 6 books so far: two picture books, and four novels.

Mrs. Wiles also took time for education. She learned more about writing as she worked toward her MFA in Writing from Vermont College, which she earned in 2003. She also took what she learned and shared it with others: She taught the course Writing Techniques for Teachers at Towson University, and she has taught MFA programs at Vermont College, and at Lesley University.

She says of writing:
"Writing a story is like sending a slender thread out into the world, looking for connection. Are you out there? Who are you? Where are you? I don't know who will catch on to that thread, but I have learned to trust that someone will, even if I never know who (and mostly I don't)."

Deborah (Edwards) Wiles was born on May 7, 1953, in Mobile, Alabama. She is the eldest of three children born to her parents, Marie and T.P. Her dad was in the Air Force, so the family moved a lot, but spent their summers where her dad grew up, in Loudin, Mississippi.

Ms Wiles has four grown children. She now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, "in a small brick house painted purple, chartreuse and red," with her husband, jazz musician Jim Pearce. When not writing, she spends her time avoiding Atlanta traffic, climbing Stone Mountain, and visiting friends.

Sources:
Deborah Wiles official site
Deborah Wiles (Wikipedia)
Team Countdown - An Interview with Deborah Wiles and David Levithan
Deborah Wiles Author Study (Scholastic)
Interview with Deborah Wiles, author of The Aurora County All-Stars


Friday, September 30, 2011

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2011 - Installment #7

At last, we come to the last Friday in September. Which is also (sadly) the last day of the Second Annual Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. Click the link in the previous sentence if you need to get up to speed. Then come back here and join in the final (for this year) frivolity.



The added twist for this year, instead of the inaugural year's general hodge-podge of wonderfully weird books, is Variations on the Overall Weirdo Theme. So far, we've frolicked through:
Today's Variation reminds us that there's a little bit of weird just about anywhere you look. Even in places you'd think would be nothing but "normal" (whatever that means). So, without further ado, I present to you Installment #7:


Characters Who Just Might Remind You of Someone You Know

Arthur, For the Very First Time, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Lloyd Bloom
Ages 8 and up

Ten-year-old Arthur's summer isn't starting out so well. His parents are arguing. And a new baby is coming. And nobody seems to be listening to him. But then one day, his parents take him to stay with Great-Uncle Wrisby and Great-Aunt Elda for the summer. When hard-of-hearing Uncle Wrisby grabs Arthur's hand and yells, "What would you like to talk about?" summer starts looking much more interesting. 

Arthur meets Pauline - a chicken who loves French, and Bernadette - a pig who loves to be sung to. Aunt Elda introduces him to a mockingbird with no name, and Uncle Wrisby takes him to bargain with a trader named Yoyo Pratt. He finds new friends in Moira - a scrappy little girl who calls him "Mouse," and her grandfather - a veterinarian whom everyone calls "Moreover." As he spends his summer days and nights with this motley group, Arthur begins to see life in new and unexpected ways.


Another Whole Nother Story, As told by (The Incomparable) Dr. Cuthbert Soup
Ages 8 and up

Mr. Ethan Cheeseman and his three smart, polite, and relatively odor-free children are back in another adventure - with all-new names, of course. Now that they've got the LVR working (the supposedly secret, yet relentlessly sought-after time machine introduced in A Whole Nother Story), the family is all set to travel back in time to just before their beloved wife and mother Olivia Cheeseman meets her unfortunate end at the hands of those seeking to "acquire" the LVR.

But all does not go according to plan. First, they wind up not in the relatively recent past, as they'd planned, but way back in 1668. Worse, their crash landing has damaged the LVR, and unless they can find the proper parts to repair it, the family has no way to return to their own time in the 21st century. As if that weren't trouble enough, the family finds themselves facing suspicion of witchcraft, battling pirates, and navigating a haunted castle. Add to that their tangle with a dangerous nemesis from their present whom they believed they'd seen the last of, and things don't look good. 

Despite these odds, the likeable Cheesemans are not without friends, meeting several helpful souls along the way. But is it enough to help them get out of the distant past, and into the nearer past, so they can save their beloved Olivia Cheeseman, and get back to their own time?


Fish, by Gregory Mone
Ages 8 and up

Maurice "Fish" Reidy is eleven years old when the family horse dies. Without Shamrock, the family can't afford to feed itself, let alone farm their land. Someone has to go into the city to work and send money home. Since Fish is the worst at farming, it's agreed he should be the one to go.

His father arranges for Fish to work for his uncle as a courier. One day, Fish is entrusted with a mysterious package of coins to deliver. But before he can make that delivery, he is robbed. Fish tracks down the thief, who has delivered the package to pirates aboard their ship, the Scurvy Mistress. Determined to get that package back and to its rightful recipient, Fish decides to sneak aboard and join the pirate crew. He soon learns the coins are more than what they seem - possibly the keys to a wondrous treasure, if only the suspected code can be cracked.

As the Scurvy Mistress sets sail, Fish finds himself on an adventure he never saw coming, with friends he never imagined making. It's a journey that promises to change his life - and that of his family - forever.


Franny B. Kranny, There's a Bird in Your Hair! by Harriet Lerner and Susan Goldhor, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Ages 4 and up

Franny B. Kranny's long, frizzy hair gives her a lot of grief. It's always getting tangled, or caught on things. It even makes the girl who sits with her on the bus, sneeze. But Franny loves her hair. She loves the way it boings back out after she flattens it. And she loves the way it makes a little cave for her to pretend to hide in when she brushes it forward.

One day, Franny's mother says she and her sister must go to get their hair done for their big family reunion. Bertha is pleased. Franny is not. She says she doesn't want anyone touching her hair. But the next day she finds herself grumpily sitting in the hairdresser's chair, where he piles her hair up on top of her head. The hairdresser loves it. And her mother loves it. But Franny begins thinking of ways to undo it.

Then something very unusual happens to her hair on the walk home from the beauty parlor. Her family thinks she should undo it. But Franny decides to keep it that way all through the reunion. Everyone at the reunion loves her hair, and when they get home, her family thinks she should keep it that way. But - and you saw this coming, didn't you? Franny has other ideas.


The Napping House, by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood
Ages 4 and up

It's a rainy day, perfect for an afternoon snooze. And in this house, everyone is doing just that. A snoring Granny is napping in the coziest spot in the house. But she isn't alone for long. One by one, the other nappers in the house drowsily find their way to Granny's bed: a dreaming child, a dozing dog, a snoozing cat, and a slumbering mouse. Finally, everyone in the house is happily napping in a big pile with Granny in her cozy bed. Everyone, that is, except for one wakeful flea. And pretty soon, no one is napping at all.

 
Love, Ruby Lavender, by Deborah Wiles
Ages 8 and up

Ruby Lavender is not your average chicken thief. For starters, she's only nine years old. Plus, she wasn't stealing those chickens as much as liberating them from a future lying cooked and crispy on someone's dinner plate. Ruby is looking forward to a summer of caring for her chickens, and spending lots of time with her partner in chicken thievery: getaway driver Miss Eula.

But Ruby's plans quickly unravel when Miss Eula decides to up and leave Halleluia, Mississippi for a while. She's going to Hawaii to visit her new baby granddaughter. She won't be gone forever, but she doesn't know when she'll be back, either. Up until now, Ruby has been Miss Eula's only grandchild, and Ruby is jealous. Plus, how will Ruby care for the chickens and their newly laid eggs, without Miss Eula's help? How will she deal with the torment that is Melba Jane, without Miss Eula to talk her through it? How will she get through helping out at her grumpy Aunt Mattie's general store, without Miss Eula to smooth things over? And who will leave Ruby letters in their secret mailbox, with Miss Eula gone?

As it turns out, that secret mailbox isn't the only way to exchange letters with Miss Eula. And Ruby finds herself spending a summer she never saw coming, and likely will never forget.


* * *

So, here we are at the end of the Second Annual Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. If you haven't read any of the books that were featured this month, I hope you do. And if you have read them, even just a few of them, I hope you had as much fun reading these books as I did.

Drop me a comment or shoot me an email if you have any suggestions for inclusion in next year's Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series

And now, I will leave you with this snippet from the very first BNBWWoLS post:

Remember Merriam-Webster's definition of weirdo? "A person who is extraordinarily strange or eccentric." There is a wide range of Weird in this world. Some of us are more so than others. We Weirdos may be different, but always remember: we are extraordinarily so.



Friday, September 23, 2011

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2011 - Installment #6

Is it Friday already? Well, then it must be time for Installment #6 of the Second Annual Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series



Whether you're new to Bugs and Bunnies, or simply new to BnBWWoLS, and you're wondering what all the fuss is about, click the "Wonderful Weirdos" link up there at the beginning of this post. Once you're all caught up, come on back here to continue the fun.

* * *

New for 2011 is the addition of Variations on the Overall Weirdo Theme. Installment #4 centered on Stinky in Name, Title or Deed. Installment #5 introduced us to The Anthropomorphic. 

And today, in Installment #6, our Variation on the Overall Weirdo Theme is:

Magic


Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm, by Jerdine Nolen, illustrated by Mark Buehner
Ages 4 and up

Told by another farmer's daughter, this is the tale of Harvey Potter - a farmer who grows balloons. Folks in town don't know how he does it. And when old Wheezle Mayfield calls in the Government to check it out, they don't know how he does it, either. But there's no denying that Harvey Potter is growing 100%, genuine, pop-when-you-poke-'em-with-a-pin balloons. 

Itching to know how Harvey Potter grows those balloons of his, the girl decides to befriend him. She spends lots of time with him, and though Harvey Potter is pleasant enough, he never tells her his secret. All she knows for sure is, he only goes out to his fields at night. So one night, she climbs a sycamore tree, and she watches him head on out to his fields, carrying nothing more than the conjure stick he always has with him. And that night, the girl sees something that will change her life forever.



It's October 2, 1872. Magpie Gabbard has just turned thirteen years old. And she is bound and determined to leave her home atop Gabbard Mountain, find her brother Milo, and give him back the foot he sorely needs, so he can get to High Jerusalem.

Magpie's quest is not without its difficulties: Big Mama is bound and determined not to see another of her underage children go off-mountain, never to return. There's also those pernicious Sizemores down in Squabble Town to think about, and the dreaded Cob Hollow Goblins to avoid. And then there's the fact that Milo is living inside a hollowed-out sycamore somewhere in faraway Pergatory, Kentucky. Plus, Milo's got a deadline: he has to get to High Jerusalem by October 16th.

Help comes to Magpie from some most unusual sources: the moon, Granny Goforth and her prophesying kettle, a talking head floating in a well, and a boar called Wild Bill, to name just a few. But, is all this enough to help Magpie find Milo? And can she get to him in time?


 Hey, Al, by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Richard Egielski
Ages 4 and up

Al is a nice, quiet man who shares his run-down, one-room apartment with his dog, Eddie. Al and Eddie are always working, and life is a struggle. One day, Eddie complains that he wants a house, and an actual yard to run around in. This makes Al angry, and he accuses Eddie of always wanting something more.

When Al is shaving one morning, a very large bird pokes its head through the bathroom window. He offers Al a trip to a wonderful place where life is very good. Al doesn't know what to think about this. But Eddie insists that they go. The next day, the bird returns, taking Al and Eddie to an island paradise in the sky. Al and Eddie love this new island life, and start to forget their old life. Until one morning, when they wake up to an unexpected side effect of living in this too-good-to-be-true place. And suddenly, they see their old, discarded life in a much different light.


Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier
Ages 10 and up

Peter Nimble is an orphan. And he's blind. And he's the greatest thief who ever lived. This is his story: He's been living on the streets of the town where he was found, ever since he was an infant. When Peter is five years old, he catches the eye of the nefarious Mr. Seamus, who trains Peter in all aspects of theft, then forces him to steal all night, and sleep during the day in a damp, locked cellar. It is a miserable life; one from which Peter has no hope of escape. 

Until one day, when Peter is ten years old; he steals a mysterious, locked box from a stranger who comes to town. In the box, Peter finds three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he is whisked away to a hidden island, where he is presented with a special quest: to travel to an unknown world and rescue what is known as the Vanished Kingdom. With the help of the three pairs of Fantastic Eyes, and a rather unusual knight, Peter accepts the quest, and they set out on what quickly becomes the adventure of a lifetime.

 
 Tuesday, by David Wiesner
Ages 5 and up

It is a Tuesday night, around 8 o'clock. A turtle lifts his head from the fallen log he's resting on. All looks fine, but the turtle seems to sense that something is not quite right. And then, the frogs appear. Lots and lots of frogs, perched joyously on their lily pads. 

The events that follow on that unusual Tuesday night are ones that those who experienced them are unlikely to forget. Those who didn't will find the left-behind evidence hard to explain. Until the next Tuesday night...


The Wee Free Men: A Tiffany Aching Adventure, by Terry Pratchett
Ages 13 and up

A river monster nearly snatches away Tiffany Aching's little brother, Wentworth. She foils the monster's efforts just in time, with a well-aimed swing of her trusty skillet. Later, Wentworth goes missing, and Tiffany learns he's been stolen by the Queen of Fairies. Even though Wentworth is a nuisance to her, Tiffany is desperate to get him back. But she can't do it alone.

Help comes in the form of a peculiar woman named Miss Perspicacia Tick, and a rowdy, mischievous, and fierce group of tiny blue creatures - the fearsome Nac Mac Feegle. Tiffany will need every bit of that help, because the Queen of Fairies has no intention of releasing Wentworth. Ever.


* * *

See? I told you this week would be magical. Please come back next Friday, September 30, 2011, for the final installment of the Second Annual Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2011 - Installment #5

Welcome to the Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, Installment #5. Need some explanation? Click on the link in the first sentence to catch up. Then come on back here.


New to the BnBWWoLS in this, the second year of its existence, is Variations on the Overall Weirdo Theme. September 2nd's wonderful weirdness (Installment #4) was focused on Stinky in Name, Title, or Deed

* * *

This week will focus on The Anthropomorphic. You know: characters that are not people, yet behave just like us. They walk on two legs. They talk. They even wear clothes - though sometimes they just wear shirts and skip the pants. (Why is that, anyway?)

But enough babbling from me. Let's get to the books, shall we?


Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes
Ages 4-8

On the day she is born, the tiny mouse's parents think she's absolutely perfect, which is why they give her an absolutely perfect name: Chrysanthemum. Once Chrysanthemum grows "old enough to appreciate it," she loves her name: how it looks and how it sounds. It's absolutely perfect - just like her. But when her very first day of school has come and gone, Chrysanthemum comes home with a very different perception. Will she ever again think her name is absolutely perfect?


 Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, by Kevin Henkes
Ages 4 and up

Lilly is, in a word, exuberant. She loves school and everything in it - including her teacher Mr. Slinger. "Wow," said Lilly. That was just about all she could say. "Wow." She loves Mr. Slinger so much, she pretends to be him at home, making her baby brother Julius be the student. She loves him so much, she wants to be a teacher when she grows up. 

One day, Lilly comes to school "especially happy," eager to show off her new purple plastic purse, her movie star sunglasses, and her jingly quarters. But she chooses the wrong times to try to share, and Mr. Slinger has to take action. So Lilly goes to the Lightbulb Lab and she thinks. First, she gets sad. Then, Lilly gets angry. Then, Lilly gets furious. And then, she makes something that shows exactly how she feels about Mr. Slinger. And that's when things begin to get very...interesting.


Chick 'n' Pug, by Jennifer Sattler
Ages 3 and up

Chick is an adventure-seeker, fueled by what he reads in his Adventures of Wonder Pug comic book. Trouble is, the chicken coop is sorely lacking excitement. So, Chick goes looking for it elsewhere. Pretty soon, he comes across "a real, live Wonder Pug." Though this Pug seems a bit low in the energy department, Chick believes him to be every inch a Wonder Pug.

Chick tries and tries to get some adventures started, but all Pug really wants to do is sleep. Then, when an intruder is foisted upon the snoozing Pug's territory, Chick sees the chance to create some heroic excitement of his own.


Tacky the Penguin, by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
Ages 4 and up

Tacky is an odd bird. He is not quiet and polite, like the other penguins. He doesn't march in an orderly fashion, like the other penguins. And he is not a graceful diver, like the other penguins. Tacky causes the other penguins much chagrin.

Until one day, when some penguin hunters come to the iceberg. They want to sell the birds "and get rich, rich, RICH!" They think finding and catching the penguins will be easy.

But they haven't met Tacky.


The Three Pigs, by David Wiesner
Ages 4 and up

Most folks know the story of The Three Little Pigs. It usually starts with "Once upon a time." It always has three pigs. And a wolf. And lots of huffing and puffing. But in this story, things don't exactly go according to plan. It all starts when the wolf blows one little piggy clear out of the story. And suddenly, the pigs have the upper hand...


The Emperor's New Clothes: An All-Star Illustrated Retelling of the Classic Fairy Tale (A Benefit for the Starbright Foundation), by various celebrities and artists
Ages 4-8

Hans Christian Andersen's classic cautionary tale about telling it like it is, is retold. But this time, lots of behind-the-scenes stuff is revealed. Narrated by an enterprising moth, the reader learns previously untold tidbits from such unlikely characters as The Spinning Wheel, The Imperial Mirror, and The Emperor's Underwear, as well as from some of the more familiar characters: The Imperial Dresser, The Honest Boy, and of course The Emperor himself.

In fact, there are brief personal accounts from more than 20 different characters - not all of which are people, leaving the reader with a much fuller understanding of the famous goings-on that led to an emperor parading about in nothing more than a crown and a birthday suit.

Illustrated by a host of well-known children's illustrators and artists, the book also comes with an audio CD of the story, written and performed by various celebrities.


* * *

And that, as they say, is that. Come back next week for the 6th Installment of the Second Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. It's shaping up to be quite a magical list...


Friday, September 9, 2011

Wonderful Weirdos Day 2011

Today, on the actual Wonderful Weirdos Day: a brief break from the Wonderful Weirdos of Literature series. Rest assured, more books full of Wonderful Weirdos will continue next Friday. Just not today. 

Why? 

Because back in August, I came across this video from 2008, by Matt Harding, via a Wonderful Weirdos Day online article by Jamie Rhein all about travel weirdos. The video I found there touched my heart. I don't even know why. I just know it did. And it's too good not to share. (Parents - you will see the word "Hell" in the title, and at the end credits, but rest assured, it is not used in the video. It's just the name of Matt's website. Totally safe to let your kids watch.) This video is about five minutes long, and something you just have to see. Be patient. Watch the whole thing. In fact, expand it to full screen. Trust me:





Friday, September 2, 2011

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2011 - Installment #4

You saw "Installment #4" in the title up there and thought you missed something, didn't you? Well, you didn't. At least not for this year.

See, today is the first Friday in September. Which means it is the first day of the Second Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. But, this is Installment #4, because Installments 1, 2 and 3 were posted last year, during the First Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series.




The brief explanation for why I do this, and why it happens in September, is:

For one thing, Wonderful Weirdos Day is celebrated this month. For another thing, September is Roald Dahl Month (most likely because his birthday is in September). And for yet another thing, September finds kids back in school, perhaps searching for some fun books to choose for their book reports or projects or what-have-you. And plus? I just wanted to.
 
For a full explanation of what the Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series is all about, click the link in this sentence. Then come on back, and we'll get right to Installment #4.

All set? Ok, then.

Here we go:

BnBWWoLS 2011 will have a bit of a different twist: themes! Or more precisely, variations on the Overall Weirdo Theme. This week's variation: 


Stinky in Name, Title, or Deed

Stink: Solar System Superhero, by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Ages 5 and up

Stink Moody is incensed. He just found out that Pluto, his second-favorite planet (after Saturn), is not only NOT a planet anymore, it didn't even get to keep its name - it just has a six-digit number, instead. And Stink isn't the only one who's cheesed off about this. So is the new kid, Skunk. 

But "Rotten Riley Rottenberger," AKA "Miss Know-It-All," is rather pleased at this new development, and she takes every opportunity to rub it in their faces. The rivalry intensifies, until finally Mrs. Dempster proposes that the class create their own panel of scientists, hold a debate, and let the class vote to decide Pluto's fate. Stink and Skunk, and Riley, and their supporters, dive right in: making signs, t-shirts, chants - anything to help win votes. All to decide once and for all: Is Pluto a planet? Or not?



In the very small town of Hamlet, Vermont, there are strange goings-on. A mysterious stranger's motorcycle is hit by lightning while it's parked behind Clumpett's General Store. The motorcycle has a briefcase strapped to it. Inside that briefcase are genetically altered chicken eggs, only three of which survive the lightning strike. Then Thud Tweed stomps his way into town, telling a different outrageous story every time someone asks about him, his family, or his past. His very wealthy and very aloof mother, Mildred Tweed, is equally puzzling - fully expecting her boy Thud to be kicked out of school, and ready with a blank check for what she is certain are the inevitable damages to come.

While the town is busy sifting through all this puzzling stuff, Trooper Crawdad is trying to puzzle out a couple of mysteries of his own: who is this fellow who's all fired up about a briefcase he reports has been stolen, and how could chicken eggs - as the fellow claims - possibly be a matter of national security?




Ah, the life of a cowboy: roundin' up cattle, cookin' up some vittles, singin' songs around the campfire, with only his trusty steed and loyal dog for company. Yessir, life sure is perfect for a cowboy...until he gets it in his head that he oughta prob'ly have hisself a bath. The cowboy in this story sets out to do just that. Just gettin' to the river takes some doin,' but he gets there alright, and charges his dog with guardin' his duds. An' then he heads to the river, nearly-new bar of lye soap in hand, an' he gets good and clean. But, once he fixes t' go git his duds back? Well, that's when things get interestin.'


Walter the Farting Dog, by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, illustrated by Audrey Colman
Ages 5-8

Betty and Billy bring Walter the dog, smelling none too sweet, home from the pound. The family begins to get an inkling of why nobody wanted Walter when tell-tale bubbles appear in the bath water, and Walter emerges from his bath smelling no better than before he got in. 

Betty and Billy are OK with Walter's constant gaseous emissions...but Daddy is not. He demands a trip to the vet, who prescribes a change in diet. But no matter what they try, Walter remains helplessly flatulent. So Daddy demands Walter's return to the pound. Tomorrow.

Walter doesn't want to go back to the pound, so he resolves never to fart again. That night, as he lay on the sofa, a pair of burglars break in. Walter wants to stop them from stealing his new family's things, but he can't move for fear of releasing all the gas he's been struggling to hold in.

What's a gassy dog to do?



The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Ages 4-8

Don't let the fairy tale premise fool you. These retellings are as snarky and sarcastic as the title suggests. The stories are narrated by Jack, from Up the Hill, who is not your average fairy tale narrator. He's prickly. He insults the fairy tale talent. He installs pages upside down…on purpose. In Jack's abrasive storytelling style, the sweet Gingerbread Man becomes the smelly Stinky Cheese Man; Little Red's Riding Hood is swapped for a pair of Running Shorts; and The Little Red Hen - who keeps asking when it's time for her story - is brusquely dismissed each time she tries. In all, twelve different stories are collected and retold here. And not one is spared Jack's acerbic tongue, to bitingly (questionably?) funny effect.


Good Families Don't, by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Alan Daniel
Ages 5 and up

Carmen heads up to her room for the night, only to be confronted by a big purple, green and yellow fart. She dashes downstairs to alert Mommy and Daddy. Good families like theirs don't have farts, they tell her. But they go up to check it out anyway, and that's when the fart jumps on them. She calls the police, and when they arrive, they go upstairs to check it out. But, they tell her, good Canadians do not have farts. And then the fart jumps on them, too. Carmen decides the only way to save herself now is to run away. But just as she gets out of the house, she trips on something. Something that may be just what she needs to save all of them from that big purple, green and yellow fart.


* * *

Well, I had fun. Did you? What are your favorite "stinky" kids' books? Drop me a comment and tell me all about it.

Come on back each Friday this month, for more Wonderful Weirdos of Literature.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Book Review: Arthur, For the Very First Time, by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Lloyd Bloom

     "Come, come," yelled Uncle Wrisby. "We'll have something to eat. Then we'll talk about the world and its workings." He took hold of Arthur's hand. "What would you like to talk about?"
     Arthur stared at Uncle Wrisby. Here was someone who wanted to talk about things! With him!
     Arthur opened his journal. "Moles!" he cried happily. "Let's talk about moles!"
     His pencil poised, the summer began.

Summary:
Ten-year-old Arthur's summer isn't starting out so well. His parents are arguing. And a new baby is coming. And nobody seems to be listening to him. But then one day, his parents take him to stay with Great-Uncle Wrisby and Great-Aunt Elda for the summer. When hard-of-hearing Uncle Wrisby grabs Arthur's hand and yells, "What would you like to talk about?" summer starts looking much more interesting. 

Arthur meets Pauline - a chicken who loves French, and Bernadette - a pig who loves to be sung to. Aunt Elda introduces him to a mockingbird with no name, and Uncle Wrisby takes him to bargain with a trader named Yoyo Pratt. He finds new friends in Moira - a scrappy little girl who calls him "Mouse," and her grandfather - a veterinarian whom everyone calls "Moreover." As he spends his summer days and nights with this motley group, Arthur begins to see life in new and unexpected ways.

For Teachers and Librarians:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is a quiet book with a host of off-the-wall characters that work together to bring close-to-the-vest Arthur out of his self-imposed shell. But don't let this story's quietness lull you into thinking it's not powerful. As Arthur meets each of these characters, he's faced with decisions and situations he's never seen before, forcing him to look at things from a point of view other than his own, and letting him discover there are whole other new and exciting sides of himself that he never knew existed. 

Arthur learns to be brave enough to try new things, and to trust in himself and his ability to do what must be done. Moira who trusts only herself, learns that she can trust other people, too. Uncle Wrisby tends to keep some parts of life at a distance, to save his heart from possible hurt, while Aunt Elda prefers to embrace life closely, even if it means her heart may be broken. Each character in this book has their own ways of looking at life, and their own flaws that they're forced to examine. And each of them comes away from their trials with a new understanding of themselves and others. Students of all stripes will find connections with this story, and so will you.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is one of those books that, after you've finished reading it, you just sit and hug it to your chest. It is a story about family, and friends, and love, and heartbreak, and trust, and strength, and finding yourself. It's a story about discovering who you really are, and pushing your boundaries, and being there for others even when you're not sure you're able to. It is a story that will make your kids laugh out loud sometimes, and sit quietly and think sometimes, and smile sometimes, and maybe even cry a little bit. Let them read it on their own, or better yet, find a comfy spot to sit and read it together. You'll be glad you did. And so will they.

For the Kids:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is about Arthur, whose summer isn't going too well: his parents are arguing, and there's a new baby on the way. (His parents think he doesn't know about the baby, but he does, and he is not pleased about it.) So life is a bit itchy at home. Then one day, his parents take him to spend the summer with his Great-Aunt Elda and Great-Uncle Wrisby, on their farm. And finally, summer gets a lot more interesting. 

He meets their chicken who loves being spoken to in French, and their pig who loves being sung to. He meets Moira, who insists on calling him "Mouse," and Moira's grandfather, who everyone calls "Moreover." It's a story about what it takes to be a good friend. It's a story about letting yourself try new things. It's a story about learning to trust yourself. And it's a story about letting yourself trust the people you care about the most. Sometimes it's very funny, and sometimes it's a little sad, and sometimes it will make you think a lot. And isn't that the best kind of story? 

For Everyone Else:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is at times funny, at times sad, and many times deeply touching. Perhaps you will see some of yourself in one of the characters. Or many of the characters. It is a story of love, and trust, friendship, and family, and pushing your own boundaries, and learning about yourself. Whether you're 7 or 70, this is a book you will never forget.

Wrapping Up:
Arthur, For the Very First Time is well worth your time. Perfect for curling up and reading on a rainy day. Or a sunny day. Or any day, really. What are you waiting for?

Title: Arthur, For the Very First Time
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrator: Lloyd Bloom
Pages: 117
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: First Harper Trophy Edition, 1989
Edition: Hardcover, library copy
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $5.99
ISBN-10: 0-06-024045-8
ISBN-13: 978-0060240479
ISBN: 0-06-024047-4 (lib. binding)

 

Author Spotlight: Patricia MacLachlan

Photo Credit: John MacLachlan 
Patricia MacLachlan's parents were teachers who encouraged her to read when she was a child. Her mother told her "read a book and find out who you are." And read, she did. A lot. She also had a vivid and active imagination. But, she did not write stories then. "I was afraid," she says, "of putting my own feelings and thoughts on a page for everyone to read."

It wasn't until she was 35 years old that she began writing - something she realized she'd always wanted to do. Yet even then, writing still felt scary for her.  She began with a picture book: The Sick Day (1979). Then she wrote her first novel: Arthur, For the Very First Time (1980). And she continued to write. Since then, she has written more than 20 novels and picture books for children, some of them co-written with her daughter Emily. She has also written a series of journal articles on adoption and foster mothers, teleplays of some of her books, and short fiction pieces in anthologies. She says of her work, 

"Each time I write a new piece, whether a novel, a picture book, a speech or anything really, it has so much to do with what I’m going through personally or a problem I’m trying to work out."

After graduating from the University of Connecticut in 1962, Mrs. MacLachlan taught English for 16 years. She has also been a social worker, a lecturer, and a creative writing workshop teacher for both children and adults. She was a board member of the Children's Aid Family Service Agency from 1970-1980, and currently serves on the board of the National Children's Book and Literary Alliance. She has been a visiting lecturer at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts since 1986.

Born March 3, 1938, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Patricia (Pritzkau) MacLachlan was raised in Minnesota. She is an only child. She married John MacLachlan in 1962, and they have three grown children. She now lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts with her husband, and two border terriers - Charlie and Emmett.

Sources:
Patricia MacLachlan - Simon & Schuster
Authors and Illustrators - Patricia MacLachlan - HarperCollins Children's
Series Books: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan - Author Information, KidsReads.com
Patricia MacLachlan (1938-) Biography - Personal, Address, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Q&A With Patricia MacLachlan, by Ingrid Roper, for Publisher's Weekly
About Patricia MacLachlan - Scholastic.com