Friday, September 25, 2009

Faces of the Moon

"Each month the Moon transforms her face,
which grows and shrinks at steady pace.
Her changing looks reveal her place
in orbit 'round our globe."

This early passage in Faces of the Moon by Bob Crelin and illustrated by Leslie Evans sets the tone of this children's book. The first part of the book explains the phases of the moon in rhyme while diecut page tabs and diecut moon in the middle of each illustration walk readers through the progression of moon phases.

As the "first stepping stone toward discovering our universe," the author explains in educational text in the back of the book how the earth, moon and sun orbit each other in plain language. He also includes some "Moon Memo-Rhymes", short, rhyming memory aids to remember key facts about the moon and its phases.

This is a terrific book with which to introduce children to basic facts about the moon that will reinforce their own observations in the long tradition of sky watchers and astronomers.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

"Creating currents of electricity and hope" is the subtitle of this amazing memoir - The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Thanks to a three-shelf library full of cast off books and his own persistence and ingenuity, William Kamkwamba is able to build a windmill out of cast off trash (including a broken bicycle) to generate enough electricity to light his house at night and play a radio.

In the first two-thirds of the book, William tells us about his family, his village, his life and the challenges of living a poor, subsistence life in Malawi -a small, land-locked, politically corrupt country in southeastern Africa. The only son of a close, hardworking, farming family, as a result of famine William's family is no longer able to pay his school fees and he drops out of secondary school. It is his greatest wish to return to school and he spends hours each day in this "library" reading and studying the old textbooks so that when he returns to school, he will be able to stay even with his peers. It is in these books that he finds the basic information about creating energy.

In a rural village that is dependent on both the whims of nature and the government, William and his family hammer out a life that revolves around the planting of the next crop of maize.Except for the rare intrusion of things like cell phones or planes, the life they lead is very much like the life their grandparents led.

Once the first windmill is completed and word begins to spread of William's marvel, an extraordinary sequence of events follows that leads William to the TED conference where he flies in an airplane, stays in a hotel, sleeps on a real mattress, and learns about laptop computers and the internet all for the first time. At the TED conference (an international thought-fest of the smartest people with ideas and inventions in technology, entertainments and design), William meets people who literally change his life and bring him into the 21st century.

His intelligence, drive and search for a way to make his family's life just a little better sets him on a path to international stardom and eventually finds him at an African school with other exceptional African students like himself all with the commitment to creating a new Africa - one of humane leaders that can lead the people to a better life through education, health care and infrastructure.

It is a marvelous story. It's hard for us in the U.S. or any western nation for that matter to believe that such subsistence, "third-world" life can still be so prevalent in our world. This young man's journey again proves the difference that one person can make. The book is being released this month. Look for it; buy it; read it. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Amelia Bedelia's First Day of School

Amelia Bedelia, the beloved adult character from the 14 Amelia Bedelia stories by Peggy Parish has reappeared in this story by Ms. Parrish's nephew, Herman Parish. It is illustrated by Lynne Avril. In this prequel, we find Amelia at her first day of school. All of the characteristics that make Amelia Bedelia entertaining as an adult who takes things a bit too literally are on display here. From this story we are to assume that Amelia's silliness as an adult was part of her personality from the beginning.

When the teacher tells Amelia to "glue herself to her seat" - that is literally what Amelia does. The following passage is typical of Amelia's take on the world:

At last it was time for lunch.
"Do you feel like a sloppy joe?" asked the lady behind the lunch counter.
"No!" said Amelia Bedelia. "Do I look like one?"
"Here you are," said the lady. "I hope your eyes aren't bigger than your stomach."
"Me too," said Amelia Bedelia. "They would not fit in my head."

As in all the Amelia Bedelia stories, Amelia enjoys great adventures while learning something new and demonstrating to readers that there is more than one way to interpret something. This story takes the familiar first-day-of-school confusion and turns it on its head. A very fun read.

To find out more about Amelia Bedelia, visit

You can order the book here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

GEEKTASTIC: Stories from the Nerd Herd

Before I read this wonderful collection of short stories, I hadn't stopped to think about all the different flavors of geeks there are. I can now share with you that in addition to science and math geeks, there are music geeks; gamer geeks; fantasy geeks; comic book geeks; Star Trek and Star Wars geeks; role-playing geeks; technology geeks; theater geeks; fan fiction geeks, etc.

Geektastic is edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci and includes stories by YA authors I recognized such as Lisa Yee, Cynthia & Greg Leitich Smith, and John Green and those I did not recognize like Barry Lyga and Libba Bray.

Advance copy invited all readers "whether you're a former, current, or future geek, or if you just want to get in touch with your inner geek, Geektastic will help you get your geek on!"

In most cases, these can be described as coming-of-age stories. Each story addresses one or more of the issues people encounter as they grow into adulthood - wanting to belong but feeling different; finding joy in interests shared with a friend; gender role development; how much self to show to the world and how much to keep hidden; family challenges; evolving friendships; honor; trust; loyalty - all the biggies.

Some of the stories are more compelling than others, but they are all worth reading. If you're not a geek yourself, you probably know a geek. What all these stories have in common is the discovery that no matter what your area of interest, everyone wants the same things - to belong; to be recognized; to be valued.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Llama, Llama Misses Mama

This is the latest in the delightful series by author/illustrator Anna Dewdney. Our lovable little llama is back with a new adventure-in this case, the first day of school - in Llama Llama Misses Mama.

At first little llama is very excited to begin school until he realizes that Mama is leaving him at the school. After a bewildering morning of declining offers to get involved with various activities, it becomes all too much for little llama and he begins to cry at the lunch table. He is comforted by his teacher who says:

"Don't be sad, new little llama!
It's okay to miss your mama.
But don't forget -
When day is through,
She will come back to you."

As little llama lets himself be persuaded to play with his new classmates, he learns a valuable lesson. Mama does indeed return for him and he can love both Mama and his new school. All the llama books focus on a situation from a child's perspective, and author/illustrator Dewdney demonstrates a deep understanding of a child's fears. Her illustrations are sweet and complement the story nicely.

If you are getting ready to send a child off to school for the first time, I highly recommend this story to help ease the transition.

My reviews of other llama llama titles:

Llama Llama Mad at Mama

Llama Llama Red Pajama

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Precocious doesn't begin to describe 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, the heroine of this story - chemistry aficionado with a special interest in poison, youngest of three motherless girls, daughter to an emotionally distant philatelist father, amateur sleuth, and prankster.

The investigation into the murder of the man Flavia discovers in the cucumber patch is at the center of the story, and as with most English village murders, launches a chain of events that weaves together sins of the present with sins of the past. It is the summer of 1950 and the de Luce daughters are pretty much left to their own devices as their father dallies with his postage stamp collection behind closed doors in their family mansion that has seen better days.

Eccentricity abounds both within the de Luce household and in the folks of Bishop's Lacey (the local village). Within the genre of the English village mystery, author Alan Bradley has created a fresh and unique protagonist who, like many 11-year-olds, vacilates between adult and childish behavior. Too clever for her own good, Flavia manages to fall into and then extricate herself from one situation after another as she pushes the story to its conclusion.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is one of those books that can be read and enjoyed by both teen and adult readers. Flavia's desire to get to the bottom of things and to save her father from miscarried justice is at the heart of this puzzle. I look forward to Flavia's next adventure with great anticipation. This is a very satisfying story on every level.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Shop Green and Support Independent Bookstores!

The latest video from the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, NC, is a fabulous 1940s era newsreel expose on the "green" difference between buying local and buying from mega online retailers. It's creative, clever, and compelling.