Monday, January 21, 2008

Review: Llama Llama Mad at Mama

Llama Llama
out with Mama
shopping at the Shop-o-Rama

Yucky music,
great big feet.
Ladies smelling way too sweet.
Look at knees and stand in line.

Llama Llama
starts to whine.

What parent hasn't experienced a toddler's meltdown while shopping past their ability to endure? Little Llama is not at all interested in bargains even if it means new shoes, socks and Cream of Wheat for him. It's Saturday and he wants to play!

In her second Little Llama adventure, author/Illustrator Anna Dewdney, recounts a common family situation. Her wonderfully expressive illustrations leave us in no doubt that Little Llama's temperature is rising and we're about to experience a major Llama Drama event. Just like its predecessor Llama, Llama, Red Pajama, the rhyming verses are fun to read aloud. She colors occasional words in the text to emphasize to both children and adults that these are the words to be emphasized in the stanza.

Not every parent will handle the public meltdown as well as Mama Llama, but this story is a gentle reminder to adults to set reasonable limits on what they can accomplish with a little one in tow. Little Llama and his Mama are two of the most charming characters of the last few years. Here's hoping that the next Llama adventure is just around the corner.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Review: Mama's Saris

Every little girl plays dress up in her mother's clothes and imagines that she would be as beautiful as her mother if she were tall enough or old enough. Of particular interest in Mom's closet, of course, are the party clothes and accessories - hats, jewelry, scarves, belts and shows. Mama's Saris, written by Pooja Makhijani and illustrated by Elena Gomez, warmly tells this rite-of-passage story from a young Indian girl's perspective.

Instead of in the closet, the Mama of this story keeps her treasured special clothing in a suitcase under the bed, carefully and lovingly folded. It is the little girl's 7th birthday and Mama is preparing to dress for the party. As the little girl helps her Mama choose the sari for today's special event, she begs and pleads to wear a sari herself. The vibrant jewel tones of the saris themselves are set against other dense patterns in the backgrounds of the bedroom wall, a photo frame and bedspread. The wonderful array of patterns emphasize the importance and beauty of special occasions when you change from your ordinary self (in this case a blue shirt and jumper) to your beautiful, festive self. For many children, this book will be their first introduction to clothing and family tradition from another culture than their own.

At heart, it is a retelling of a story that children will find familiar - most having experienced some variation of it in their own homes. Taking a familiar story to a broader canvas is one of the great joys that a picture book can provide. Mama's Saris is terrific reminder to all of us of the universality of our life experiences no matter where we live.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Parents, Librarians Mobilize to Save School Libraries

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) met at last week's American Library Association (ALA) midwinter conference and shared some of the efforts around the country to raise awareness of the importance of continued funding for school libraries and media centers.

In the state of Washington as local school districts slash school library positions, parents and educators are lobbying the state to include library services as part of the state's definition of basic education services. California spending on school libraries has decreased from $29.16 per student in the 1999-2000 school year to $.41 per student this year.

The ALA announced that Americans spend 9X the amount of money on video games ($7.3 billion) as they do on school library materials for their children ($771.2 million).

ALA President Loriene Roy stated, "Since 1965, more than 60 education and library studies have produced clear evidence that school library media programs staffed by qualified library media specialists have a positive impact on student academic achievement."

ALA Recommends:
  • All students have the access to certified school library media specialists.
  • All school libraries be adequately funded to ensure that they include up-to-date collections in both print and electronic formats.
  • The school library media program be integrated into classroom curriculum.

We all must keep the pressure on our local districts and state governments to keep fully-funded school libraries a priority for our children. For more information, is a great resource.

Also, if you are a school librarian, the AASL is launching its second year of longitudinal research. The survey window is January 11 - March 15th of this year. If you would like to participate, please log in here. All K-12 public and private schools are invited to participate.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cybils' Finalist: Knuffle Bunny Too

Kids (and adults) love stories that begin on the cover of the book. Starting this sequel with wordplay for "too", Knuffle Bunny Too, A Case of Mistaken Identity, by Mo Willems, finds our heroine Trixie back with her one-of-a-kind Knuffle Bunny sidekick beginning a new adventure - SCHOOL! Unfortunately, even as her daddy kisses her goodbye and leaves her in her new classroom, Trixie is shocked to find that her Knuffle Bunny is not so one-of-a-kind after all. Sonja also has one. The situation goes downhill from there until Ms. Greengrove, their teacher, takes both bunnies away for a time out because the two girls are arguing. Now all the pieces are in place for the accidental "switch" that leads to the case of mistaken identity.

Willem's clever use of illustration and photography, his ability to capture the unspoken conversation between Trixie's parents in a couple of glances, the pain of separation between Trixie and her Knuffle Bunny, and the pure joy and importance of a middle-of-the-night rendevous make this a must read.

Not only is this title a finalist for the Cybil's picture books award, but Mo had this to say about us
"wacky bloggers". The Cybils' Awards have even attracted the notice of the International Reading Associaton in particular for Knuffle Bunny Too.

Check out Mother Reader's review

Finalists will be announced on February 14th.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Cybils' Finalist: Four Feet, Two Sandals

It's hard for children to understand that life for other children around the world can be so different from their own experience. Most American children have a home and clothes and go to school. Four Feet, Two Sandals puts a human face on the refugee crisis around the world. Even though this story focuses on a refugee camp on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, it is a story that could be placed in any refugee camp.

This story of friendship found in the most unlikely of places reflects the experience of many refugee children and is, in fact, based on real experiences of the authors. It is a testament to how strong our human need for connection and friendship actually is. When a family is displaced, separated from their home, community, extended family and without a means to support themselves, they become dependent on the kindness of governments and relief organizations. Without control over where they will be relocated, some refugees can live in camps for years.

To realize that friendship can spark and live in a place of such uncertainty and fear is a powerful story of hope and survival. And one which all children should learn about and understand. No matter how bad our situation is, we always have a choice about how to respond to others. We choose whether to stand together or apart.

Refugee camps have some similarity to real life as there are always the routines of every day life that need to be created. Gathering water, washing clothes, cooking food, and care of the family. Impermanance, insecurity and fear fuels the concerns and conversation of everyone living in a camp. Caught between an old life that is gone forever and a new life that cannot yet be glimpsed is frightening.

Yet in the midst of that, two girls find each other and share a pair of shoes. Their friendship helps them humanize their situation reminding them that there are still wonderful things that life will offer them. Illustrator Doug Chayka uses soft, warm colors to convey the desert, tents, primitive conditions, and clothing of the people in the camp.

This is a wonderful story of friendship and hope that should be shared as widely as possible. When we know the face of the "other", we are more likely to greet them as friends than as enemies.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Cybils Finalist: Go to Bed, Monster!

Natasha Wing and Sylvie Kantorovitz have created a terrific bedtime story that will resonate with parents and kids alike. A very unsleepy Lucy gets out her crayons one evening and crayons herself into a series of adventures with a new friend named Monster. The two of them build castles and fly airplanes and march in a parade together until Lucy is tired and ready for sleep. But, Monster isn't.

Then the recognizable list of bedtime needs and complaints begins as Lucy takes on the parental role of putting Monster to bed and getting him to sleep. This role reversal will amuse children and parents both.Part of the charm of this story is the lean elegance of the text and illustrations. They effectively convey the power of a child's imagination while demonstrating to children the universality of bedtime games and the struggles parents have in getting their children to bed and to sleep.

Congratulations to Natasha and Sylvie on becoming a Cybils’ Award Finalist.

I highly recommend this story for children ages 4-6.

Check out more blogger reviews for Go to Bed, Monster! at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Cheryl Rainfield's Book Blog, and World of Words.

ALSO check out this interview with Natasha Wing and Syvlie Kantorovitz at Becky's Book Reviews.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Welcoming 2008 with Cybils Award Finalists!

Happy New Year 2008!

The day has arrived to announce the Cybil's short list for fiction picture books. Five of us on this Cybil's committee read more than 100 fiction picture book titles over the last two months to choose the shortlist of 7 titles we recommended to the judging panel. The judges will choose one of the seven to win the Cybil's award in the Fiction Picture Book category.

While I'm sure my mail man is happy that this contest has drawn to a close, it sure is wonderful to have books arrive at your door almost daily. For a book lover, it's pretty close to nirvana. And picture books are short so they don't involve the same commitment of time as the other categories. You can read the shortlisted finalists for all categories at the Cybil's blog.

But here is the quick list for our category here:

All of the reading and judging panels are book bloggers. While sometimes book bloggers focus on the same titles, what they see and how they talk about the book can be very different indeed. Check some of the following blogs. They belong to my fellow panelists and reflect a wide and diverse perspective on books and reading. But each one of us is fueled by a passion to share our love of reading with others.
Julie Danielson Our Fearless Leader
We were priviliged to read many fine books for this project and the authors and illustrators of these seven titles can be very proud of their accomplishment. To tell a compelling story with art that both complements and stands alone in an age-appropriate way is a difficult task. Because it is so difficult to do it well, it is art.
Congratulations to the finalists.