Sunday, April 8, 2012

Going batty.

Why should we care about bats? Other than the sheer coolness of a flying mammal--species of which are found on every continent except Antarctica--we should care about bats because they are important to ecosystems the world over. Did you know that bats not only eat insects but that they help to pollinate flowers, spread seeds, and help scientists study ways to help humans? It’s true! All these facts and more are detailed in The Bat Scientists, by Mary Kay Carson. The photographs by Tom Uhlman are stunning, the diagrams clear.

Ms Carson focuses primarily on the bats of North America, but also covers the mission of Bat Conservation International, an organization dedicated to studying bats all over the world and finding ways to help them survive the limitations of diminishing habitat and the threat of disease.

It is rare that I have qualms about the editing of a non-fiction book, but this one made me a little crazy. It is, in most respects, well-written and full of information which was previously unknown to me. However, Ms Carson tends to repeat herself in ways which a good editor should have corrected. I strongly suspect I am being nit-picky, and that most kids will not even notice.

Come on in, the water’s fine.

After All, You're Callie Boone, by Winnie Mack, is about a girl with a secret dream. So secret, she's never told her best friend about it. This turns out to have been a wise decision, as Amy Higgins has decided to have a new best friend and makes fun of Callie at every opportunity. Who knows what she would say if she knew about Callie’s secret wish to compete as a diver on the United States Olympic Team someday?

Not only has Amy thrown Callie over, but Callie’s family keeps getting weirder and crazier. Her grandmother spends most of her time in her nightgown and watching game shows; her uncle has moved in and brought a bunch of ferrets with him as part of his latest get-rich plan; her dad is fighting his low-cholesterol diet every step of the way; her former-drill-instructor mother seems distant; and her big brother is constantly getting in trouble for shooting off his mouth.

After a very public belly flop off the high board in front of Amy and the rest of the world, Callie is banned from the local outdoor pool for rule-breaking. She is also convinced that, at the age of eleven, life as she knows it is over, and that she will never recover from the humiliation. Then Hoot shows up. The new boy in the neighborhood decides that Callie is the perfect person to show him around, and Callie can’t seem to disabuse him of the notion. He even begins to accompany her to the indoor aquatic center in town, where Callie’s dad trains her as a diver. As the summer progresses, Callie learns about true friendship and loyalty, and what it means to stand by your friends, even when it is the most difficult.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Horse Sense

I had not intended to review titles from the Picture Book list, but Wonder Horse: the True Story of the World's Smartest Horse, by Emily Arnold McCully, came across my desk today. As ever, her illustrations are beautiful and gentle with an almost impressionist touch. Even so, there is enough detail in them to give the reader a real sense of time and place. In this case, the time is about 25 years after the end of the American Civil War. Former slave Bill Key has made a fortune selling his Keystone Liniment and buys a horse in hopes of breeding a racer. What he gets is an ugly foal with twisted legs. Eventually, the colt, named Jim Key, grows to be a healthy horse of great intelligence. Bill Key, always a believer in treating and training animals with kindness, teaches Jim Key the alphabet, colors, counting, and how to do math problems. They go on the road, performing until some folks begin to challenge the validity of Jim Key's "education." Amid insults to himself and his methods, Bill Key perseveres. Although this is a fictionalized account, an Author's Note in the back outlines the life of the real Bill Key and his "wonder horse," Jim Key. Ms McCully also includes a bibliography of additional resources on the pair.

While not for pre-school children, this picture book is a delight for the Kindergarten through Second Grade crowd.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Imagine you are an eleven-year-old girl living in a place where there is no running water and you have to fetch water twice a day for your family. Now imagine the water source is two hours walk away from home. Across desert. And the water source is a muddy pond. Imagine you are an eleven-year-old boy, sitting in your classroom, when gunfire rings out. Your teacher tells you to flee. Not toward your family, but away from them. If you go toward your family, you will be either killed or captured and made to fight. You may never see your family again.

Based on the real life story of Salva Dut, A Long Walk To Water, by Linda Sue Park, is a moving portrayal of life during two different times in the history of Sudan. In 1983, the Second Sudanese Civil War began. It drove families from their homes and separated many. Thousands people, primarily boys and young men, were forced to walk hundreds of miles through dangerous desert lands to achieve a small degree of safety in refugee camps set up in other countries. Salva Dut endured months of walking and years of refugee camps before being allowed to go to America.

 Fast forward to 2008 and the story of Nya. Every day, she has to get water for her family. During the dry season, they walk three days to camp by a dried-up lake bed for five months. The lake has no water pooling in it, but if they dig through the clay of the lake bed, they can find enough water to sustain them. They are unable to live by the lake year round because of the fighting between their tribe and another. Then, Nya’s little sister becomes very ill, and the doctors tell the family it is because of the dirty water.

How Salva’s and Nya’s stories intersect is a hope-filled journey.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Question for you

I was looking back at past posts and realized I had a (more or less) snappy title for each review. The reviews from this year have not had the benefit of the same, merely being labeled with the title and author of the book under consideration.

My question is this: Should I go back to the descriptive post titles or stick with the book titles?

A Review Revisited...

With all the furor over the upcoming movie, The Hunger Games, it seemed an appropriate time to direct my faithful readers (all two of you) to the review I wrote of the book by Suzanne Collins. Click here for my oh-so-insightful comments.

Roots and Blues: A Celebration, by Arnold Adoff

Roots and Blues is a book of poems and poetic prose which loosely chronicles the history of blues from its earliest origins on slave ships and plantations through more current years. Adoff's writing style is very visual, with words sometimes d r a w n out along the page,
    sharply,    and sometimes jumping from one margin                                                            to the other.

It takes some getting used to, but is well worth the effort. I will not attempt to recreate any of Adoff's poems here, but will include part of his prose:

     "This many words machine-gunned through close air
      and sacred chanting across the caribbean waters.
      Brown fingers moving with the regularity of rhythm
      onto stretched skins onto smooth carved wood.

      This new world music moves with shackle sounds."

For kids and grown-ups who enjoy poetry or blues, this is a real feast. The paintings by R. Gregory Christie are a moving accompaniment with their dark, rich tones and bold strokes.

If you want additional information on Arnold Adoff, follow this link to a 1988 profile by the National Council of Teachers of English.