Monday, July 30, 2012

Picture Book Review - Black All Around by Patricia Hubbell

Sprout recently started a new preschool, and among other things that they did his first few weeks was color mixing. These brave souls actually took it on themselves to present a bunch of preschoolers with paint colors and allow them to try mixing different shades to see what the result was. Wow, did this ever make a BIG impression on Sprout. Though he's heard a few books about the topic (most notably The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown and White Rabbit's Color Book by Alan Baker), he's never seemed too interested. But give the child a bunch of colors to mix himself and the boy was talking about it nonstop.

Lesson for mommy: more hands-on art stuff at home, in spite of the mess.

Anyway, this got us talking and thinking more about colors. One of the things Sprout mentioned frequently was that when you mix up a bunch of colors, you always got black. "Just black, Mama," was how he put it. Black's a color too, I told him, but he seemed unimpressed -- and kept telling me that his favorite color is orange. Of course I felt I needed to think of a way to convince him that black is a pretty awesome shade on its own.

Luckily, there's a book for that: namely, Patricia Hubbell's Black All Around. In this fun color story, a young girl begins looking at the world around her and noticing all the places she sees the color black. It's in animals - a horse, a cat, beetles, labradors. It's in music - piano keys and clarinets. It's in the environment - fertile dirt, tree trunks, the night sky. And it's in her family - "Daddy's arm, Momma's cheek." (Of course, that last example is arguably more brown, but it's a cultural construct.)

What she notices is that there are all kinds of shades of black, and all kinds of places to find the color. I love the sense of play that's brought to the topic. You'd think a book about the color black would have a mostly dark palette, but illustrator Don Tate (who we love from Ron's Big Mission and Summer Sun Risin') brings in gobs of spirited color. While the family plays with finger puppets (black birds, goats and bunnies), Tate sets the scene against a backdrop of light walls and colorful clothing choices. The effect is that the richness of the black objects really shines through, and little ones will see black in a whole new way. No way is it boring, black's got personality!

For kids who are just beginning to think about color, this is a good introduction to the topic. No, Hubbell never dives into the either-or skin color issue, and her purpose doesn't seem to be solely racially centered. Instead, this is more of a celebration of black, a way for young children to begin noticing the shades of black and to internalize a positive message. And in a world where villains wear black and phrases like "black sheep" or "blackmail" are common, it seems to me that turning the negative connotations around has tremendous value.

And after reading this one, you'll have a new appreciation for the way the color black enriches our world!

Black All Around by Patricia Hubbell, published by Lee & Low Books
Ages 2-6
Source: Library
Sample: "Look high, look low, look everywhere. . . . The wonderful color black is there! / Sleek and jazzy, warm and cozy. Beautiful black, black all around. . . "

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review and GIVEAWAY!! - Shopping with Dad by Matt Harvey

When Sprout joined our family (more than two years ago now - how on earth is that possible??), we were fortunate to have a full month together at home to bond as a family. Those were great days, or at least I think they were. It's kind of a blur, to be honest, probably because we were all more than a little sleep-deprived. But soon that honeymoon period was over and I had to head back to work, leaving Sprout and his daddy home together for another six weeks.

Frankly, I think we were all terrified.

Undaunted, my darling husband set about incorporating Sprout into our everyday routine. This meant that if there were errands to do, the boys were out and about doing them. It wasn't easy - Jake had to figure out how to navigate a busy store with his wheechair and a little one along - but they got creative. They always had an interesting story for Mommy at the end of the day. And to this day they are shopping buddies, with the weekend likely to find them headed to Costco and Target after swim lessons or a trip to the park.

So when our friend Liz of Barefoot Books offered to sponsor our first giveaway here on Sprout's Bookshelf, it seemed pretty fitting that the book was Shopping with Dad by Matt Harvey.

Sprout was delighted to read this lively picture book about a young girl taking a trip to the store with her dad. Mom makes a list with some pretty zany ingredients (Sprout's favorite: octopus underpants!) and the pair heads through the aisles trying to find everything. But when the little girl is overtaken by a sneeze -- a HUGE sneeze to be precise -- the whole store is suddenly in an uproar. And worst of all, everyone's pointing the finger at Dad for causing all the trouble. Oh no! Will our heroine be brave enough to own up to her part in the mess? And will they ever get their shopping done??

Where to begin with all the things we love about Shopping with Dad. . . for starters, there's the adorable illustrations by Miriam Latimer, bursting with fun and so much energy, just like the preschooler who narrates the tale. (And if you've ever shopped with a three-year-old, you'll recognize a few of the scenarios in this book!) I love all the fun details included in the background - the mouse that peeks into several spreads, the dog running amok with his owner right behind. The multiracial cast of characters is fantastic, and includes people of all ages too. Our heroine's family is transracial, but that's beside the point of the action, which makes the book all the stronger for my mind. And the rhyme scheme is generally pretty cohesive (it does get sticky in a few points), but the big sneeze in the middle is what kids will really love, especially if you put all your best effort into it.

Want a copy of Shopping with Dad for your own library? We just happen to be GIVING AWAY a copy to one lucky reader. Enter using the form below. This contest is open to readers with United States addresses only (sorry, international friends!). Hurry, the contest ends Sunday, August 5th at 12:01 am EST.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't want to take your chances on the contest? You can purchase a copy of Shopping for Dad for yourself from our friend Liz at Barefoot Books. They have so many other wonderful titles too - many of their books are multicultural in theme and feature not only loads of diversity but also great content!

Best of all, if you order using this link (also posted above) between now and the end of August, 20% of the proceeds of your purchase will be donated to the Tesfa Foundation, an amazing organization that is right now fundraising for their 5x3 Initiative, aiming to build 5 schools in Ethiopia in the next 3 years. What could be better than that?? Get some awesome new books and help kids in Ethiopia at the same time!

Shopping with Dad by Matt Harvey, published by Barefoot Books
Source: provided by publisher for our review (but this review represents our true and honest opinion of this title)
Ages: 3-6
Sample: "My Mom made a list and she gave it to us, To me and my Dad, and we went on the bus. / We got off the bus at the stop by the shop, Dad found us a cart and then -- / WHOOSH! We were off."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wayback Wednesday - Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955)

The concept behind Crockett Johnson's iconic picture book Harold and the Purple Crayon is simple and yet amazingly original at the same time. Take a little boy, in the wind-down of the day into evening and bedtime, give him a very special crayon, and see what ensues. Oh, and make that aforementioned crayon purple, in a world that must undoubtedly be pretty monochromatic. Truthfully, it's not far from other classic titles that are based on flights of the character's imagination - Where the Wild Things Are, for example - but yet Johnson's book is wholly unique and his Harold not one bit derivative.

Crockett Johnson (his real name was David Johnson Leisk) was a cartoonist prior to lending his hand to children's books, first through illustrating and then through writing his own titles. You have to imagine that Purple Crayon was a bit of a breakthrough for an artist who was used to working in such closely circumscribed a format as the comic strip. Though his character "Barnaby" was much beloved and had a huge circulation, it is Harold who took flight and spawned a number of sequels. These include Harold's Fairy Tale, Harold at the North Pole, and A Picture for Harold's Room. Johnson also collaborated with his wife Ruth Krauss to produce a number of popular titles - their book The Carrot Seed is, like Purple Crayon, completely genius in its very simplicity.

Sprout went through a phase about a year ago when The Carrot Seed and Harold and the Purple Crayon were on near-constant rotation in the bedtime routine. At two years old, I think Carrot Seed was more within his realm of understanding, but he was clearly as drawn to Purple Crayon as I remember being as a kiddo. Then we kind of put them aside for a while, but lately he's taken much more interest in Harold's exploits. I think he's finally starting to get the basic premise, the magic inherent in Harold's crayon. "He made this, Mama!" he tells me, pointing at Harold's fine boat with its swelling purple sails.

Or maybe he's just interested in those nine kinds of pie.

At any rate, it makes my heart swell to see Sprout so taken with a book that was a childhood favorite of mine. I don't remember reading any of the Harold sequels, though they were undoubtedly still in print when I was a kid. Mostly I remember Harold's moon - that not-quite crescent that guides his night-time journeys - and his apple tree. (I had quite forgotten that he draws a "terribly frightening dragon" to guard the apples on the tree. The sight of that dragon makes Sprout shiver deliciously and say, "Oooh, he scary!").

What's the lesson behind Purple Crayon? Well, it's obviously a lot about imagination, and making your own special world, but let's not forget that Harold has a good deal of unflappability about him for a somewhat chubby youngster in a sleeper suit. Hungry? Make yourself something delicious to eat. Falling off a mountain? Just draw yourself a balloon and you'll be fine. Can't find your bedroom window? Keep drawing windows until you remember just about where yours ought to be. That's self-reliance, folks - Harold's taking charge and showing kids that there's a certain brilliance to working through your own problems if you can.

And when you're home at last, don't forget to make your own bed and draw up the covers.

Wayback Wednesday verdict? Nearly as perfect as kidlit can get.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, published by HarperCollins
All ages
Source: personal collection
Sample: "The sandy beach reminded Harold of picnics. And the thought of picnics made him hungry. / So he laid out a nice simple picnic lunch. / There was nothing but pie. / But there were all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best."
Highly recommended

Bonus - read more about Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss at The Crockett Johnson Homepage. And check out Philip Nel's biography of the duo, due out later this year!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Series Spotlight: Clubhouse Mysteries by Sharon M. Draper

Recently a reader asked about series for her middle-grade son, in particular those that feature characters of color. She wants books where the protagonists and supporting cast have diversity, but that don't explicitly deal with race as a feature of the storyline. Her son wants books about kids that "look like me", a desire I think all of us can relate to. How many times can you read books about characters you have nothing in common with, before you just give up on reading altogether?

To that end, I began researching series that might fit the bill. I was pleased to uncover quite a few, from beginner readers up to those for older kids. Best of all, many of them are just fun to read, with the kind of easy plots and satisfying resolutions that we look for when we read series books. For reluctant readers, the prospect of tackling a new book might seem easier when they've already gone through the process of getting to know the characters. Being able to relax into the storyline and watch familiar friends navigate the events they encounter is the very best part of series fiction. (When life is especially stressful for me, I often turn to mystery series -- the formulaic nature of the books can be a welcome relief from chaos!)

One of the best series I've found so far is Sharon M. Draper's Clubhouse Mysteries. The books feature the exploits of buddies Rashawn, Jerome, Ziggy and Rico. The boys are neighbors and have formed a club called the Black Dinosaurs, named after Rashawn's toy apatosaurus. The mission behind the Black Dinosaurs is to be a group where the boys can have secrets, make plans, and above all, hide their treasures. The four boys built themselves a clubhouse in Ziggy's backyard (his parents are the most laidback about things like this) and have regular meetings with a rotating secret code word - which works out great, except that Ziggy can never quite remember the current code.

The first entry in the series, The Buried Bones Mystery, is the set-up, explaining a bit of each boy's back story and telling about the formation of the club. Right away, the boys find that their clubhouse is much more than a place for hanging out - it may just be built on a burial site! When they uncover a box of bones while digging a hole to hide their treasures, the boys find themselves deep in the midst of a mystery that only four intrepid heroes like themselves would dare to tackle. Is there a connection between the destruction of the neighborhood basketball court and the strange bones the boys found? And why does old Mr. Greene keep singing that creepy song, "Them bones gonna rise again"? Leave it to the Black Dinosaurs to get to the bottom of things.

Draper's background as an educator is readily apparent here - she knows what kids like to read, and she gives it to them, with just enough thrills to keep even the most uninterested reader turning pages. There's lots of humor and plenty of quirky behaviors (no one takes him/herself too seriously). Her characters are compelling too, each boy solidly filled-out with a unique persona and perspective. Rico, for instance, craves Ziggy's wild and rambunctious household which stands out in stark contrast to his own carefully structured home he shares with his cautious mother. Rashawn has a police officer dad and a somewhat crazy dog named Afrika. And Jerome loves basketball, but most often he gets stuck watching his two younger sisters in order to help out his grandmother, who cares for all of them. Together these four make a fantastic team, as each one has strengths that complement the others' weaknesses. Boys especially will love the Black Dinosaurs and wish there was a troupe like these in their own neighborhood.

Other entries in the Clubhouse Mysteries series:
Book 2: Lost in the Tunnel of Time
Book 3: Shadows of Caesar's Creek
Book 4: The Space Camp Adventure
Book 5: The Backyard Animal Show
Book 6: Stars and Sparks on Stage

Age range: Elementary/Middle Grade

Bonus: interview with Sharon M. Draper from the blog Fireside Musings

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hello World

Never underestimate the power of a simple hello! Lately we've read a number of books about greetings, both those that cross cultures and those based on a common language. As Sprout gets older, he's beginning to understand how important friendships can be - and the way friendships start, after all, is when at least one person says hello.

To start things off, there's Rachel Isadora's Say Hello! This multicultural tale follows Carmelita, her mama and her puppy Manny as they make their way through the neighborhood, greeting friends and merchants as they go. With each person, Carmelita shares a hello in their native language - from "Bonjour!" at the French bakery to Konichiwa at the Japanese restaurant. Isadora's vibrant, lively collage style works exceptionally well here, and the details that populate each setting are truly delightful. A glossary at the end identifies all the languages spoken, making this a great introduction to cultural commonalities for young children.

So Close by Natalia Colombo demonstrates how important it is to reach out to others in order for friendships to form. Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Duck live parallel lives, but yet they don't know one another at all. No matter how many times they cross paths and regardless of the circumstances, neither attempts a greeting. But finally, one tentative hello is exchanged - and everything is immediately so, so different! Colombo's color palette matches the mood of the story perfectly, bursting into a deep red in the final spread, when the friendship begins to blossom. A sensitive and thoughtful look at the power of words to make relationships come together.

Award-winning illustrator Chris Raschka brings his talents to the topic in Yo! Yes?, a Caldecott Honor tale of two boys getting to know one another. The dialogue is spare but impactful - Raschka demonstrates effectively that you don't need a lot of words to tell a story. As one boy reaches out, he discovers that the other is lonely and wants a friend. "Me!" he suggests, and "You?" the other asks, then, "Well. Yes!" And so, with only a few words, new friends are made. Emerging readers will be thrilled to read this entire story on their own, and it's a good one to spark discussions about friendships as well.

Every relationship starts somewhere, with one person reaching out to another. Each of these titles examines a different aspect of that process, and emphasizes how important it is for someone to bridge the gap. Just say hello!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Nonfiction Picture Book - Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie by Robbin Gourley

Sun-ripened peaches. Juicy blackberries straight off the vine. Crunchy pecans and walnuts. Succulent tomatoes fresh out of the garden.

If your mouth is watering at the sound of this delectable fresh produce, then this is the book for you. Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie by Robbin Gourley is a fictionalized account of the childhood of famed chef Edna Lewis. A master of her craft, cooking delicious Southern food in some of the most popular restaurants in the country, Lewis believed strongly in using the freshest ingredients possible. She maintained the traditional methods of preparing food, always using the finest produce she could find, as that, she believed, made the dishes sing. In writing Apples, Robbin Gourley researched Lewis's life extensively, and created a tale that was inspired by Lewis's upbringing in Freetown, Virginia (a community founded by freed slaves, including Lewis's grandfather).

Apples is a perfect introduction for kids to the notion of eating seasonally. As each new crop comes in, Edna and her siblings take part in the harvest. From picking bucketsful of ripe cherries to gathering all sorts of beans from the garden, Edna can always think of something delicious to make with the fruits of her labor. The first crop is wild strawberries, and though her sister plans to eat as many as she picks, Edna's going to turn hers into strawberry shortcake. On it goes, up through the fall harvests of apples and of nuts, and at last Edna surveys the pantry, bursting full of preserved goods ready to get the family through winter with a little bit of summer for them to taste every day.

There's a lot to like about this title, from the gorgeous watercolor illustrations (the peaches look like you could pluck them right off the page) to the dynamic of family togetherness throughout. Gourley emphasizes the role that ever family member plays in putting food on the table; while things may be different now since many families don't gather their foodstuffs from the garden, the lessons in responsibility and participation carry over. And oh, the food - if the illustrations don't make you want to rush out to the farmer's market, then the children's plans for their bounty surely will. It's a summertime treat to read this when so many of these goodies are either in season or nearly there.

Reading this one with Sprout, he was especially taken by the illustration of plump tomatoes heavy on the vine. Though we didn't plant tomatoes this year (just too wet here in Northwest Washington), he remembers picking them from the vines himself last year. "I like these tomatoes, Mama," he tells me seriously. And in fact he did eat the ones we grew last summer, though he won't touch tomatoes from the grocery store. Smart kid that boy is!

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie is a great book to share with young chefs and foodies, but don't expect to get off lightly when you read it. I'm already expecting to be baking pies with Sprout just as soon as those berries are ripe!

Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You A Pie by Robbin Gourley, published by Clarion Books
Ages 4-9
Source: Library
Sample: "Spring turns into summer, and Edna leads Daddy to a beehive she's found deep in the fragrant honeysuckle woods. He breaks the comb and gathers all the delicious dark-amber nectar. / Edna dips her finger in the bucket. 'Honey on hot biscuits sweetens the morning,' she says, smacking her lips."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wayback Wednesday - Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (1989)

Alphabet books. If there's one thing that picture book shelves are bursting with, it's books for the abecedarian set. And for good reason - print awareness and letter recognition are two of the building blocks of early literacy, so we try to get kiddos interested in written characters pretty early. In fact some of the first books published for children were alphabet books. This was a popular topic for hornbooks, which consisted of a page covered with a thin protective sheet and bound to a handle (take a look at the history of hornbooks and similar productions).

Fast-forward to modern times, when new books on the subject are being produced every season.There are all sorts of conceits employed with alphabet-themed reads. Books are populated with adorable critters, paired with high-interest topics, and feature letters that are literally turned on their heads. Some of these are excellent, modern classics that will surely be around for generations - but sadly, many of them are mediocre at best. If you don't have a great idea for an alphabet book, a truly original spin on the topic, you should just leave the subject alone, in my opinion.

And that's where Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault comes in.  Far from your average ABC tome, this alphabet book made it onto School Library Journal's list of 100 Books that Shaped the Century and is #23 on Elizabeth Bird's Top 100 Picture Books List from this year. I can just imagine the pitch for this book: "all the letters of the alphabet make their way to the top of a coconut tree, and then they all fall over." Mmm-hmmm. It doesn't sound like much, and I think that's probably the appeal of it. Certainly the vivid cover art by Lois Ehlert is enough to draw most young ones toward it - those colors! that ever-so-slightly leaning tree with its jaunty palm boughs! - but the real genius is in the way Martin and Archambault's text marries itself perfectly to the graphic style. The minute you crack the book open you know this isn't just another ho-hum abecedarian treatment, but rather a lively jumble of letters and colors and action that just make you want to read it over again the second you've finished.

What I think makes Chicka Chicka Boom Boom most compelling are the quirks of personality the letters manifest. A is a trickster, daring everyone else into the climb, and D isn't much better. H is along for the ride, and L, M, N, O, and P are pretty much giving in to peer pressure. And when everybody falls out of the tree - well, poor E and F are injured, and J and K just get overwhelmed. Sounds like common occurrence with a bunch of preschoolers, right? And that's got to be a big part of why this title has such staying power.

Sprout's at the age where he's just starting to recognize letters from his name on signs and in the books we read. He was endlessly thrilled to crack open Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and see HIS letters right there, big as life, inside the front cover. It wasn't long before he was reciting the tag line just as I'm sure the authors imagined it, loud and exuberantly. Dare I hope that this cake might be in our future??

Wayback Wednesday Verdict? Tons of ABC fun!

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, published by Simon & Schuster
All ages
Source: Library
Sample: "A told B and B told C, 'I'll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.'"

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Picture Book Review - Monday is One Day by Arthur A. Levine

We've had a few days off as a family, and it's been really wonderful. Usually we are off on a trip when we have time off, but this time we decided to stick around home. It's been a fun time exploring our area, visiting a lot of parks and taking bike rides, letting Sprout play in his wading pool and just relaxing. Very lovely.

Tomorrow morning we're back to our regular routine. As much as Sprout loves getting to play with his friends at daycare, I know there's going to be some pushback about not being able to stay home with Mama and Daddy. (Not that we blame him - who's ever happy to see the weekend over??)

Fortunately there's a great book to help explain the weekday routine for working families. Arthur A. Levine's cheerful Monday is One Day fills a much-needed niche in the world of children's literature by speaking to the experience of millions of families. The book looks at each day of the week and what happens in various families when parents go to work. Every day has something that makes it special, even if parent and child can't be together. Tuesday, for instance, is "blue shoes day", with the fun of stomping in puddles - for both mama and daughter!

Accompanied by Julian Hector's sweetly comforting illustrations, Levine's text is the perfect reassurance for little ones who may be struggling with transitions into and out of the work week. It can be hard to wait for the weekend, when families are all together once again, but as the book shows, there are plenty of small, special moments to be together throughout the week. Best of all, Hector doesn't rely on just one family form, but emphasizes diversity by including single parents, two dads, and older parents. I love that this makes Monday accessible for all families.

If you're looking for a way to help ease the weekend-to-workday process in your family, Monday is One Day could just do the trick. And for working parents, this title emphasizes how much all of us treasure our time together as a family.

Monday is One Day by Arthur A. Levine, published by Scholastic
Ages 2-6
Source: Library
Sample: "And Sunday's our fun day: / A kiss and a cuddle, / A dance in a puddle, / A dinosaur huddle, / A sweet family muddle!"

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day!

Happy Fourth of July everyone! It's early here still, and our plans for the day aren't really firmed up (much depends on the temperament of the little guy who woke up at 5 a.m.). But the sun is out, the birds are chirping and it's a lovely day for family and fun.

And books, of course - what's a holiday without books? Although we spend a lot of time celebrating Sprout's Ethiopian heritage through literature, it's also important for us that we teach him about his new homeland and its history. We want him to understand that our country was made great by hundreds of Americans who came here as immigrants, just as he did when we adopted him. This is truly a land of possibility!

This year I made it a point to seek out some titles with multicultural emphasis for Sprout. In Jan Spivey Gilchrist's My America, poetic verses laud not only the natural beauty of our country, but also the diversity found in our population. Each pages contains only a few words or phrases, made more impactful by the colorful, emotive illustrations done by Gilchrist and Coretta Scott King Honor winner Ashley Bryan. The pictures range from triumphant -- a bevy of multicolored birds soaring in the sky -- to contemplative -- a young girl in profile, braids fluttering in the breeze. On the last spread, Americans from a variety of ethnic backgrounds display their cultural heritage but are united by their entertwined hands, emphasizing that our greatest strength is in our diversity. A beautiful, simple book perfect for even the youngest children.

National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Walter Dean Myers offers "a tribute from the heart" in his book We Are America, illustrated by his son Christopher Myers. In his author's note, Myers explained how he was moved to write the book in the wake of September 11, when he felt he needed to make a deeper connection with the history of his country. "No words here have been penned lightly, no flag waved mindlessly." Myers writes. "This is simply my truest feelings for my country, my tribute to America." And it is a gorgeous tribute, comprised of Myers' free verse poems and Christopher Myers' stunning paintings. The entire range of the American experience is spoken to here, from that of immigrants coming to our shores to wars fought and freedoms gained. Though he doesn't gloss over the difficult points in our history, Myers finds much to celebrate in the hope, the possibility, that is America.

I've written about this before, but it bears repeating. Perhaps the most striking and emotional book I've read in years is Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Nelson's goal in writing this book was to tie the history of African Americans -- a history of injustice, suffering and division -- to the history of our nation, to explain how the experience of African Americans is truly the "heart and soul" of our country. This is an unflinching examination of our history, the struggle for equality and acceptance for all Americans. Nelson's was no easy task: finding a way to condense hundreds of years of experience into a cohesive and relatable narrative. But he accomplishes it amazingly well, presenting a book that does not shy from the difficult points yet also stresses the hope that imbued so many to fight for themselves and their children. You will be moved to tears at many points, whether from the poignancy of Nelson's first-person narrative or from his deeply beautiful portraits. This is a book that belongs on the shelf of every American, regardless of your culture or ethnicity.

As you celebrate our nation today, remember that it is a country made up of immigrants from all corners of the globe. Our diversity makes us not a melting pot but a patchwork, more beautiful for the unique contributions of each person who calls this land home. Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Library Find - Drum City by Thea Guidone

My youngest nephew plays the drums in his middle school band. Sprout already thinks his cousins are the height of coolness, but the drum thing? That totally seals the deal. Ever since he found out that Cory is a drummer Sprout has gone crazy whenever he sees anything having to do with drums. I think we've read Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb about a thousand times and every single time he sees the first drumming monkey page he yells, "My Cory plays the drums too!!" at the top of his lungs. Seriously.

So you can just imagine the scene that ensued when he saw the book Drum City on the library shelf a few weeks back. "Hey drums!" he screeched, pushing past me to grab the book (thank goodness the librarians in our children's room aren't of the shushing variety). Of course Sprout insisted we read it RIGHT NOW. And again. And again. It was pretty clear right then and there that we had a real favorite on our hands.

I was completely unfamiliar with author Thea Guidone, though I knew Vanessa Newton for her fantastic illustrations for Cedella Marley's One Love. I love Newton's depictions of kids - she gets them spot-on, all gappy teeth and knobby knees and joyful exuberance. And Drum City also gives Newton the opportunity to illustrate some adults, as the crowd of bystanders that witnesses the drum parade. Newton goes all out here - each one of the kids and adults that populate her pages is completely original. There's so much to look at, from the trenchcoated businessman to the fashionable lady to the dredlocked market proprieter. The diversity is organic and natural, adding to the fun vibe that Guidone's text evokes.

And what text it is. You will love, love, love reading this book aloud, and it's a perfect choice for storytime in the library or classroom too. Bouncy and vibrant, Guidone's tale of a procession of kiddos drumming their way through the city is one that's guaranteed to get you out of your chair and moving. The rhymes and rhythms are absolutely infectious, as fun to read as they are to listen to. We like the way the kids utilize whatever is at hand for impromptu music-making: soup pots, washboards, buckets and brooms, sticks and garbage can lids. Since he's been cooking a lot with me lately, Sprout likes to point out the utensils he knows: wooden spoon, whisk, rolling pin.

One of the best things about using the library as much as we do is stumbling into titles we've never heard of - in this case, a real winner. Drum City is a delightful book, as wonderful to look at as it is to read, and a great showcase of author and illustrator skills. I can't wait to see more from this talented pair!

Drum City by Thea Guidone, published by Tricycle Press
Ages 2-5
Source: Library
Sample: "Something is coming. They watch and they wonder, / assuming the booming is summertime thunder. / Thumping and pounding, the echo resounding / the sound of the pound of the drums."
Highly recommended

Bonus: Interview with the engaging Vanessa Newton from The Brown Bookshelf