Friday, January 4, 2013

Week 1: Caldecott, Newbery, & Printz Reviews

Caldecott Reviews:

"Baby Bear Sees Blue" by Ashley Wolff.  Baby Bear Sees Blue is the story of a baby cub and his mother, starting when he wakes up in the morning and ending at bedtime. Baby bear spends his day exploring the world around him with his mother always in the background keeping watch. As the day warms, baby bear leaves his den and discovers blue birds, red strawberries, orange butterflies, and other colorful things in nature. This is a concept book teaching toddlers about colors, asking questions, and learning to see the world around them.

The background illustrations are created with watercolors and baby bear is inked linoleum print; popping off the page in a deep black. Each page features one color prominently but still offers a well laid background.

The illustrations in this book help to enhance the themes of the book. Each color introduced stands out clearly on the page making it easy for toddlers to identify and learn the color. The illustrations also create secondary themes that are not always apparent by the text alone, showing the relationship between the mother bear and baby and the importance of seeing the world around you.

"One Cool Friend" by Tony Buzzeo & Illustrated by David Small.  One Cool Friend is about a very proper young boy, Elliott, who dresses in a tuxedo every day and appears to have a formal relationship with the world around him. Elliott’s father takes him to the aquarium for the day, leaving him to explore while he reads the paper. Elliott feels a connection to the Magellanic penguins and decides to take one home with him in his backpack. Readers follow Elliott as he spends the day and night with his new penguin; feeding him, ice skating, visiting the library, and falling asleep in the freezer. Elliott’s dad appears oblivious to his son’s behavior, instead, lost in atlases, maps, and charts.The illustrations are black and white line drawings, with small touches of soft color. The sparse illustrations match the sparse text but enhance the depth of the story creating a humorous story that can be enjoyed multiple times. The artwork also helps to tell the father’s part of the story. From the text Elliott’s father appears disconnected from his son but the illustrations show how the two are similar in behavior, both adventurous and mischievous.

"Because Amelia Smiled" by David Ezra Stein. This story starts with a young girl running down the sidewalk in the rain, smiling with two other children. A grandmother sees the young girl smiling, reminding her of her grandson. Thinking about him, she bakes cookies to send to him in Mexico. In Mexico, Lionel receives the cookies and shares them with his class. These small moments of happiness continue to travel around the world and back to Amelia.

Stein creates vibrant illustrations using pencils, water soluble crayons, and watercolors. While Stein's illustration do not have a focal point on each page, there is a lot to absorb with many details to focus on. While the text conveys the theme of "what goes around comes around" and the signifigance of small acts of kindness; the illustrations show how these moments of happiness effect both other people in the moment and move across time and space.

Newbery Reviews:

"Breathing Room" by Marsha Hayles. Breathing room is a work of historical fiction set in Minnesota, in 1940. Thirteen year old, Evvy Hoffmeister has to leave her parents and twin brother to stay at Loon Lake Sanatorium, where she is treated for tuberculosis (TB). There she meets other girls her age suffering from the same illness. Rules are harsh and the nurses are strict, often cold in demeanor. There she shares a room with Beverly, Pearl, and Dena. Evvy’s new life is filled with restrictions: no talking, no walking, or going to the bathroom without permission. These are all considered privileges that have to be earned.

While the book tells the story of bed-ridden children, it tells a fascinating story of a time in history that was overshadowed by World War II. Hundreds of thousands of people died each year of TB and many ill children were sent away to hopefully recover. Evvy’s story does not shy away from the ever present truth that people died from TB frequently in the 1940s, and Evvy and her friends showed strength and grace in the face of death.

"Liar and Spy" by Rebecca Stead. Rebecca Stead, a previous winner of the Newbery award for When you reach me, has written another book worthy of the Newbery award. Liar and Spy is the story of a seventh grade boy, Georges (the S is silent). Georges’ story begins in the middle of several big changes for him and his family. He is moving from a house into a small apartment in Brooklyn, his father has lost his job and is starting up a new business, his mother has picked up extra shifts as a nurse at the hospital. Georges is now spending a lot of time on his own and meets a neighbor in his building, named Safer. Safer is a twelve year old, coffee drinking, self-appointed spy. Georges accidentally becomes Safer’s first spy recruit, spying on the mysterious Mr. X who lives upstairs. At first is seems like a game but Safer becomes more and more demanding. What started as a game begins to feel dangerous. At first this seems like a story of a lonely boy making friends with a neighbor; however, Georges' story is more complicated than making friends. Georges has his own mystery to be solved, along with his own struggles both in school and at home. This a quick, satisfying read with an unexpected ending that will surprise readers. 

"Three Times Lucky" by Sheila Turnage. Three Times Lucky takes place in a small southern town, where everyone knows everyone elses business and no secret is too sacred. Turnage tells the story of Moses LoBeau’s eleventh summer growing up in Tupelo Landing, NC. Moses, referred to as Mo, was discovered as an infant washed ashore in a hurricane by the Colonel, who had been in a car crash by the river and developed amnesia from the accident. In that moment the Colonel became Mo’s guardian and they start their new lives together, along with Miss Lana, who discovered the Colonel and Mo on the side of the road. Together the Colonel and Miss Lana raise Mo as their own child and open a café together in the heart of Tupelo Landing.

What starts out as a quant story of a young girl struggling with being orphaned and searching for her “upstream” mother quickly twists into a murder mystery. Mo and her best friend Dale start their own detective agency together after a lawman, Joe Star shows up in town asking questions about a murder in the city and then a member of the community turns up murdered. To make matters worse Dale appears to be the primary suspect in the murder.

With the support of Mo’s community, she is able to piece together the mystery but even she is not prepared when all the pieces come together. At first glance this appears to be another girl story about struggling with identity, but this is really a story about a community that loves and supports each other, with a mystery that takes a group of clever children to uncover.

Printz Reviews:

"Last Dragonslayer" by Jasper Fforde. Jennifer Strange is a fifteen year old foundling, indentured to the Mighty Shandar, owner of Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians. However the Mighty Shandar has disappeared and Jennifer is trying to keep the business afloat until he reappears. Jennifer lives in a kingdom where magic was a part of everyday life; it could save a kingdom and unclog a drain. Now magic has faded, it is hard to stay in business when magic is drying up and the bureaucracy of using magic has restricted everyone. Magic carpets have been limited to mere pizza deliveries. But then magicians start having premonitions about the death of the last dragon, Maltcassion, and Jennifer is part of this vision. Now everyone is talking about the death of the last dragon, and it is Jennifer’s destiny to slay the dragon. But Jennifer believes that the magic is directly connected to the dragon. As dragons have died, so has the magic. If she slays the last dragon will all the magic disappear? No matter how hard she fights her destiny she cannot escape it.

This is the first book the Chronicles of Kazam series. This is a quick and entertaining read. While the world Jennifer lives in appears to be mundane and tiresome, the people and creatures surrounding her bring life to her story.

"Survive" by Alex Morel. Jane Solis is flying home for Christmas break. She has spent the last year at Life House, a mental hospital for teens. Jane has previously made two attempts at suicide, thus landing at Life House. Jane wants to leave this place but cannot unless she earns enough points to receive a travel pass. For the last six months she has been participating in group and telling her doctors what she thinks they want to hear. Now she is heading home for a week with a plan to guarantee she will never have to come back. Jane has been spending years dealing with the loss of her father, who committed suicide on Christmas eve when she was young, Jane believes that she is destined to take her own life as her father did, and his mother did before him. Once Jane has boarded the plane, she gets ready to activate her plan. Once the plane is in the air and the turbulence has subsided enough for her to go to the bathroom, Jane removes the pain killer and sleeping pills from her bag.

She has figured out exactly how many of each she needs to take in order to ensure a successful suicide. In the bathroom she has difficulty taking the pills; not because of hesitation but because the turbulence is so bad that she cannot keep the pills from jumping out of her hand. At one point she is lifted off the ground and hits her head on the ceiling and blacks out. When Jane wakes up she feels sick and throws up. When Jane leaves the plane bathroom, she is standing on a mountain covered in snow. The plane has crashed and broken into three pieces. Everyone around her is burned and dead. She thinks she is alone until she hears someone calling for help and discovers her seatmate, Paul Hart trapped in his seat tangled in the branches of a tree growing out of a crevice in the side of the mountain.

Jane has to decide whether to give up or fight to survive. This has become a difficult decision, even for someone not on the verge of committing suicide. She believes it is unfair that she is alive when she wanted to die, and everyone else is dead. Why was she the one to survive? This book is a quick read. While there are moments of romance in the book they do not overshadow the story and it develops from their shared experiences and stories.

Check back next Friday for the next set of reviews for the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz award.

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