Book Buzz Blog
In A Life Like Mine: How Children Live Around the World, we are introduced to 18 children from different continents, such as Mahasin and her family, nomadic cattle herders in Sudan. Mahasin is nine years old and attends a traveling school for children. When she’s not learning lessons, she likes to weave baskets and help her mother and sisters cook their staple meal, asida, a dish of vegetables and grains mixed with spices. We also meet Isa, age 10, who lives in Sierra Leone and was taken by fighters in the country’s civil war for two years. Now he is back with his family, attending school, planting a few crops, and playing checkers with his friends. The stories and photographs of these children’s lives are fascinating and will appeal to any child who wonders how the world’s children are alike and different.
So, we all know the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea, right? She shows up at a castle late one night in the middle of a snowstorm. The prince falls in love with her beauty (evident even under the wet, bedraggled appearance), but the king and queen want to make sure she is a real princess. So, they put a single pea under a pile of 20 feather mattresses and wait to see if she notices. And, sure enough, the real princess emerges in the morning bruised and sore from the tiny pea. The prince and princess get married and live happily ever after. Except...well, did you ever think what it would be like to live with someone like that? Someone who couldn’t even stand a pea under her mattress? What about when she was hot? Disappointed? Challenged by some problem?
The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas, by Tony Wilson, takes the traditional Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale and stands it on its head. Prince Henrik doesn’t like the idea of marrying a princess who is sensitive. His brother is married to a very real, very high-maintenance princess who complains day and night about things that don’t suit her. Frankly, it’s a drag being around her, let alone married to her.
When I was in school, we often had to memorize and recite a poem to the class. Some of these poems have stuck with me even as an adult, and I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I can remember one. Memorizing poetry is like a game - you challenge yourself to master the poet’s words and rhythm. Once you do, you are likely to remember it for a long time. One of my kids memorized this short poem from the collection and recited it at dinner the other night when we were having peas:
I eat my peas with honey
I eat my peas with honey
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife.
Yes, we all tried our peas with honey after this...and they do taste funny.
Mary Ann Hoberman, Children’s Poet Laureate from 2008-2010, chose 123 poems to make up Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart because they are “memorable,” which she points out, has two meanings: “easy to remember” and “worth remembering.” Some are short, like the pea poem above, and some are longer challenges, like Edward Lear’s The Jumblies. There are poems about beasts, families, food, nature, and more. There are poems from famous writers (Roald Dahl), favorite poets (Shel Silverstein), and some I had never heard of. Emberley’s pictures are lively and colorful and make the entire book a pleasure to browse.
In Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Found, Jonah Skidmore feels like an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy. His family consists of a slightly annoying but smart younger sister named Katherine and a mom and dad who love him unconditionally. Jonah is adopted and has known this fact for a while but it’s never been a big deal for him because his parents have always been open about it to him. Life definitely feels normal for Jonah. That is, until the mysterious letter arrives--the letter that contains just six words: YOU ARE ONE OF THE MISSING. The letter does not contain a signature or a return address. Who sent it? Where did it come from? What does it mean?
Young Fredle grows up repeatedly hearing the rules about how mice behave. Sometimes it seems like life between the walls of the kitchen is nothing but rules. One of the most important rules is that mice don’t change. But that doesn’t dampen Fredle’s curiosity and sense of adventure. Finally, his mother’s predictions come true, and his curious nature and sweet tooth get Fredle in deep trouble. And so Fredle finds himself Outside.
From the time she was quite young, Sylvia Earle loved the outdoors. She spent her early childhood on a farm in New Jersey exploring the animals and plants around her. Her family moved to Florida when Sylvia was twelve, to a home with a backyard on the Gulf of Mexico. Once Sylvia began exploring the waters of the Gulf, she found her life’s calling. Throughout her career as an oceanographer, Sylvia has been driven to push the boundaries of the possible in order to find out more about the underwater world she loves so much.
Wahoo Cray’s yard is a zoo, literally. That’s where his dad, Mickey, keeps all of their animals, including pythons, monkeys, and an alligator named Alice. Mickey is the best animal wrangler in Florida...or he was until he got hit on the head by a frozen iguana. Since then he hasn’t been able to work. Money is so tight that Mickey accepts a job offer from the Expedition Survival TV series with Wahoo as his assistant. Things get off to a bad start when the show’s bumbling but egotistical star, Derek Badger, gets bitten by a snapping turtle and then an alligator. And that’s before he even leaves the safety of the Cray’s yard in Chomp by Carl Hiaasen.
As the sun sets, the animals in the farmyard should be settling down for the night. But in Lindsey Craig’s Farmyard Beat:
“Chicks can’t sleep. Chicks can’t sleep.
Chicks can’t sleep
‘cause they got that beat.”
And so begins a toe-tapping dance party where each animal’s noisy contribution to the beat wakes up another. The chicks go peep and wake up sheep. Cat’s purr and meow wake up cow. The racket grows until it is so loud that Farmer Sue comes to investigate the noise. Of course, she joins in and the entire farmyard dances to the beat until they “fall in a heap. Asleep.”
Ivan is a gorilla. He will tell you that isn’t as easy as it looks. It is even harder when you live in a cramped cage at the Big Top Mall and Video. Ivan is also an artist. He draws pictures with crayons that sell for $20 in the mall gift shop--$25 with a frame. Ivan’s best friends at the mall are Stella, an elephant who performs tricks she learned while part of a circus, and Bob, a stray dog.
Now that Ivan is a full-grown silverback, he no longer draws the crowds that paid to see him when he was young and cute. Some people still come to see Stella perform, but she is old and has an injured foot. The mall owner, Mack, decides the business needs a boost from another cute baby animal. And so Ruby arrives and everything changes. Caring for Ruby causes Ivan to rethink his art and his home and to dream of a better life for all of them.
What would you do if you discovered that you could read other people’s thoughts?
It’s not bad enough that Callie Anderson has to get glasses just before the start of middle school, but they are the ugliest glasses she has ever seen. Yet those huge, geeky lenses and fat black frames hide a secret. These glasses show Callie what other people are thinking. Maybe they will actually help her. And she can use all of the help she can get. She’s lost in math and Spanish classes. Her best friend seems to be drifting away. And her parents’ marriage is falling apart. But can Callie follow the eye doctor’s instructions and learn to use the glasses wisely?