Book Buzz Blog

06/20/2013 - 3:31am
Uncle Andy's by James Warhola

Ah, the wacky uncle. He is an institution as old as the concept of family itself. Many can claim to have one, but few can say that his uncle is one of the most important artists of the 20th century. That's where Uncle Andy's, by James Warhola, figures in.

Before Warhol was a painter, a filmmaker, and a celebrity, he was Andrew Warhola. After college, he shortened his name and left his home in Pittsburgh to start an art career in Manhattan. But back in Steel City was Andy's older brother Paul, who worked in a junkyard and was father to seven children, one of whom was our author/illustrator James. Paul used a lot of the trash he found to make sculptures, and if he found something particularly unusual, he would bring it to Andy.

06/13/2013 - 3:31am
This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

"This hat is not mine. I just stole it."

This is Not My Hat invites us into the mind of a tiny fish who cares nothing for his underwater brethren.  The fish offers many reasons why he will succeed in his crime, why he deserves the hat over the much bigger fish he snatched it from. Obviously, we are dealing with a sociopath here.

06/06/2013 - 3:31am
Thunderstorm by Arthur Geisert

It’s Saturday afternoon on a working farm in the Midwest. Kids ride along as baled hay is taken to the barn. At 12:15 PM, lightning strikes a power line. That gets the attention of the people in the truck and the animals in the fields... and under the fields. In Thunderstorm, by Arthur Geisert, there are almost no words, the only “words” are time signatures as the thunderstorm rolls across the farm, getting stronger and causing problems for everyone around.

05/30/2013 - 3:31am
Shake, Rattle & Turn That Noise Down! by Mark Alan Stamaty

I have never liked getting haircuts. There is just too much room for miscommunication. Too much of a chance for a top-of-the-head surprise that won’t go away. Recently, I have figured out a way around any chance of miscommunication.

“Just make it look like Elvis.”

Shake, Rattle & Turn that Noise Down! is a beautifully illustrated coming-of-age story by Mark Alan Stamaty. He is best known as a political cartoonist, and here his caricatured drawings serve his personal story of discovering Elvis Presley, to the chagrin of his poor mother.

05/24/2013 - 8:51am
The Dark by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Fear of the dark is fear of the unknown. If you are unable to see what is out there, your imagination is quite adept at filling in the frightening gaps for you. 

The Dark, by Lemony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen, focuses on Laszlo, a young boy who tries to preempt the dark from visiting his room at night by meeting it where it lives during the day, down in the basement. Poor Laszlo finds that his journey does little good after his nightlight burns out one evening. What's more, the dark wants to show Laszlo something.

05/16/2013 - 6:19am
Eight Cousins, or the Aunt-Hill, by Louisa May Alcott

Meet Rose Campbell, a pretty, thirteen-year-old girl living in 19th-century Boston. Just orphaned, Rose is taken to live with relatives—rich and kind but fussy aunts who feel very, very sorry for her. They treat her as if she is direly ill and have her half-convinced of it herself. Rose really is drenched in self-pity until she gets a visit from her Uncle Alec.

05/09/2013 - 3:31am
Stopping to Home by Lea Wait

On a cold, March day in 1806, Abbie and Seth lost their beloved mother to the smallpox epidemic that was ripping through the town of Wiscasset, Maine. Without food or wood for the fire, the children were in terrible trouble. They could hear the bell tolling for the dead—so many times for a man, so many for a woman, so many for a child. But how many for a missing father? In Lea Wait’s Stopping to Home, the only hope the brother and sister have to survive is that someone in that stricken town will take them in, if only for a little while.

05/02/2013 - 3:30am
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, is a gentle, wondrous Chinese fantasy book for children. Set in a long-ago times, it follows a brave and bright girl named Minli who lives with her parents in a poor farming village. There is barely enough rice to keep them fed and certainly not any for luxuries. Most all the people are downtrodden and worried about their daily lives, but not Minli. She does not like the hard work in the sticky, muddy rice fields, but every evening she can look forward to stories told by her beloved father.

These tales fill her heart and her mind in such a way that she becomes the most radiant and hopeful young girl living near Fruitless Mountain. Indeed, she is so hopeful that when a peddler comes to their village with bowls of lucky goldfish, she takes her small savings to buy one, with high expectations. But when no luck seems to come and her father starts sharing his small supper with the hungry fish, Minli knows she must let it go. Releasing it into the Jade River, a river created according to legend from the body of a grieving dragon, she is surprised when a sweet, high-pitched voice—the goldfish!—offers to help her find her fortune by telling her the way to Never-Ending-Mountain where lives the Old Man of the Moon. The Old Man knows all things, including how her family’s fortune might be changed.

04/25/2013 - 3:16pm
Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford

One of my daughters enjoys math, science, and thinking about seemingly abstract concepts in practical terms. I brought home the picture book Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford, thinking it would be particularly suited to capture her interest. In it, a young girl named Uma stares at the night sky dotted with stars and asks how many there are. Maybe as many as infinity? And then she begins to wonder how other people imagine infinity.

She performs her own research, asking her friends, Grandma, school staff, and ponders their unique responses. Her friend Sam introduces her to the infinity symbol and Grandma explains how infinity reminds her of their family tree. Other ideas about infinity make her head hurt, like her music teacher's idea of infinity as music that goes in a circle and never ends.

04/16/2013 - 9:58am
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich

The Ojibwa trappers had come to trade with the villagers on Spirit Island, but what they saw caused them to turn their boats around and head for home as quickly as they could.  The entire island seemed empty of life. Smallpox, the terrible illness for which the Native Americans had little immunity, had wiped out everyone. Well, almost everyone. Still alive and crawling through the ruins was a baby girl, all alone.

Omakayas, or Little Frog, was soon adopted into another Ojibwa family on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island.  Her life is as rich and full as that of another beloved book character, Laura Ingalls, and there are many similarities between the stories, including the children’s delight in nature and wild creatures.. Omakayas’ family’s everyday activities and celebrations and tragedies are carefully set down, from season to season.  The Birchbark House is foremost a very well-written story with believable, lovable and intriguing characters, including Omakayas’ annoyingly greedy little brother and beautiful but sometimes cold-hearted big sister.  Older generations are also well-represented.  The grandmother, a gifted healer, shares stories of long-ago, and her dreams are filled with omens of things to come and solutions to real-life problems given by the spirit world.

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