Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Garret Keizer - Getting Schooled

Sutton resident Garret Keizer has tackled issues as diverse as noise pollution, anger (the "sometimes deadly sin"), the nature of help, his experience becoming an Episcopal clergyman, noise pollution, and, most recently. school systems. Getting Schooled is an account of Keizer's year of teaching at Lake Valley Regional High School, a place he'd left classroom teaching 14 years earlier. He returns to find his former students as Principal and School Board members, and significant changes in education, including technology, testing, and the current culture of being (and towards being) a teenager.

A feature article in the Times Argus by Kevin O'Connor (10.19.14) interviewed Keizer about his new book:
* * *
"Anybody who looks to this book for a 10-point plan will be disappointed,"
Keizer says.

Instead, the author poses more questions than answers as he prods readers to
inquire if the root cause of what's ailing public education is society

"If I'm in a supermarket and somebody says, 'Kids today ...,' I'm hell on
wheels. One of my hopes is that people will read the book and think maybe it
would behoove them to take some time before holding forth on schools to walk
into one."
* * *
These questions place school in the context of a national debate about education, in the context of changes to society, and importantly in Keizer's personal experience. He stresses that this is principally a memoir. And it's one full of insightful reflections on larger issues - we're particularly fond of the observation that: "If you want kids who can read and write, you need a culture that prizes books."
You can hear more of Keizer's thoughts in some of the interviews and articles surrounding the publication of Getting Schooled:
You can read more writing by Garret Keizer at his website http://garretkeizer.com/ But wouldn't you rather hear him talk in person? You can: Tuesday, October 28th, 7:00 pm at Bear Pond Books. It should be a great discussion. It's free and open to the public - join us!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tanya Lee Stone: Book 100

This past weekend, the Stage Write! event in Burlington celebrated Tanya Lee Stone's contract for her 100th book - Girl Rising, an adaptation of a documentary about educating girls worldwide and breaking cycles of poverty. The evening brought together well known authors and raised funds for the Burlington-based Young Writers Project, as described in this Seven Days article. 

Tanya spoke last year as part of our Author-Educator series. Her talk focused on how to build nonfiction stories while staying strictly true to the the research. It was an extension of an earlier essay she wrote for Horn Book A Fine, Fine Line: Truth in Nonfiction. We captured her comments in this article Combining Passion and Research for Compelling Nonfiction

Tanya writes often on the topic of creating nonfiction for young people. She was a blogger for several years on I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids). You can read background on some of her earlier books there. For example, surrounding creation of her award winning Courage Has No Color:
Tanya seems to have an endless supply of interest and excitement around stories, histories, and information to share with young audiences and we congratulate her on book #100!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writing with S. S. Taylor

What's the story of the King of Bularistan who wants to be a famous ballet dancer?

Or an electrician who runs a greeting card company?

A talking lizard that loves cheese? A third grade teacher with a stolen painting?

And what if all these people met each other?

At her October 18th workshop, children's author S. S. (Sarah Stewart) Taylor set up a series of prompts as a way to explore how story can flow organically from characters.

Sarah doesn't accept the idea of plot-driven versus character-driven stories. Plot emerges from characters and character development. For example, Sarah began her Expeditioners series with the concept of a boy explorer. From that starting concept she developed characters who would live inside the fictional world she was creating. And then, as usually happens for her, she hit a wall around page fifty - which usually means she needs to do more character development. 

"I make detailed character profile sheets," Sarah said. She wants such detailed knowledge of all characters that, in one writing class, she prompted students to create an art project their characters might have made in school.

What makes a good character? Everyone can start to answer that by asking what characters have stayed with them from books they've read.

Often it's someone entertaining. Writing a story (or even reading a story) requires spending a lot of time with your characters and ". . . if you're going to invite somebody on a road trip, you want somebody who keeps you entertained," Sarah points out.

Characters are also usually flawed, a little messy. For one thing, that makes them human. For another, this messy-ness draws the reader into working to get to know them, investing time in figuring them out. Think of Hermione in Harry Potter.

At our Saturday workshop, we did a simple exercise in story that flows from character:
  • Two envelopes circulated with slips of paper, one had starting characters on the slips, one an additional description (see above)
  • Participants drew a slip from each envelope and put them together
  • Everyone formed pairs to explore what would happen if our two characters crossed paths 
In the case of the electrician with the greeting card company, he fell into a story with a wealthy prince who had a cold. In the brainstormed story, it was the Prince's 13th birthday and he was expected to deliver a major speech to his subjects . . . but he had a cold and has lost his voice ahead of his big speech making debut. The electrician wiring the stage for the speech volunteered to voice over for the Prince. And, of course, his experience in greeting cards gave him plenty of material to throw into the script.

In another story, a cheese loving lizard stole a painting of cheese and hid it in the garage of his owner, a third grade teacher (the lizard is literally a teacher's pet). The teacher discovers the stolen painting, knows that no one will believe that her talking lizard took the artwork, and doesn't know what to do with it.

These quick ideas set up a premise for a story, then a plot would show readers what happens next.

Another exercise that Sarah does with students is to switch the character details for different characters in a work in progress, and ask how the story would change. Again, plot from character.

Our workshop group next tackled the question of when the story really starts? Or, in more technical language, the question of the inciting incident that changes the status quo for the characters. Sarah usually discovers that her stories actually start one chapter in - the stuff written as the "first chapter" is really background she'll work into the story later. In the first Expeditioners book, for example, she wrote many drafts where the father disappearing was the inciting incident. Ultimately, though, the father being gone was in fact the starting status quo for the kids in her book, and Kit receiving a mysterious code and map was the inciting incident.

Everyone took seven minutes to sketch out possible starting scenes for the stories they'd brainstormed. So, the prince and the electrician, for example, had two possible starting scenes  sketched out by each partner: 1.) a page rushing in to wake up the Prince and tell him that the speech has been moved to that day (not enough time to get over the cold) or 2.) starting on stage with the electrician micing the Prince and the Prince failing to talk for the sound check.

Deciding the actual first scene for any story is a process of trial and error to find what fits.

We reached the end of the workshop here, but Sarah recommended a few books for more writing exercises:
    • The Art of Fiction -- John Gardner
    • What If? -- Ann Bernays and Pamela Painter
There is also an "Essential Library" list of writing craft books (including many for young writers) posted, with links, here.

We're looking forward to another writing workshop in April with Gary Lee Miller. . . and for a similar article (but with different exercises) read this from our Jo Knowles and Kate Messner workshop.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

S. S. Taylor Comes to Bear Pond Books Saturday, October 18th

Picture by Katherine Roy from sstaylorbooks.com

Just a few more days until S. S. Taylor, author of the Expeditioners books, is at the store to run a writing workshop for educators and interested students. The event starts at 11:00 am on Saturday, October 18th  - conveniently enough also the day of Montpelier Arts Fest 2014 (maps are available at the store).

To warm up for Saturday, we asked S. S. Taylor a few writerly questions, and here's what she had to say:

What was the first story you wrote?

I wrote a blatant ripoff of The Borrowers when I was about 9. It was about little people who live in people's houses and . . . borrow things from them. Sorry, Mary Norton. I've noticed that a lot of kids start out writing this kind of "fan fiction," based on their favorite books. It must be a way of learning about how stories work so you can then write your own original tales.

When you think of your favorite writing teacher, what were his / her best qualities?

I'm thinking of two. One was a high school English teacher who told me that my writing was fine, but a little lifeless, and that I could do better. Looking back, I so appreciate his honesty and willingness to really engage with me. He called me out even though it would have been so much easier to keep letting me write A minus papers. The second was a writing professor in graduate school who simply praised my writing at a time when I really needed a shot of confidence. He just said, "Keep going, keep writing. I know this will be published some day." It was life changing.

When you walk into a bookstore, what books do you look at first? How do you decide what to read next?

I always look to see what the staff is recommending. A good bookstore is staffed by avid readers and I love to see what they've liked. I always check out the tables up at the front of the store and then I like to see what books just sort of grab me from the shelves. I choose books by reading reviews and asking friends about the last book they just loved.

Want to learn more? S. S. Taylor is also the featured author on the Bear Pond Books VT Authors page. .  . and, of course, you can join us on Saturday morning! All you need is pen & paper (or pencil & paper, or laptop, iPad, etc). This workshop is free, and part of our author-educators' series.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Additional Reviews

We didn't have space for every book that we wanted to review at our Educators' Materials Review on October 3rd - here are a few more words from us and others (for summary of the reviews from the 3rd, check this older post):

At Home in her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins (Grades 4-7) explores what a more than 2,000 year old tomb and its lavish interior revealed about life in China's Hunan Province millennia ago. Very cool. You can get a sense of the artifacts discussed in the book from these online pictures from the Hunan Provincial Museum.

Triangles by David Adler, Illustrated by Edward Miller (Grades 2-4) - Helen was the kind of kid who got really, really excited by math. All those "grown up" ways of describing the world with numbers. Equations to figure out. She did long division for fun. This book, which combines the information of a textbook with the spirit of a game book, would have kept her entertained for hours. Children with a different temperament may or may not have the same reaction. 

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah Campbell (Grades 3-6) - This book takes readers through the concept that there are some shapes in the real world that look like shapes in textbooks (cones, spheres) and some that look too "messy" to be categorized as anything. . . but many of those messy shapes can be described by repeating patterns. The photographs illustrating the book reinforce that understanding these patterns is a way that math helps us understand the world around us. For older kids there may be a bit of a "so what?" factor to the observation of patterns. The end notes suggest how repeating nature's patterns can, among other cool things, theoretically create an invisibility cloak and Helen wished there were a longer list of these types of examples at the end. Perhaps this just means we need a sequel.

Jane read Handle with Care by Loree Griffin Burns, part of a series of science books by the same author. She describes it: "A beautifully choreographed journey from Costa Rican butterfly farm to the Butterfly Garden in Boston's Science Museum. This is a book intended for young audiences but the  photographs will engage audiences of any age. Pair it with a trip to the Boston Science Museum!" But what particularly caught her attention was this post on author Linda Urban's website describing how Loree uses her writers' notebooks (including photos of her notes) a perfect article to pair with any of her books. Also if you want to take a look at how authors research science books, there's this article from School Library Journal about Katherine Roy, whose Neighborhood Sharks book we reviewed earlier.

The One and Only Ivan was a 2013 Dorothy Canfield Fisher nominee - now Katherine Applegate brings us a picture book version of the same story: Ivan the Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla with illustrations by Brian Karas. We recommend this Nerdy Book Club review of the two books.

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash by G Neri, illustrated by A.G. Ford (Grades 4-7) is notable for using memoirs and primary sources to create a picture book version of Johnny Cash's story that has the feel of an autobiography. Many reviewers loved the pictures; we were not those reviewers. The text is described as poetry, again we were not in the camp of reviewers who thought that it functioned well as poetry. Basically, other people are bullish on this book and we are not impressed, but recognize that we're in the minority.

Ashley Bryan's Puppets by Ashley Bryan (PK-6) and Mr. Cornell's Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winter (PK-3) - two recommended books that Jane has recommended and reviewed before, see those reviews here.

Malala Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize this year, and we recommend two books about her: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick (4-7) and the picture book Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan & Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter (K-4).

El Deafo by CeCe Bell (Grades 4-7) is a humorous graphic memoir (except, told with bunnies - the author isn't actually a bunny) that chronicles CeCe Bell's childhood. She lost her hearing at age 4 and El Deafo is an imaginary superhero she invented. School Library Journal reviewed this book in August and Jane recommends this Washington Post article that includes an interview with the author and discusses the similarities with the popular Sisters (Raina Telgemeier).

Okay, that's it for now. . . until the next round of books we just have to review. 

Ashley Bryan's Puppets and Mr. Cornell's Dream Boxes

Two of the books on our 2014 releases list for the Educators' Materials Review were profiled in an earlier Kids' Room newsletter - we're re-publishing them below (plus a bonus third)

Ashley Bryan's Puppets by Ashely Bryan

I can't say how many times customers have told me how incredibly kind and approachable the artist and award-winning author/illustrator Ashley Bryan is. They say his studio door in rural Maine is always open and that his bright eyes and smile never seem to fade. I am familiar with Bryan's beautiful watercolor illustrations and cut paper collages that evoke a collision of rainbows. His puppets, however, are radically different--- made from found materials he has collected while beachcombing, these African folktale-inspired gems evoke a sense of mythological timelessness. Bryan introduces each one with a poem, making them come to life before our eyes, like Njonjo, the Holy Man-- "I'm clothed from head to foot, In robes of health and joy. I look up to the sky with outstretched arms, I embrace life..." It is fascinating to see how fur, netting, bone, utensils, gloves, marbles and even wine glasses are transformed into a trickster, a storyteller and royalty. Where others see debris, Bryan sees a treasure of stories.

Mr. Cornell's Dream Boxes by Jeanette Winter

Joseph Cornell, who grew up in New York City (like Bryan), began to assemble tiny worlds inside small boxes, called dream boxes, from the debris he found walking the streets. A reclusive man who never studied art, he spent his life caring for his brother and mother and barely scraping by. Author/illustrator Jeanette Winter finds a perfect marriage of ideas in this gentle picture book for younger readers, as childhood, memory and dreams are the inspiration for Cornell's boxes. He delighted in sharing them with children, and held an exhibition of his work especially for children at the Cooper Union School of Art & Architecture (Ashley Bryan's alma mater) in 1972. Both Bryan and Cornell have transformed everyday detritus into powerful works of art, and these books capture the sense of delight and creative wonder that is the driving force.

Sandy's Circus by Tanya Lee Stone & Boris Kulikov

A slightly older book (2008), but we can't let this list go by without mentioning Sandy's Circus by Vermont author Tanya Lee Stone. This picture book tells the story of Alexander Calder (of giant, delicately balanced mobile fame) and the wire sculptures he created for his "circus." Like Bryan and Cornell, Calder made art from the materials he found all around him, and this tells the story of those early creations. Tanya talked a little bit about creating this picture book when she joined us for an event last year - you can read what she had to say in our article about Compelling Nonfiction.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Short Reviews - From Oct. 3rd Nonfiction of 2014 Review Session

We had a great group of educators and other interested folks turn out for our Materials Review on October 3rd. Jane pulled together a list of top children's (preK - 9) nonfiction for 2014, and also invited Scholastic Book representative Nikki Mutch to join the panel and let us know what's coming up from their authors.

You can find a full list of the books that were on display here. We didn't comment on every one of them, but here is a round up of what we said. The recommended grades are from the publishers, not us (and you'll see where we disagree with them):

We began with the Story of Buildings (4-7) by Patrick Dillon, illustrated by Stephan Biesty and Neighborhood Sharks (2-6) by Katherine Roy. We'd posted an earlier review of Neighborhood Sharks, with its excellent content and the many opportunities it offers for finding out more beyond the book's pages. Highly recommended. The Story of Buildings, by contrast, landed low on our list - and led Helen to a soap box - because it cites no sources. How can this be in a time when we are all (or all should be) tremendously careful about verifying where information comes from? The book itself provides a survey of building techniques through time (it starts with caves), with detailed, foldout drawings by Biesty, and could be a great launching point for getting into more details with authors like David Macaulay. Without a reference section, though, it is hard to recommend for a library or classroom.

On a less research intensive note: Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine (K-3) by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, and President Taft is Stuck in the Bath (PK-3) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen are two whimsical looks at bathing dilemmas of the leaders of nations. They're both based on actual events (Queen Victoria did have a bathing machine to bring her to the sea unseen, Taft did get stuck in pieces of furniture and the White House usher during his presidency claimed that this included the bath tub) but taken to silly levels.

Another example of historic fiction (even though it's technically a nonfiction review) was A Home for Mr. Emerson (3-7) by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. This book draws on actual events to tell the story of neighbors coming together to rebuild Ralph Waldo Emerson's home, and de facto town library, after it burns. A good story for the strength of community. We might bump the grade recommendation down to K-4, though.

Two books that are very poignant and you will cry: Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 (2-6) by John Hendrix and Hidden (3-6) by Loic Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano. Both show the impact of war. Hendrix' book is particularly notable for the emotion conveyed in the illustrations and his introductory essay on the devastation of war. Dauvillier's graphic novel tells the story of a grandmother's experience during the Holocaust as she relates it to her granddaughter. One note of caution on Hidden: the cover looks like the book will be appropriate for young readers (it's very cartoonish), and the publisher recommends it for grades 3 and up, but it is definitely for older (middle grade) readers. The recommendation is to use it in the classroom with context and discretion, not to shelve it where young readers would casually pick it up.

On similar subject matter, Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 Trues Stories of Survival (7-12) by Marcel Prins, Peter Henk Steenhuis, and Laura Watkinson tells the story of other children hidden from the Nazis.

Another book for older readers: Red Madness (4-8) by Gail Jarrow. It is about Pellagra, a disease that took many lives in the south in the start of the 20th century and was a medical mystery for years. The good points of this book: lots of case studies and images from the time, the story of pellagra is a great way to introduce the scientific method, it's a discussion point for social and economic disparities, and interestingly it's a disease that involves the food supply (it's caused by a vitamin deficiency). The less-good points: it's really confusing, there is an overload of case studies without enough framework to hold them together, and without that strong framework the descriptions of the disease and its symptoms take on a sort of "gross out" effect that the author didn't intend. Could be a great book to use if classroom lessons helped fill the weak points in the book's line of argument.

For an example of gross stuff used to very good effect: When Lunch Fights Back (2-5) by Rebecca L. Johnson, with amazing pictures of unusual animal defenses against being eaten (many of which involve slime). Plus, for readers who want more than pictures, there's a website with videos.

Staying in the science realm, Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes (K-3) by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Emily Sutton is a very simple, very clear book for young readers that introduces the world of microbes. It goes over basic ideas like microbes turn food to compost, milk to yogurt, rocks to soil, with equally simple (but lovely) pictures. Jane wishes there were another version for older readers.

Orangutan Houdini (K-3) by Laurel Neme, illustrated by Kathy Kelleher, tells the story of an orangutan who continues to outwit his zookeeper and escape from his enclosure, based on an actual orangutan. The text often says that orangutan feels something or thinks something, which could slip by unnoticed as a story element, until you read the author's note. The note explains how animal behaviorists study orangutans and draw conclusions about what they're thinking and feeling, and the significance of the escapes in that animal behavior context. Taking both the narrative and the note as a starting point, this book could be used for older grades as well. Laurel is speaking at the store in January about making global connections, based on her work in animal conservation.

Moving on to an art theme. . .

Viva Frida (K-3) by Yuyi Morales with photographs by Tim O'Meara was one of Jane's favorites. Don't read this book for an overview of Frida Kahlo's life; Morales is using Frida as a starting point for a book that's focused on where art comes from and the idea that we each have all the materials we need to inspire artwork.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (2-6) by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated by Christian Robinson provides a comprehensive biography of dancer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker. It's a picture book, but a long one, with chapters, and could be used for middle grades. Jane loved the artwork, she can see how it's a style that you either love or you don't (and she loved it).

The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra (1-4) by Chris Raschka is brilliantly illustrated in a style that captures the spirit of music. The story starts from the idea of Sun Ra coming from Saturn and observing the earthlings, and what does he see? We suspect that grown ups may get more of a kick out of it than kids (it's a picture book that uses words like "Boulevardier" and "Rosicrucianism"), but no art class should be without this book.

One common theme of the biographies of artists that we reviewed is somebody following their passion, and another example along this theme is The Pilot and the Little Prince by Peter Sis about the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. An obvious pairing would be, of course, The Little Prince.

Brown Girl Dreaming (4-7) by Jacqueline Woodson and How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson (6-9) have many similarities. In both books the authors tell the story of their childhood through poetry, both grew up to be poets and their early connection to poetry and creating poetry are part of the book, both are African American women and the social tensions of the time periods they describe are important in both books (Nelson covers the 1950s, Woodson the 1960's & 1970's). Nelson described her book as filling in gaps of her childhood memory more than relating memories, and speaks to coming back to old events with an adult understanding while still finding a way to tell them through a  child's emotions and perspectives. That's an interesting artistic puzzle - but Helen wonders whether it's one that works for an average 6th grader, especially if they don't have a lot of background with poetry. Jane and Helen both thought that Woodson's was a better match for the identified grade levels.

Last November the Author-Educator series at Bear Pond focused on food and agriculture in the classroom, including a talk by Gail Gibbons (read all about it here). So, we looked at a group of three new food-related picture books, Before We Eat by Pat Brisson with illustrations by Mary Azarian, Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Julia, Child (which turns out to be fiction) by Kyo Maclear and illustrations by Julie Morstad. Before We Eat caught Helen's imagination with vibrant illustrations that very simply tell the parts of the food chain (but without using boring words like "parts of the food chain") and could be a great starting point for any number of lessons or activities. The other two books didn't grab her as much, although they were fine. They seemed to be trying a little too hard to spark imagination instead of letting it happen organically, for example the repeated insistence that Alice Waters is "on a trip to delicious" seemed a little hokey. And yes, we'll admit to a Mary Azarian bias for the illustrations.

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus (K-3) by Jen Bryant with illustrations by Melissa Sweet tells the story of Roget (and his thesaurus) through the perspective of how Roget wanted everyone to be empowered through words and language. About the illustrations, Jane says "surely this will win an award somewhere."

Three final books for older readers (6th through high school):

Family Romanov by Candace Fleming tells the story of the Russia's last royal family, while also weaving in first person accounts of life for peasants and workers beyond the palace gates. We have a longer review of this book posted here.

Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin tells the story of a segregated military during WWII, the egregiously unsafe working conditions that led to a massive explosion killing 300 men on one base, and the group of men charged with mutiny after refusing to return to work. The author wrote textbooks before switching to narrative nonfiction, and now he is atoning for every dull word he ever wrote in the first part of his career through incredibly engaging accounts, including dialogue based on oral interviews and courtroom transcripts. This book is on the National Book Award long list.

Eyes Wide Open: Going Beyond the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman introduces crucially important environmental issues with a focus on how to think critically about them, which includes questioning media and sources (and, by the way, is a nice counterbalance to the opening concerns about The Story of Buildings).

Series with New Titles Being Published:

A round up of popular series with either new installments out now or slated for the spring - except for the Jon Scieszka series, these all come from the Scholastic list:

  • Guys Read Jon Scieszka's popular series now includes Guys Read Nonfiction
  • Discover More A history and science based series by the same person who developed the DK Eyewitness books. Each topic comes with books geared for three different reading levels.
  • Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth (PK-3) by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm. There was much talk about just how brilliant Molly Bang is, and how talented she is at drawing kids into learning about different science topics.
  • I Survived Series. Originally this series covered fictionalized accounts of survival and disasters, now Scholastic is publishing five nonfiction stories.
  • 10 True Tales (6-9) True stories of secret agents, pirates, crime scene investigators and other subjects where fictional tales have already captured children's imaginations.   
  • Magic School Bus (1-3) The popular series is returning to PBS and the books have been updated with new illustrations and new content. 

Phew. There were other books on the list that we didn't have time to talk about, and we've added them at this additional reviews post.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Notes from October 3rd Materials Review

Below are links to the handouts from the materials review we held at the store on Friday, October 3rd.

What you will find here is the list of books that Jane selected from top reviews of nonfiction for grades preK - 9 in 2014, the list of new and upcoming books from Scholastic provided by award winning book rep Nikki Mutch (who joined out panel), and a flyer for the upcoming S.S. Taylor writing workshops (October 18th).

If you have trouble accessing any of these links, e-mail helen@bearpondbooks.com

We have also now updated our notes on the books we reviewed in person on the 3rd, plus a few additional titles (these reviews were cut from the talk to save time).

And for folks who prefer a visual display - here is a Pinterest Board of some of our top picks.

We had a lot of fun and thank everyone who joined us!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy

In preparation for our Materials Review for Educators happening October 3rd starting at 9:00 am at Bear Pond Books, we're highlighting some of our favorites from our stack of 100 nonfiction books of 2014.

It seems so obvious when someone does it (and does it well) - engage readers in learning biology  through what may be literally the most attention grabbing conceit in our culture: Shark Attack! 

Katherine Roy is not the first author to think of this, but we're going to boldly claim that no one has done it as masterfully as she has. 

In the opening of Neighborhood Sharks, Katherine Roy's beautiful, if deadly, illustrations bring us through peaceful ocean 30 miles from San Francisco as a Great White Shark hunts a pinniped (Fact #1 - that's the name for seals and sea lions) . . .peaceful. . . .peaceful. . .then, in an illustration that (there's no other way to say it) leaps off the page, our shark attacks and catches the unsuspecting prey.

And she's got our attention.

But it's not all for the shock value. She is going to take apart piece by piece what adds up to that attack, from what brings the pinnipeds to the Farallon Islands, a prime shark feeding ground. . . to how the design of a shark's body allows it to effectively hunt this prey. . . to the scientists who converge on the Farallones to study the sharks. . . to how it all fits into a unique ecosystem.

And it doesn't stop there.

Katherine Roy delivers a great line up of additional resources at the end of her book and on her website. The website also includes plenty of information on the creation of this book (and her other books, including illustrations for S.S. Taylor's popular Expeditioners series). This means that she's covering not only how scientists study and understand the shark, but also the process for telling their story to a wider audience. It's about as rich a starting ground for discussion as a picture book could possibly offer. 

We love this book.  

We hear a rumor that there's one about elephants on its way.

Since the rumor came from Katherine Roy, it seems credible.

P.S. It bears noting that for readers who are frightened by the shark attack, the illustrations of the seal it has caught become stylized after the deed is done - sort of a seal colored handkerchief floating in the water. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

In preparation for our Materials Review for Educators happening October 3rd starting at 9:00 am at Bear Pond Books, we're highlighting some of our favorites from our stack of 100 nonfiction books of 2014.

One of Jane's favorite picture books this year is Yuyi Morales' Viva Frida, with photographs from Tim O'Meara.

If you want a detailed narrative of the life of the indomitably spirited artist Frida Kahlo, Viva Frida is not for you. However, this picture book is for every budding artist who needs to be reminded by the simple text that all it takes to make art are all the things we already know how to do--- feel, see, discover, believe and love. Yuyi Morales shows her mastery of detail, color and texture in this multi-media creation that captures the joy and the incredible spirit and pride that drove Frida to paint. Visually stunning,this is a wonderful book to share in any art classroom to inspire the artist in each one of us.

For reading more about Yuyi Morales, check out these links: