Ellen A.'s blog

Wonderstruck

I'm excited about the movie Hugo, opening this week, based on Brian Selznick's amazing book The Invention of Hugo Cabret (winner of the 2008 Caldecott Award). Selznick's newest title, Wonderstruck, is no less incredible. Alternatively told in pencil drawings (Rose's story, set in the late 1920s) and words (Ben's story, set 50 years later), the tales eventually intertwine in ways that are surprising and poignant. Even if you think you're not interested in the history of museums and dioramas, wolves, deafness and deaf culture, constellations, and silent movies, you'll find Selznick's blending of these elements creates a spellbinding read as well as a visual treat. Listen and watch Selznick tell us about his newest masterpiece at Scholastic's Wonderstruck website, and visit Selznick's website for some more insight into the man and his work and interests, including a list of his favorite "weird websites." Recommended for grades 4 and up.
 

Dead End in Norvelt

Jack Gantos is one of my favorite authors, especially when I'm in the mood for a quirky, darkly funny read. Dead End in Norvelt is no exception - in fact, it had me laughing out loud in several places about the (fictional?) escapades of the protagonist, also named Jack Gantos! I wish I'd been witness to the real-life childhood of Gantos, to see exactly which of the characters and situations in this novel occurred exactly as he describes. So many favorite scenes - one where Jack is enlisted to dress as the Grim Reaper to determine whether an old person is dead or not, another when his nose bleeds AND he faints after seeing what he thinks is a woman stripping the skin off her arm with her teeth.

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I Don't Like to Read! (well, really, I do)


We are just starting our First Grade Tours here in MCPL Children's Services, and it motivated me to try to remember some of my own experiences in the first grade. One vivid memory is going on our first visit to the school library - I was so excited it was lucky I didn't toss my cookies! The thrill was tempered a little by the fact that I could hardly read - in fact, I was in the "lowest" reading group in my first grade class. (Not that the teacher told us which group was the lowest, of course - we just all knew.) I apparently told my mom of my frustration and fear about not reading well, and she told my teacher. Before I knew it, I was reading with the top group, and understanding what I read! I'm still not sure exactly what my teacher did, but apparently that extra bit of attention and encouragement, both at home and at school, made a huge difference. (It didn't hurt, either, that the top reading group had more interesting fare.) After thinking about this, I looked for a picture book that reflected a little of my experience.

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

The importance of storytelling is beautifully emphasized in this 2010 Newbery Honor title, written and illustrated by Grace Lin, with the audiobook version narrated by actress Janet Song. Minli is the daughter of poor farmers who live in the barren land shadowed by Fruitless Mountain. She is inspired by the mystical folktales of her father, and the sadness of her mother, to try to improve their fortune by traveling to meet the Old Man of the Moon, a character in her father's stories. On the way she meets a talking fish and a dragon who can't fly, as well as other animals and people, both good and evil, who help her realize what good fortune really means. Highly recommended, either in print format (enjoy Lin's lovely illustrations!) or as an audiobook, for ages 8-12. Watch a book trailer and an interview with the author, and discover other books written and illustrated by Lin, such as Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!, a 2011 Geisel Honor Book, and picture books including Dim Sum for Everyone! and Fortune Cookie Fortunes.

Queen of the Falls

In a couple weeks, I get to visit the Adirondack region of New York State. (Can't wait!) On the way, we plan to stop at Niagara Falls. When I get there, I'll be thinking of a woman named Annie Edson Taylor, who in 1901, on her 63rd birthday, dared to cram herself into a wooden barrel and go over Niagara Falls! I had never heard of Taylor, but author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg brings her back to life in Queen of the Falls, the fascinating tale of a determined ex-teacher who wanted to make her mark on the world. Watch Van Allsburg talk about how he created this carefully crafted book here. Recommended for grades 1 and up.

The Troll With No Heart In His Body

The Troll With No Heart In His Body and Other Tales of Trolls, from Norway consists of tales retold by "The Troll Lady," Lise Lunge-Larsen, with striking woodcut and colored ink illustrations by Betsy Bowen. Lunge-Larsen is a storyteller who emigrated to Minnesota from Norway, bringing with her mythic Norse stories of giant trolls with tiny brains. In her introduction, she says, "Nothing can truly show children, even adults, more about how to live, about who they are, and about their place in the world, and the struggles of life than a good folktale, and these troll stories I count among the best."

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What Happened on Fox Street

Well, what did happen on Fox Street? Lots of things, it turns out. 10-year- old Mo Wren is out of school for the year, but she is not exactly having a relaxing summer.  She has to deal with a best friend who visits for the summer, but who may have changed more than Mo realized.  She must constantly babysit her 5-year old sister Dottie, the "wild child," while their dad is working long hours at a job he doesn't like.  She still misses her mom, who died a few years before.  In the meantime, one older neighbor is keeping Mo busy with strange errands, and another may be having too many medical problems to stay in her house.

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Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

I thought I knew most of what there was to know about Amelia Earhart and her doomed final flight, but this well-researched account, Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming, is both surprising and fascinating!  Starting with a haunting account of the coast guard cutter Itasca's fruitless wait for Earhart to land on tiny Howland Island the morning of July 2, 1937, this book is hard to put down.  Earhart's early childhood was a happy one, but by the time she was in high school, her father had descended into alcoholism, sending the family into poverty and shame.  Fleming implies that Earhart's desperate wish to fly was at least partly a result of a need to free herself from the unpleasant realities of everyday life.

The True Meaning of Smekday

I had a great time listening to The True Meaning of Smekday, the recipient of the 2011 Odyssey Award. (The Odyssey Award is presented by the American Library Association to the best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the U.S.) How can you not love a friendly, tongue-clacking "Boov" alien nicknamed "J.Lo" (because Boovish names are unpronounceable by humans) who becomes the unlikely companion of an intrepid 11-year old car-driving heroine named Gratutity (nickname "Tip")? Throw in a cat called "Pig," a flying car called "Slushious," and other colorful characters, along with some strange, funny, and occasionally horrifying events - well, the result is a futuristic road trip like you've never imagined.

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Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow

Jimi: Sounds Like A Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix is written by Gary Golio, and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, using mixed media in colors both bright and pastel, on plywood. Hendrix was fascinated with music, sound, art, and color at an early age. As a young boy, he even used a broom as a pretend guitar, playing and singing to an imaginary audience in his bedroom. He listened constantly to blues, jazz, gospel, classical, folk, and rock and roll music, but was also mesmerized by sounds he heard in the street and in nature, and by the colors of things around him. In his mind, according to the author, colors had sounds to them, and he wondered "Could someone paint pictures with sound?"

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