Monday, February 28, 2011

Review #88: Princess Academy

Dad:  Today we are taking a look at "Princess Academy" by Shannon Hale.  Where should we start?  Is there anything you want to say about the plot?
Gracie (age 10):  The what?
Dad:  The plot.  The storyline?
Gracie:  New word!  Boopity-boop-boo-boo!  "Plot!"
Isaac (age 12):  The story is mainly about this girl named Miri.
Gracie:  She lives on a mountain.  The only way her village can live and eat is because they sell linder, which is this really valuable stone.
Dad:  They use linder for things like constructing buildings and carving statues.
Gracie:  I'm not sure if linder really exists or not.  Because it's not in our Rocks and Minerals book.
Dad:  You looked for it?
Gracie:  Yeah.  I actually did.
Lily (age 8):  Miri didn't really think she was much use to her family.  They wouldn't let her work in the quarry.
Isaac:  Everyone has big bulging muscles because they work in the quarry.  But for some reason -- it's like a mystery in the book -- for a reason that I'm not going to tell you, Miri's dad won't let her work.  So Miri feels puny and worthless because of that.
Lily:  The girls that live on the mountain go to an academy.  Only girls.  They are all going to be trained to be princesses.  But the prince is going to choose just one.
Gracie:  At the academy they have a really mean teacher!  She locks them in a closet!
Lily:  Miri disobeyed the rules.  So she went to the closet and everybody forgot about her.  And there was a rat!  A big, furry rat!  It was making a nest in her hair.
Dad:  Ew!
Lily:  They totally forgot about her.  She was lucky that someone finally remembered about her.
Dad:  And how did Gerti finally remember Miri was in there?
Lily:  She used "quarry speech."  You see, the quarry workers use it to talk to each other.  Like in emergencies.
Isaac:  Because it's so loud when they are linder mining, the quarry workers can sing a song in their mind to each other.
Lily:  They don't tell warnings with their mouths.  They tell them with their hearts.
Dad:  So it's a little bit like reading minds.  They send email messages with their brains.
Lily:  And their hearts.
Isaac:  But the lowlanders -- the people who don't live on the mountain -- can't do quarry speech.  So that's another mystery that they have to figure out.  How quarry speech actually works, and why sometimes they can do it and sometimes they can't.  There's like a billion mysteries in here.
Dad:  Isaac, were you worried this book was going to be too "girly" when we started?
Isaac:  Yes.  I got through the first parts because it sounds so much like a historical fiction book.  Even when there are little bits of magic, it makes sense how it works.
Dad:  And you like books that sound historical.
Isaac:  I thought the first part was just interesting.  But then the story got very, very, extremely exciting.  This thing happens - I don't want to give it away.  But everyone gets in danger, and it's really exciting.  I was on the edge of my seat while I was listening.
Dad:  So would boys like this book?
Isaac:  I don't know.  I liked it.  It gets exciting if you stick with it.  But honestly, I think most boys -- I think my friends -- would have different opinions if they read it.
Dad:  Fair enough.  Now here's what I'd like to do.  I want to see if you can tell me some of the changes that took place during the story.  For instance, did Miri like the academy at the beginning of the book?
Lily:  No.
Dad:  Did she like it at the end of the book?
Lily:  Yeah.
Dad:  So what is that called?  A...
Lily:  Uhhhhhhhhh...
Dad:  ...change.
Lily:  "Change."  I thought there would be a big fancy word for it.
Dad:  No, no.  I just want to see if you can think of changes that took place.  But I'll teach you a word...  A good story has what's called an "Arc."  It can be boring if a story is like a flat line -- if everything at the beginning of the story is the same as in the middle and at the end.  But if a story has an Arc, if people change over the course of the book, then that makes for a far more interesting story.
Lily:  Miri didn't really hang out with the girls much at the beginning.  But then she hanged out with everybody!
Gracie:  She got really popular.
Dad:  And who was responsible for that?
Gracie:  Miri worked at it.
Dad:  What else?
Gracie:  All the mountain people hated lowlanders.  But by the end, they realized lowlanders weren't that bad.
Dad:  And who was responsible for that change?
Isaac:  Miri!
Dad:  So she made the changes happen.  That's a second thing that makes a story interesting.  Things shouldn't just happen TO a character, but instead the character should be the one who helps make the changes come about.
Lily:  At the beginning Miri felt like a teeny itsy bitty little baby.  At the end she felt old enough to do stuff.
Isaac:  She figures out how quarry speech works, and they use it a lot, and it helps them out in dangerous times.  By the end they realized how important it is.
Lily:  Miri didn't really speak up that she loved Peder at the beginning.  But at the end she did a teeny bit.  She didn't tell him that she loved him.  But they held hands.  Hee hee hee!
Isaac:  At the beginning they hated the Academy.
Gracie:  At the end they thought, "Wow - I can't believe we would have gone all our lives not knowing this awesome stuff!"
Dad:  See, once we get going, we find changes everywhere.  And who is the main person that causes the changes?
Lily:  Miri.
Dad:  So that's a lesson to learn about good writing.  Stuff happens, obviously.  But above and beyond events taking place, you want a change to go on inside a person.  The best books don't have characters who are just moving through events -- they are also growing along the way.  And the best authors know it shouldn't be passive -- audiences like to read about characters whose own choices create changes.
Gracie:  I have one more thing to say.
Dad:  What's that.
Gracie:  I made a linder block out of snow.
Dad:  Yeah, you and Lily and I were playing "Princess Academy" out in the yard.
Gracie:  We made a big block of snow and pretended we were carving a block of linder.  It took a while.  I don't know how the Eskimos do it.
Dad:  You guys were even trying to do quarry speech.
Gracie:  Our neighbor friend was playing too, even though she had no idea what the heck we were talking about.

Miri's academy princess dress, by Gracie

Miri with the rat in her hair, by Lily

hawk carved out of stone, by Isaac

Author: Shannon Hale
Published, 2005: Bloomsbury
Like it?  Here it is

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review #87: A Pet for Petunia

Dad:  Tell us about "A Pet for Petunia."
Elijah (age 5):  Petunia wants a pet skunk.
Lily (age 8):  Petunia really likes skunks.  Actually, she really, really, really, really, really so-much-likes skunks that she LOVES skunks.
Isaac (age 12):  She loves skunks more than anything in the whole universe.  And so she wants a skunk.  You don't hear that every day.
Elijah:  I wouldn't want one.
Lily:  Petunia doesn't know the secret-secrets of skunks.  A smell.
Gracie (age 10):  I've never smelled one, and I don't want to.
Lily:  Petunia runs out to the forest.  She sees a skunk.  And she smells the smell of her life: Stink.
Elijah:  She loved the stink.
Lily:  She smelled the Stink of Stinks.  After that, she still loved skunks, but she stopped wanting a real one.
Gracie:  She decided her pet would be a stuffed animal skunk.
Isaac:  But then Petunia wants a porcupine.
Lily: (singing)  "Now I love porcupines just the way they are..."
Dad:  What did you think of that skunk in the book?
Elijah:  He's adorable!
Gracie:  He's so cute!
Lily:  I would want that skunk.  If we got gas masks I would.
Gracie:  Paul Schmid draws the cutest skunks in the world.
Lily:  The key is big foreheads.
Isaac:  Little eyeballs.  Little cute smile.
Gracie:  It's just so cute.
Isaac:  I love that skunk!
Gracie:  For these pictures Paul Schmid only uses black and white and purple.  And tiny bits and pieces of yellow.  But most of the book is just black, white, and purple.
Elijah:  It's like he used watercolor.
Isaac:  Little splotches.
Dad:  Just like Petunia loves her skunks, each of you guys has your own favorite animal, don't you.  Lily is our duck lover.
Lily:  I want a real duck.  Ducks are adorable.  Our neighbor Gina had a real duck from a farm.  Why can't I have a duck?
Gracie:  Gina used to have a turtle.  But she had to give it away.  And then she had a duck.  But that ran away.  And she used to have three bunnies.  But two of them died.
Dad:  Yikes.  I don't think I'd give Gina any more animals.  Now, we saw that skunks have drawbacks -- are there any problems with having a duck?
Lily:  They nibble you.
Elijah:  I want a turtle.  I love turtles.
Gracie:  I love, love, love pandas.  They are absolutely adorable.  Even more adorable than skunks.  But I can't have a panda because they are almost extinct, and they are protected by Chinese police.  But I want one so bad.  I at least want to see one in real life.
Elijah:  I want to see a real turtle in real life.
Dad:  I think your chances are better than Gracie's.
Gracie:  I could fly to China...  smuggle a panda bear onto the plane...
Dad:  Even little sister Evie has her "own" special animal.
Lily:  Owls!
Dad:  And you each have lots of stuffed versions of your favorite animal.
Elijah:  Yeah.
Isaac:  I don't.
Dad:  What is your animal Isaac?  Do you even have one?
Isaac:  A turkey.
Dad:  What?  You are making that up.  I've never heard you say that once ever.
Isaac:  No, no, no.  I decided that two weeks ago.  I decided I need to get a real turkey, so ever since I've wanted one.
Dad:  I thought dragons were your favorite.  You are Dragon-boy.
Isaac:  Dragons don't exist.
Gracie:  You don't have any stuffed turkeys do you?
Isaac:  Nope.
Dad:  On Thanksgiving we get stuffed with turkey.
Isaac:  Or we get turkey with stuffing.
Dad:  Alright.  So Isaac likes turkeys now.  Now you each have an animal.
Isaac:  I want a real turkey so it can guard the house.  I could train it to attack robbers.
Dad:  I think Elijah's animal is the most realistic.  We might be able to get an aquarium with a little turtle someday.
Gracie:  How much do you think they cost?
Elijah:  Ninety million.
Dad:  Wow.  Well, maybe we won't be getting one.

a porcupine for Petunia, by Gracie

a duck for Lily, by Lily

a turtle for Elijah, by Elijah

a turkey for Isaac, by Isaac

Author/Illustrator: Paul Schmid
Published, 2011: HarperCollins
Like it?  Here it is

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review #86: We Are the Ship

Gracie (age 10):  Kadir Nelson, if you are reading this, you have the coolest book ever.  Your book is definitely on my top favorites list.
Isaac (age 12):  "We Are the Ship" is about Negro League baseball.  Before African American people were able to play baseball with the other leagues, they invented their own league called the Negro League.
Lily (age 7):  It is from history.
Gracie:  This guy, Rube Foster, took all the people that weren't allowed to play, and he put them on professional baseball teams of their own.  And that's called the Negro Leagues.
Lily:  The book tells the whole history of it.  From the beginning to the end.  It didn't skip a bit.
Gracie:  It's all about what the Negro Leagues were like, and how the players had to live and travel from town to town.
Isaac:  It was kind of hard for them because they had to get on these smelly buses.  And nobody would let them sleep at regular places, so they had to go to these special hotels, but the hotels weren't very good at all.
Gracie:  And the book gives you all the best Negro League baseball players.  Like Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell - those are my two favorites.  I like Satchel Paige.  No one can hit anything of his.  He's got a really good fastball.  He's a pitcher.  Even his slowballs are fast.
Dad:  After we finished the book, you and Isaac were playing baseball in the living room with wadded up paper balls and rolled up paper bats, and you guys were being your favorite players.
Gracie:  We played "paper baseball."  I was Satchel Paige.  Except I can't throw fastballs.  So I was, like... Satchel Paige Junior Girl Version... who isn't very good at throwing stuff.
Isaac:  They invented a lot of the baseball things that players use nowadays.  They invented the helmet because they were throwing way too close to one guy's head, so he would put a miner's helmet on.  Another guy invented shin guards.  He tied these wooden boards to his legs when they played against white players because everybody was trying to hurt him.
Dad:  What is the art in this book like?
Isaac:  The art is amazing.
Gracie:  It is really detailed.  Really awesome.
Isaac:  Kadir Nelson really knows how to make faces and clothes look like faces and clothes.  You can see all the wrinkles and details and grass stains.  He makes them all look like real photographs.
Gracie:  Kadir Nelson...  You ROCK, Kadir Nelson!
Dad:  And what was the cool thing we got to do after reading this book?
Lily:  We went to his art exhibit.
Gracie:  We went to an art museum that was throwing a party for Kardir Nelson's "We Are the Ship."  We went and ate awesome eggroll things.  We got to see all this cool Negro League stuff.  I got to see a signed Satchel Paige baseball and actual newspaper articles about Satchel Paige.  Satchel Paige is my favorite.
Dad:  I can tell.  So, there was memorabilia there.  But it was an art museum -- what else did we see?
Gracie:  Art!  Kadir Nelson's original art.  And it's actually really, really, really big.
Lily:  Huge.  He made big, huge pictures.  They were even bigger than you Dad.  It would have been a gi-normous book if they made it the actual size of the paintings.
Isaac:  These were giant, huge life-size pictures.  We didn't know they would be so big until we got there.
Gracie:  He paints it on, like, a 10 foot canvas.  Gi-gan-tic!
Dad:  What was it like to look at the originals in person?
Isaac:  It made me want to go paint.
Gracie:  The colors actually looked brighter closer up.
Lily:  Here's one thing about his pictures.  The baseballs -- the stitches look like real yarn!  I don't know how he does that!  It looks like real yarn stitches!
Gracie:  I loved this picture where Josh Gibson is swinging the bat around - he has three bats in his hand.  I love that picture.
Isaac:  We also heard Kadir Nelson give a speech.
Gracie:  You are a very good speaker, Kadir Nelson.
Dad:  What do you remember from his talk?
Lily:  The people in his paintings have bigger hands than they are supposed to, because Kadir Nelson likes hands.
Gracie:  He accidentally made them all a little too big because he loves drawing them so much.
Isaac:  He was saying that it's not just people's faces that show expressions.  Hands can show expression as much as faces can.
Gracie:  He had to do tons of research for the book.  And he didn't really like reading that much until he read Negro League baseball books.  Now he loves to read and write.
Isaac:  He made up most of the poses for the players in the pictures.  Only a couple of them he did from original photos.
Gracie:  He said, " I got this really handsome guy to pose for me.  He's really great and he works for free.  Here's a picture of him."  And then he shows some pictures of himself posing.
Lily:  He was posing for all of the pictures!
Gracie:  Ha ha ha ha!
Lily:  He also told a secret.
Dad:  Yeah - he shared some of his mistakes in the book.  Things we would have never noticed.
Lily:  He didn't put the right number of stars on one of the flags.  But don't tell anybody that!
Dad:  Do you feel any different about Kadir Nelson's books -- now that we have heard him talk and have seen his originals?
Lily:  WAAAY different!  I really liked them before.  But now I like them more.  Now I really, really like them.
Gracie:  You know what?  Every time we review a book, I kind of feel like from now on I know all the authors and illustrators personally.  But I really don't.
Dad:  You feel more of a connection to them after taking a closer look at their work.
Gracie:  That's how I kind of feel like with Kadir Nelson.
Lily:  Now I know him.  I don't really know him.  But I heard his talk.  And he's so nice.

Negro League baseball player, by Lily

sketch of Josh Gibson, by Isaac

Satchel Paige, by Gracie

Author/Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Published, 2008: Hyperion
Like it?  Here it is

If any of our readers are in the Michigan area and can get to the Muskegon Museum of Art, I highly recommend you go for it -- it is WELL worth the trip.  The "We Are the Ship" exhibit will be showing until March 13.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Review #85: You Are What You Eat

Isaac (age 12):  This book is by Serge Bloch.
Lily (age 7):  "You Are What You Eat" is about a boy.  He was a bad eater.  A picky eater.  Not as picky as Gracie though.
Isaac:  No one could be as picky as Gracie.
Gracie (age 10):  Stop it.
Lily:  Hee hee hee...
Isaac:  The boy is invited to a friend's house to eat.  He's nervous.  Because they might make something he doesn't like.  But he tries the food, and then he loves it.  He even got seconds.
Lily:  He learned to eat.  But Gracie will never learn to eat.  Poor Gracie.
Gracie:  Grr.
Dad:  What is the cool thing about the story?
Gracie:  The whole entire writing is made out of puns.
Lily:  All these little sayings.  Puns.  About food.
Dad:  And how about the pictures?
Isaac:  The pictures!  The pictures are not like regular pictures.  He takes photographs -- usually pictures of food -- and then he doodles on them so they look really cool.  He turns them into stuff.
Gracie:  He doodles on the food to make bodies and stuff.  He can make a cookie into a head.
Isaac:  I think that would be a fun, fun way to make a book.  To get to doodle on photographs!  I think he must really like his job.  This is a fun idea.
Dad:  What are your favorite examples from the book?
Gracie:  "The apple of my eye."  Because the mom looks really pretty...  the pretty, pretty mom with a very pretty apple in her eye.
Isaac:  I like "Drives me bananas."  It's a picture of someone riding in a banana.
Gracie:  It's the mom.  She's really pretty.
Lily:  I like the page that says "You are what you eat."  The boy looks really funny with peas for his mouth.
Dad:  Can you think of any other food expressions the author didn't use?
Gracie:  "Say Cheese!"
Dad:  Ahh!  There you go!  So is that what you are going to do for your fan art picture?
Gracie:  Yep!  I thought of that idea days ago.
Dad:  Awesome.  We'll have to look up some food pictures on the internet.  Then I'll print them out and you can doodle on them.  Sound good?
Gracie:  Woo!
Dad:  This was a pretty short review.  But I guess the book doesn't need a ton of explaining.
Gracie:  It's just awesome.
Dad:  Can anyone summarize the book in a few words?  Give me a blurb?
Isaac:  I can't think of any right now.
Dad:  How about "Expressive expressions."
Isaac:  What is that supposed to mean?
Dad:  He takes expressions -- common phrases -- and he makes them very expressive.  He adds eyes and stuff.
Isaac:  I still don't get it.
Dad:  How about: "He enfreshens expressions."
Gracie:  Does it have to rhyme?
Dad:  Aw!  "A fresh take on fresh food."  How about that?
Isaac:  I don't get that one either.
Dad:  Ppppbb.
Isaac:  Maybe you should just stop.

say cheese! by Gracie

berried alive, by Isaac

a perfect pear, by Lily

Author/Illustrator: Serge Bloch
Published, 2010: Sterling
Like it?  Here it is

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Interview #10: Debbie Taylor

During our hiatus this summer, the kids and I had the chance to meet and interview two more children's book authors.  They were lightning quick interviews -- less than 5 minutes each.  But we had fun and are so thankful these ladies took the time to visit with us!  We posted one of the interviews yesterday, so be sure to check that one out as well :)

Today we bring you our interview with Debbie Taylor (whose portrait here is drawn by Gracie).  But first we'd like to share a look at her book entitled "Sweet Music in Harlem" (illustrated by Frank Morrison)...

Dad:  What is "Sweet Music in Harlem" about?
Lily (age 7):  It's about this guy named Uncle Click who lost a hat.
Gracie (age 10):  He needs his hat because he is a famous musician and he's going to get his picture taken.
Lily:  So his nephew CJ goes to find his hat,
Isaac (age 12):  The kid goes around to all the places his Uncle Click went the day before in the Harlem neighborhood.  Like to a jazz club, to a diner, and to the barber.  I need to go to the barber.
Lily:  But he didn't find the hat.  He found all his uncle's other lost stuff.  His hankie.  His watch.  His bowtie.  It's the 'Rule of Three.'
Gracie:  While the kid is looking for the hat, he tells all these people about the photographer coming.
Isaac:  Everybody there follows him back to the house, and so the photographer takes a picture of about a billion people.  All famous musicians and stuff.
Gracie:  And it ends up being a really famous picture.
Lily:  It is based on a true story.
Isaac:  It's really cool how she tells it.  It's not like a history book.  It's more like a storybook.  And she uses lots of details.  It makes it interesting.
Dad:  She also used vivid descriptions.
Isaac:  Like, "When he plays his trumpet, it makes the wallpaper peel!"
Dad:  There are also lots of people talking to each other in this book.
Isaac:  It's not just the boy.  You get to hear other voices.
Dad:  Do you know what it's called when writers do that?  Dialog.
Gracie:  What's "dialog"?
Dad:  When you tell stories through the characters' conversations.  He said... she said... he asked... they replied.  So Isaac, was it cool for you to listen to this story since you and your friends have a band?
Isaac:  Yeah.  It's not that kind of band though.
Dad:  So you're not going to play your harmonica at a jazz club someday?
Isaac:  I don't even know how to play jazz on a harmonica.
Dad:  Do you ever make wallpaper peel off the walls?
Isaac:  No.  We accidentally chipped the walls a couple of times though.
Dad:  That must be some wild harmonica playing!
Isaac:  Heheheh!
Dad:  How would you describe Frank Morrison's illustrations in this book?
Gracie:  They are exaggerated.  But in a good way.  They are pretty awesome.
Isaac:  The poses in the pictures are very dramatic.
Gracie:  I can't even do some of the poses the people do in the book...  not without having to lean up against something.
Dad:  Thanks guys!  And now we'll travel back in time to the day of our interview....

Lily:  What is it like writing a book?
Debbie Taylor:  It is very exciting writing a book.  I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it.  It's fun because I get to choose just the right word.  You know how you choose just the right blouse or the right shirt or the right shoe?  Well, I go on a hunt to choose the right word.
Isaac:  Did you make up this story?  Or did you find it in a book?  How did you hear about it?
Debbie Taylor:  Great questions!  I made up the story, but it was inspired by an old photograph.  My husband was wearing this photograph on his t-shirt.  And I said, "Who are these people?"  He could tell me who the grown-ups were, but not who the kids were.  And that's how the story got started: I asked myself two questions.  What did those kids think about having all those stars in their neighborhood?  And who the heck were these kids?  It gave me the idea for a little boy running through the streets of Harlem trying to find his uncle's hat so he could be in the photograph.  And that's how the story started.
Dad:  So it started with a true story, but then you got to fill in the missing pieces with your imagination.
Debbie Taylor:  Exactly.
Gracie:  Oh, that's cool.
Debbie Taylor:  I thought it was cool too.  Now, almost all the grownups in the photograph have passed away, except for two people.
Gracie:  Which ones?
Debbie Taylor:  Let's see...  (pointing to the photo in the book) a gentleman up here... and this lady down here.  Those are the only two people who are still alive.  And I actually met her.
Dad:  So it must be an old photograph.
Debbie Taylor:  It is an old photograph.  Taken in 1958.  When I was three years old.  So how old does that make me?
(long pause)
Dad:  Ah, too much math...
Gracie:  Thirties?
Debbie Taylor:  Yes.  Yes.  That's exactly right.  35.  Ha ha ha...
Isaac:  When you first saw the illustrations for the book, did you like them or were you not sure about them?
Debbie Taylor:  I love the illustrations.  The illustrator is quite a young man.  Very, very young.  There is something special about the way he created the illustrations.  There is some movement in the illustrations.  I love the colors.  And see how he draws long, long arms and long heads?  Here's something wonderful -- he drew pictures of his children in the book, right here.  And I met his children.  And when I saw them, guess what!  His children had long, long arms and long heads just like-- No, not really.  Ha, ha.  I expected them to have long heads and arms.  But his children were just sort of normal.  Looking a lot like you guys.
Gracie:  Do you have any more books?  Or are you working on any books?
Debbie Taylor:  Well, I work for the college of engineering at U of M, and I wrote 2 engineering books.  And I'm working on more books like this one.  I wrote a basketball story.  And I'm working on one about urban gardening - about sunflowers.
Gracie:  I would read that.
Debbie Taylor:  Oh good!  Thank-you guys for your questions!  You are lovely children.

jazz, by Gracie

Uncle Click, by Isaac

Z-Kid jazz: Evie on maracas, Lily on recorder, Gracie on vocals, Isaac on harmonica, and Elijah on drums; by Lily

Author: Debbie Taylor
Illustrator: Frank Morrison
Published 2004, Lee & Low Books
Like it?  Here it is