Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Nature and animals are themes that run through the following three books. The latter two also contain a message about finding oneself in the world.

Sunny Day Point and Match by Rosie Wingert is a colorful and sturdy board book that gives parents a fun activity to do with their toddlers. Together families can talk about objects, sounds, seasons, and more. Items to find on the page are illustrated at the top. Inside the cover are a list of other ideas for how parents can use the book, including matching shapes, finding favorite colors, counting related objects, and making sounds from nature. One parent told me that Sunny Day helped their son learn memory and matching skills by age one!

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae is a fun story with an inspiring message. Gerald was a tall giraffe whose knees were crooked and whose legs were thin. Unfortunately, while he was good at standing tall and munching shoots off trees, he wasn’t so good at dancing. This was a big problem for the giraffe at the annual dance. The solution is contrived, but readers will find hope in Andreae’s message about self-esteem. In addition, the bold artwork exudes a party vibe and the rhyming text has a lively style that will young readers will enjoy.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate should be on every animal lover’s list of must-read books. The plot drew me into another world, that of a gorilla who lives in a glass-enclosed display in a mall. Ivan fills his days drawing bananas, watching television, and talking with friends. I loved how Applegate integrated the theme of friendship and of hope. Ivan seems content until a kidnapped baby elephant joins the mall menagerie and his friend Stella becomes sick. Slowly he’s forced to remember his past, and to fight for a better life for himself and his friends. Finally, the short paragraph’s written from Ivan’s perspective are mesmerizing. I quickly found myself loving this easygoing gorilla, who has unique ways of expressing himself.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

When looking for books to read, a perfect place to start is with the award-winners. They’re available for all ages and in all genres. Here are three recent ones.

We Are Growing by Laurie Keller bursts with the exuberance one would expect of a winner of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. Such exuberance is also perhaps the only way an author could comically write about such a mundane topic as grass. Each blade of grass is growing and proud of being the tallest, the curliest, or the silliest. But one long piece of grass doesn’t know what’s special about him until a lawn mower reduces them to the same size. Through googly-eyed grasses and slapstick moments, Keller gently teaches that we’re all the best at something.

Jean-Michel Basquiat grew up drawing with the support of his mom, who would lie with him to draw on old work papers. From her, Basquiat learned that art is found not just in museums and theaters but also in the games he played and the people he met. Basquiat overcame serious injuries suffered when he was struck by a car at age seven, and the institutionalization of his mom at age 13 to become a famous artist. Steptoe captures Basquiat’s life in his rich writing style and creative illustrations. To give meaning to the book’s artwork, Steptoe collected bits of scrap wood from around Basquiat’s home in New York City, and used them as canvases onto which he painted scenes from his book. He also adeptly integrates Basquiat’s favorite motifs into his illustrations. Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe is a brilliant Caldecott-winner biography!

Entrenched in fantasy, complex characters, and poignant themes, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is impossible to put down. Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch that lives in the forest. But nothing is at is seems in this Newbery-winning novel. For example, the witch is kind. She rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest. One year, the witch discovers one of the children possesses magic and decides to raise Luna as her own. But the baby’s mother is searching for her. And the mother meets a man who is determined to free his people from the witch. Eventually, all paths intersect with a message of love.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

Mariana Weber is so passionate about global warming that she used to regularly write letters to the president. Then she realized that his replies were all the same and that a co-worker had probably drafted a form letter for such requests as hers. Undeterred, Mariana decided to both form an organization for environmental protection and to write a book. For the latter, she enlisted her illustrator friend Joanna Whysner, whose colorful drawings add to the charm of The Global Warming Express.

Through an easy-to-read fantasy, Weber entertains while also making a plea for change. Earth is in peril. Several animals and two young people decide to join forces. They ride a magical train to the White House, where they hope their cry will be heard by the president.

The adventure begins in Antarctica, where an emperor penguin named The Fluff has just lost his mom, who died after swallowing a piece of plastic from the ocean. The girls also meet other animals whose stories engage while also drawing upon sympathies: a harp seal named Creamy who almost drowned when the ice she called home melted before she could learn to swim, a bear named Tomas and a salamander named Sally whose homes have been destroyed by fires caused by drought, a polar bear named Flora who found herself separated from her parents due to melting ice, a mountain goat named Edgar who has nowhere left to migrate, a caribou named Lauren who has no place to call home due to the destruction of muskeg, a duck named Zolo whose feathers have been permanently damaged by oil, a fish named Bobbi Sue whose aquatic home is toxic, and a rat named Zingo whose home is being destroyed by hurricanes that have become increasingly severe. One would be hard-pressed to read the tales of all these animals and not be stirred to action.

Weber has done her research. In her introduction, she explains why the Earth is heating up and why we need to slow down the effects. Through a parrot named Inoah, she teaches reading about multiple issues related to global warming such as the burning of fossil fuels, drilling of natural preserves, releasing of carbon monoxide into the air, and dumping of oils. And, on her resources page, Weber provides multiple links to articles and websites related to climate change. Anyone who is stirred to action by The Global Warming Express will have obvious reasons and solutions.

The Global Warming Express isn’t simply a cautionary tale. It’s also a fun story of a cross-country adventure where several animals and two young people visit unfamiliar places and face dangers such as fires and hurricanes. One minor complaint is I’m not sure why the train takes them into Canada, given that their mission is to plead with the United States president to pass environmental protection laws. While on this ride, the train becomes a character too. If the passengers are sad it slows down and even stops, but if the passengers are happy it speeds up.

In addition to writing a book, Weber started The Global Warming Express program. Its website explains global warming, tells how adults can help, and provides updates on small and big goals that young people in the group have made towards climate change.

This winter I asked parents to share the titles of their children’s favorite books. Below are three. To share your own recommendations, post in the comments of email me at: allisonsbookbag@outlook.com

Munch! by Matthew Van Fleet is a colorful board book with tabs and textures that animate a cast of frolicking critters who show your kids that mouths are for more than eating food. The animals use their mouths to laugh, hiccup, smile, pout, and so much more. My favorite interactive tab is the one that makes the busy beaver chew his tree branch! Said one mother, “The book is sturdy, the text is easy to add fun vocal inflections to, and the illustrations hold the interest of babies with short attention spans.”

We’re Going on A Book Hunt is a picture book about bears that teaches kids how to select just the right book. The way to start reading a book and raise a finger for each word you don’t know. If you get to all five fingers raised, it means the book is too hard. Author Pat Miller also teaches readers to be considerate library users. Her enthusiastic bears arrive quietly, use shelf markers, turn pages carefully, and remember to return their borrowed books. Young readers will be engaged by Miller’s catchy verse, which she modeled after the popular action rhyme “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”. About this writing, one mom wrote: “The rhythm is the best and you can change your voice to reflect the moods!

The Kingdom of Wrenly is a fantasy chapter book series by Jordan Quinn with easy-to-read text and with illustrations on almost every page. In the first book, The Lost Stone, Prince Lucas is lonely and wishes for a friend, but his parents forbid him to play with other children in the kingdom. When Lucas returns home after running away and hiding out in a village school, his parents relent and allow him to play with Clara Gills, the daughter of a seamstress for the royal family. Lucas and Clara get the chance to explore other lands when they team up to find his mother’s missing emerald pendant. Said one mother, “This is a good beginning chapter book series that my girls love to read on their own.”

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2018.

Horse lovers will appreciate, as will history buffs and fantasy fans. The first title in a trilogy, Eclipsed by Shadow, tells the story of Meagan and her horse Promise, who just might be the “Great Horse” spoken of in legends. When Meagan attempts to rescue Promise from persistent thieves, the two of them end up taking an unexpected ride back through time in this well-written novel aimed at young people.

In many ways, Royce gets everything right. The ever so-critical first chapter is a gut-wrenching one. In it, Meagan and her parents face the choice of whether to save a pregnant mare or her foal. The mare had been raised by the family and had been their constant companion. But the foal would represent her only legacy, as the mare’s health wouldn’t allow her to have a second foal. The third-person omniscient characterization is meticulous. I knew not only how Meagan and her parents felt, but also how the veterinarian, potential buyer, and crafty thieves felt. This deepened my understanding of everyone involved, as well as heightened the suspense. When the thieves revealed that someone was attempting to collect seven interconnected horses, this made me suspicious until the potential buyer confessed her reason for wanting to own all seven horses. Then I instead felt concern for what might happen should she not succeed with her mission. The multiple settings are described in detail. Primitive North America, ancient Rome, nomadic Asia, and finally medieval Europe all come alive. My favorite periods were Rome and Europe. In the former Meagan encounters a suitor and in Europe she finds kindness from monks. In every situation, she also faces danger, which creates many instances of cliff hangers.

What about the novel doesn’t work? Between the first chapter and the time travel, the narrative drags. The three years between when Promise is sent away to pasture with other horses and is brought back to stay with Meagan are condensed into the about seventy pages, leaving me disconnected to the characters. True, it’s in these pages that I learn about that Promise should never be rode, and so my curiosity is piqued. Unfortunately, it’s also in these pages that Meagan turns rebellious, goes on dates, and turns into a typical teen. This plot line lacks spark. The good news is that once Meagan starts to time travel, John shows his talent as a storyteller. My one overriding concern at this point is not enough is revealed of the reasons why Promise could be a dark horse, and so I’m confused about why Meagan continues to time travel. The novel more closely resembles the episodic nature of a television series where each section contains a new story rather than the unified quality of a movie or full-length book. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’ve faithfully followed many television series over the years.

Eclipsed by Shadow has won awards for both gifted and reluctant readers. It’s also praised as a novel for readers of all ages. Despite some minor roughness, it’s a diamond in the world of horse books. There are two sequels, and I look forward to finding out what lies in store for Meagan and Promise.


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2018

I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.

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