Allison's Book Bag

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Freddy the Frogcaster is back, this time to tell readers about flash floods. In Janice Dean’s newest title, Freddy makes a mistake in his forecast but then later makes up for it by warning residents of an impending flash flood. Freddy the Frogcaster and the Flash Flood is another informative and entertaining picture book in Dean’s weather series.

Freddy has finally officially become a weekend weather reporter. This pleases him to no end, because he loves thinking, talking, and learning about all kinds of weather. He takes great pride in knowing that the town of Lilypad listens to and trusts his broadcast. Imagine then his dismay when Freddy realizes that the rain had moved north of his town, making his forecast incorrect. Even worse, the townspeople are upset, because they canceled evening events in lieu of the storm. Some of them go so far as to nickname Freddy “False Alarm Freddy”. Readers will relate to how terrible Freddy feels, while also learning through him that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that one should still pursue their dreams.

Despite being upset, Freddy returns to his job where he sees that another storm is on the horizon. Freddy once again issues flood watch warnings, and this time his prediction comes to pass. Floodwaters gush over streams and river banks, causing trees to fall and cars to be swept away. Some families have to be rescued.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to word constraints, Dean rushes through this part of the story. Readers will learn little else about flash floods in the main narrative, but instead will need to turn to the back pages for this information. While I found this section fascinating, especially the trivia about flash floods being the number one weather-related killer in the United States and the summaries of noteworthy historical floods, I would have preferred more of this data to be integrated into Freddy’s story.

Nonetheless, Dean has written yet another engaging story, one that makes weather attractive. The illustrations by Russ Cox remain colorful and reflective of the events in the narrative. Freddy the Frogcaster and the Flash Flood is a good first introduction to the series or a welcome addition for avid fans.

Talon Come Fly With Me by Gigi Sedlmayer is a quiet adventure about a young girl with special needs who befriends two mated condors. While the story suffers from a weak plot and simple writing, it’s also a heartwarming and informative one.

Nine-year-old Matica has a growth handicap that traps her inside a body the size of a two-year-old. It also causes her to be rejected by the residents in the remote village of Peru where she lives with her brother and Australian missionaries. Size however does not impact how she’s viewed by a local mating pair of condors. After a year of her watching them, Matica attempts to meet them face to face. She does this by visiting them in the same place day after day, until one of them becomes curious and flies near her. After this, she brings them dead lizards to eat. As a way of the male bird saying thank you, he flies up to her and allows himself to be touched.

Seldmayer could have easily filled a book with just the above drama, but instead strips her narrative to a few bare-boned chapters. She does the same disservice to Matica’s encounters with poachers, largely because Sedlmayer fails to integrate any tension, conflict, or surprise twists. Instead she relies heavily on a passive narrative laden with dialog. While this simplistic style might make the story more palpable for reluctant readers, it unfortunately left me at times bored.

After Matica has the opportunity to touch a male condor, her relationship expands to include his mate. When poachers attempt to steal a condor egg, the condor couple turn to Matica for help. She carries the egg home with her, where she keeps it warm. Every day the condors check with her to see if their baby has hatched. When the baby is finally born, Matica feeds it, cleans it, and even helps it to learn to fly. The second half of Talon Come Fly With Me is dedicated to Matica’s relationship with the baby condor, and here’s where Seldmayer’s admiration for these unique birds shines through.

Although Matica is a sympathetic character, a story from the viewpoint of the condors alone may have resulted in a stronger emotional connection for me. The condor family are the stars, and through Seldmayer’s detailed portrayal of them, I learned about their idiosyncrasies and their diminishing numbers. Talon Come Fly With Me is a pleasant way to launch one’s reading of nature books, after which one should turn to literary giants of the genre such as Jean Craighead George.

Happiness is the theme of Isoscles’ Day by Kevin Meehan and The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened by Darryl Diptee. In the first, a dog named Isoscles finds happiness when rescued from neglect and abuse. In the second, a caterpillar named Sumi finds happiness not in the world around her but within herself.

My favorite part of Isoscles’ Day is the inspiration behind the picture book. Isoscles and his sister lived the first few years of their life not being allowed inside and being isolated from people. When his owners abandoned the dogs, Isoscles was separated from his sister but adopted by the author. For the first time in his life, Isoscles was introduced to a warm house and loving people. My second favorite part are the illustrations. Many are so realistic that they look photographs, while others are so whimsical that they made me laugh. I enjoyed seeing Isoscles happy. My final favorite part is the theme. Isoscles’ Day is about one special day in his new life. We see the food, toys, and friends that Isoscles likes. Adults could easily use this picture book as a model to show young readers how to create a book about a day in the life of their pet.

Unfortunately, Isoscles’ Day disappointed me in a couple of significant ways. The first way is that the plot tells me nothing about the background of Isoscles except in the end pages. Rip out those end pages and all that’s left is a somewhat bizarre story of a dog told by a random parade of animals. Did the author think that the real story was too serious for children to understand? The other way Isoscles’ Day frustrated me is that the author tries so hard to be funny that at times the story is cartoonish. For example, at one point a frog says, “You are too big to walk on this thread. Would you like to wear my thimble instead?” Again, I have to wonder why the author chose to tell a sweet story in such a fantastical way.

There is much I appreciated about The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened. For starters, there is a traditional plot with problems and solutions. Sumi starts out her life by eating leaves like all the other baby caterpillars, but soon finds herself wondering if there’s more to life than just food. She finds a tree and decides to explore it, despite her peers who warn her that the last caterpillar to climb the tree was never seen again. Another aspect of The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened that impressed is how the author simplifies a complex idea and simplifies it for younger readers. Most everyone has at some point in their life found themself dissatisfied with life, despite how rich their life might be with people and possessions. In this picture book, Sumi climbs to the top of the tree and for a while is happy, but then once again finds herself dissatisfied because she’s looking for externals to make her happy.

The Caterpillar That Became Enlightened is about the deeper forms of happiness. For Sumi, peace is found by taking deep breaths and clearing her mind, which allows her to feel interconnected to everyone and everything in the world. I’m also not sure what the point of having Sumi turn into a butterfly is, unless to show that people who are content are transformed. Even if I don’t completely agree with the way Sumi found happiness, the author does share an important message in an entertaining format.

The Ginger Kid by Steve Hofstetter is the inspiring memoir of a misfit who became a popular comedian. I related to Hofstetter’s awkward adolescence and applaud his message to aim high. The Ginger Kid is a notable addition to the young adult nonfiction.

Steve grew up an unhappy teen. He was a shy poor redhead who spent most of school years being bullied. He had very few friends and his first date was with a girl who simply wanted the prestige of having a boyfriend. In addition to being a nerd, Steve didn’t excel at sports or academics. He also spent many years being the brunt of jokes instead of making others laugh. His family often wasn’t helpful either. His parents never got anything done on time and they often fought. Steve could have easily ended up a nobody.

The teen years weren’t kind to me either. I was shy and introverted. Although somehow I mostly escaped being bullied, I had a highly sensitive personality and so the smallest criticisms wounded me. My friends and I were on the fringe of our peers, perhaps because we were average in sports, academics, looks, and everything. Like Steve, one of my passions was writing, which didn’t win me any favor among my peers either. Being the only child of a single father made me different, which also negatively impacted my social acceptance. Unlike Steve, by the end of high school, I still didn’t know who I wanted to be.

In his high school graduation speech, Steve credited a positive mindset, hard work, and the right people for preparing him to face the world. One of those right people was a high school teacher. Mr. Mikkelson gave automatic points to those students who showed that they had read and understood the assigned material. In addition, he allowed Steve to choose baseball as the focus of his main economics paper, because he knew Steve would take the work seriously. Thanks to Mr. Mikkelson, Steve started to succeed in school as a student. Another one of those right people was his brother. David gave him this sage advice: “Most people live their life in the middle. They don’t go far down, but they don’t go far up either. The further you go toward this top line, the further you will also go towards the bottom line. You decide if it’s worth.” Steve kept this advice in his mind when he applied for improv, which taught him many life lessons, and ultimately helped him find his place in life.

Even as an adult, I still at times wonder if aiming high is worth it, and it helps to know that others have faced this quandary. One Sunday earlier this fall, my husband and I took our therapy cat to Home Depot on a shopping trip. As I walked into the store wearing a “proud pet mom” shirt and pushing a cat stroller, I experienced strong misgivings. I wondered whether everyone who saw me would dub me a “crazy cat lady”. Then I thought about Steve’s decision to always aim high. Sure, there were peers who ridiculed him and disliked him, but there were also peers who enjoyed his presence and who had his back. The reality is that no matter what path Steve choose, there would always be places where he didn’t fit but also places where he would. Similarly, when I take my therapy cat in public, there will be people who roll their eyes but there will also be those who will stop to say hello and even feel better because they got to pet Rainy.

Everyone gets scared and everyone experiences rejected. How one handles these feelings can make a huge difference in who one will become in life. Most of the readers of The Ginger Kid won’t end up becoming famous like Steve, but they might find themselves inspired to do improv or to follow some other dream that will positively change their life. Such is the power of a good book!

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.


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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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