Friday, June 29, 2012

Chuck Close: Face Book

Chuck Close: Face Book 
by Chuck Close
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN: 9781419701634
Grades 4-8

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her local library.

When I first heard about Chuck Close: Face Book I was a bit skeptical. I really liked Jan Greenberg's biography of the artist from 1998, Chuck Close, Up Close. Do we need another children's biography of Chuck Close? Once I opened Chuck Close: Face Book, my doubts immediately went away. This book is amazing! One major difference is that Chuck Close: Face Book is an autobiography;  readers will learn about Close's experiences, obstacles and successes directly from the artist.

The format of the book is unique. It's structured in a question and answer format, and each question comes directly from 5th grade students from PS 8 in Brooklyn. Twelve students from PS 8 had the opportunity to spend the day with Close in his art studio. The pages use grids and rectangles much like Close's art. A question is placed in one rectangle, a portrait is placed in another rectangle, and text is in a separate box.

While answering the students' questions, Close reveals that he has dyslexia and prosopagnosia or "face blindness." He has trouble remembering facial details, so he doesn't usually recall people he has already met. Close made it through school because of his artistic talents and his parents who encouraged him to create art. He even went on to earn a graduate degree from Yale's School of Fine Arts.

Much of the book explains why Close paints faces, and he describes the techniques he uses to create his art. Close's portraits are shown throughout book including a photo of Close standing beside a nine-foot high self portrait. The art is placed perfectly throughout the book so that readers gain a sense of the artist's work as he answers questions about his life. One question asks, "Why doesn't anyone in your art smile?"

"...if you present someone in a very neutral, straightforward way, then there is no simple reading of who this person is. You have to look at other clues." (p. 34)

A black and white portrait of an older woman is placed on the page next to Close's answer; she isn't smiling. The portrait is made from oil fingerpainting, and the subject is a Holocaust survivor.

The most appealing part of this book is in the middle. Fourteen self-portraits are grouped together. The self-portraits use a variety of media such as marker, ink, woodcut, pastel, oil and pulp paper. Each page is cut into thirds so that readers may flip through mixing and matching pieces from the different portraits to "make new combinations." I envision kids spending a great deal of time interacting with these pages. 

In 1988, Close suffered from a collapsed blood vessel in his spine which paralyzed him. He refers to this as "the event." Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Close continues to create art including over-sized portraits. A visual timeline of events from Close's life is located in the back of the book along with a glossary and list of art resources. Chuck Close's life story will inspire children and serve as a model those who have difficulty learning in traditional ways. This perfectly designed book will engage readers, and it's sure to win some awards along the way.  I can't wait to put this book in the hands of the children in my library.

Betsy Bird also reviewed Chuck Close: Face Book on A Fuse #8  Production blog:

Chuck Close on CBS Sunday Morning

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Creep and Flutter

Creep and Flutter: The Secret World of Insects and Spiders
by Jim Arnosky
Sterling Children's Books, 2012
ISBN: 9781402777660
Grades 2-5 

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.

I'm a fan of Jim Arnosky's science and nature picture books, which you may have guessed from my review of Thunder Birds last summer.  What attracts me to Arnosky's books is his passion and sincere admiration for nature. He writes about what he notices in the world around him because he wants to share his love of nature with young readers. I didn't even have to "booktalk" Thunder Birds to my students last year. All I did was put the book on display and its magnificent illustrations and interesting facts sold itself to flocks of children.

You can imagine my excitement when Arnosky's latest nonfiction picture book, Creep and Flutter, was released this year. This time Arnosky turns his attention to some of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated creatures on earth: insects and spiders. The author explains in the Introduction that he was inspired to write this book after observing and sketching a caterpillar on his farm.

The book is divided into sections by insect families: beetles, caterpillars, butterflies & moths, etc... Arnosky writes about each group of insects or spiders by sharing anecdotes written in first person narrative while pencil sketches of the insects in the right margin provide readers with a closer look. He tell readers about a time when he was reading near the wood stove in his home when a beetle came crashing into a lampshade. Arnosky picked up the beetle and placed it under the microscope to get a better look.

"Seeing the beetle up close and supersized under the microscope lens was like seeing a beetle for the very first time. It excited me and made me want to supersize some beetles in this book so you might also see beetles anew." (p. 15)

On the left side of the page are acrylic illustrations of super-sized beetles. Captions tell readers how much larger the beetles are compared with real life (ex: 5x actual size). The over-sized book has many fold-out pages that will fascinate readers. The beetle page opens to reveal colorful illustrations of over a dozen species of beetle. Silhouettes of insects are drawn to actual size. The writing on the color, fold-out pages shifts to a 3rd person expository style providing readers with facts about insects and spiders.

"Beetles are found around the world in every kind of habitat, from deserts to wetlands, in deep sunless caves, and even underwater. Tough and durable, beetles can adapt to change." (p. 13)

There is so much about this book that will attract children: the book design with the fold-out pages, the color and texture of the acrylic illustrations, and the engaging manner in which Arnosky writes about insects and spiders. The book will strike a chord with young nature enthusiasts and could be used by classroom teachers as a model for observing, writing and drawing about nature. In the back of the book is an extensive list of related books, such as The Hive Detectives by Loree Griffin Burns and Spiders by Nic Bishop, perfect for readers who want to learn more.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Queen of the Track

Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman: Olympic High-Jump Champion
by Heather Lang
illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Boyds Mill Press, 2012
ISBN: 9781590788509
Grades 2-5

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

The London 2012 Summer Olympics are set to begin in just over a month. Boyds Mill Press has published a biography of high-jump champion, Alice Coachman, just in time for the young readers who are looking for books about the Olympics.

Many children have heard about Wilma Rudolph and Jesse Owens, but Alice Coachman is an athlete whose name may not be familiar to readers. Coachman loved to run and jump as a child growing up in rural Georgia despite her father's objections. It was not "ladylike" to run around barefoot playing sports with boys in the 1930s. After a high school track coach discovered her talents as a runner, Coachman earned a scholarship to attend the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Alice became an accomplished track and field athlete while at Tuskegee, and the Olympics were within her reach. Unfortunately, the 1944 games were canceled due to WWII. Coachman didn't give up. She continued to train and qualified to compete in the high jump in the 1948 Olympics in London where she became the first African American woman to earn a gold medal.

Lang writes the narrative in a chronological order that will appeal to young readers. The author explains segregation and the racism in a clear manner that children will understand.

"Traveling to meets and games wasn't easy. Most restaurants and gas stations wouldn't serve black people. Once when Alice won a  race against a top-ranked white sprinter, someone in the stands threw ice at her. But Alice didn't let anything slow her down."

Cooper's grainy, pastel illustrations use sepia tones to bring a feeling of history to the story. My only issue with the book design is that the black font can be challenging to see on the muted brown backgrounds. This could be problematic for adults trying to read aloud the story to groups of children.

Lang has done her homework on Coachman; a bibliography and list of additional resources are located in the back of the book. An author's note about Coachman and the Olympics are included along with photographs of the track star. Children interested in sports and history will enjoy reading about Coachman's inspirational story and how she "paved the way for future Olympic track stars such as Wilma Rudolph, Evelyn Ashford, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee."

Queen of the Track is one of the books the ALSC Notable Children's Book Selection Committee will discuss this weekend at ALA's Annual Conference in Anaheim. 

Book Trailer for Queen of the Track

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas

Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas
by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm
Blue Sky Press (an imprint of Scholastic), 2012
ISBN: 97805452732220
Grades 2-5

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her local library.

The adoption of the Common Core State Standards has teachers and librarians on the lookout for quality nonfiction titles for students. Ocean Sunlight is one example of a narrative nonfiction title that is both engaging and informative.

Author and illustrator, Molly Bangs, has partnered with MIT professor and scientist, Penny Chisholm, to create a nonfiction picture book about the importance of sunlight to plants and animals. Bangs and Chisholm worked together a few years ago on the nonfiction picture book, Living Sunlight.

Chisolm is an expert on phytoplankton, and Ocean Light sheds light (excuse the pun) on how one-celled plants take in the sun's energy and pass it on to animals in the food chain. The book begins with an overview of photosynthesis before examining the ocean food chain. The authors point out to readers that unlike seaweed found near the shore, plants in the deepest parts of the ocean are not visible to the naked eye.

"They're right before your eyes!
They're everywhere-
in countless shapes and sizes.
But they're so small you need 
a microscope to see them...

They are called phytoplankton.
Phytoplankton form the great 
invisible pasture of the sea."

The rich illustrations of ocean life complement the text nicely. On one page, penguins, sharks and a school of fish swim in the brilliant blue water while the bright sun shines down onto the water's surface. Illustrations of microscopic phytoplankton cover another page. The various geometric shapes and sizes will mesmerize young readers. When the focus turns to the very deepest parts of the ocean, the pages become black with the only light coming from phosphorescent creatures. Four pages of authors' notes in the back of the book provide readers with more information about ocean food chains, photosynthesis, marine snow, and a variety of related topics.

Ocean Sunlight would serve as an excellent resource for science units on photosynthesis, food chains, or ocean life. It may be most effective as a read aloud so that teachers and librarians may discuss new concepts with students.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Barnum's Bones

Barnum's Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World
by Tracey Fern
illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012
ISBN: 9780374305161
Grades 2-5

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her local library.

When you think of dinosaurs, the T. rex skeleton on display at the American Museum of Natural History may come to mind. It's become the poster child for prehistoric life. Remember the film scene of the dino playing fetch in Night at the Museum? Thanks to Barnum Brown, museum patrons and scientists can view complete T. rex skeleton and hundreds of other fossils.

Barnum Brown (named after P.T. Barnum) grew up in Kansas in the late 1800s. He loved to dig for fossils of plants and shells on his parents' farm. Brown studied paleontology at the University of Kansas and found that he had a knack for locating fossils while dressed in his signature suit, tie, and bowler hat. When Professor Osborn from the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan got word of Brown's success, he hired Brown to be the museum's first fossil hunter. The museum didn't have any dinosaur fossils, and the Professor was eager to start a collection.

Brown was in his element traveling around the globe, reading about geology, and digging for fossils while looking dapper. While on a dig in the Badlands in 1902, Brown made his famous discovery. He unearthed a new species of dinosaur, which Professor Osborn named Tyrannosaurus rex. It took years, but Brown eventually located all of the bones to assemble a complete skeleton. He went on to uncover many fossils for the museum, making the American Museum of Natural History's dinosaur exhibit the largest in the world in 1963.

In addition to a nonfiction texts, Tracy Fern used letters and journal entries from the American Museum of Natural History to piece together Brown's life.  Readers will find the narrative style engaging, and the whimsical illustrations bring a light-hearted feeling to the story. Barnum's Bones is sure to inspire young dino enthusiasts, and it would make an exciting read aloud in an elementary classroom. Be sure to read the author's note. There's some interesting information about Brown's work as a spy for the U.S. government. Pair this book with How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum? 

       YouTube video of the T. rex exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician by Gail Jarrow

The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician

by Gail Jarrow

Calkins Creek. 2012

ISBN: 9781590788653

(Grades 3 and up)

This reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Children are fascinated by magic. Years ago, a young boy named Jake was one of those children who was always telling me he wanted to be a magician. Every week he would come in to show me a new trick he was working on. He also read through the magic books in my library over and over again. Each time he read the same book, he told me, a particular trick made more sense. Jake not only loved books on how to perform tricks, but he loved reading biographies of famous illusionists. I know that Jake, now all grown up and in college, would have loved poring over the biography of long forgotten magician, one of our country’s greatest, Harry Kellar (1849-1922). Written by Gail Jarrow, The Amazing Harry Kellar: Great American Magician is first rate.

Foremost, what pulled me in was the book’s design. The size, 9”x11.5” is perfect for displaying the stunning Stone Lithography posters, obtained from the Library of Congress, that Kellar used throughout his career to advertise his magic show. Most of them are in full color and highlight some of his more famous tricks and illusions. The author also included black & white photos of other magicians performing at that time, including Harry Houdini.

Born Henry Kellar in Erie, PA, 1849, he ran away from home by age 11! While selling newspapers in New York City, Kellar was “offered a home and a tutor who would educate him for the ministry.” It was at this time Henry saw his first magic show. “The magician called himself the Fakir of Ava. Henry was mesmerized as the Fakir turned pieces of paper into coffee, sugar, and milk. At that moment, Kellar “got the urge to go onstage.” Soon after, he decided he wasn’t cut out to be a preacher and took off again. Fortunately, Kellar “spotted a want ad in a newspaper from Buffalo, New York.” The Fakir of Ava was looking for an assistant! After apprenticing with the Fakir for several year, at age eighteen Kellar changed his name to Harry and hit the road with his own show.

Jarrow does an excellent job of offering just the best bits of Kellar’s life to draw in readers. We learn of Kellar’s drive to work hard, and his determination to be the best magician American’s had ever seen. Reading about his amazing tricks made me wish I had seen him, especially Kellar’s illusion, Blue Room where his wife Eva would slowly melt away and turn into the magician himself. I know my young friend Jake would have loved to see that trick.

The book is well-documented with source notes, a bibliography, a listing of books, websites, and DVD’s for more information, an index, and...a timeline.

This book should be on the shelves in every library’s collection.

To see an inside glimpse of this book go here. Visit the author’s web page.

There are a lot of books about magic or magicians. Here are just a few:

The Houdini & Nate Mysteries by Tom Lalicki, Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans, The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick, and Milo’s Hat Trick by Jon Agee.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Choosing News: What gets reported and why by Barb Palser

Choosing News: What Gets Reported and Why

(part of the Exploring Media Literacy series)

by Barb Palser

Capstone. 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7565-4517-8

(Grades 7-12)

The reviewer received a copy of this book from the publisher.

As states move to adopt the Common Core Standards, Choosing News: What gets reported and why by Barb Palser is a good addition to public or middle and high school libraries because it reinforces the need to be mindful of where we get our news. The author poses questions to encourage readers to think about influences that could affect what news gets reported and why. “Many media companies are owned by large corporations. These corporations also own other types of businesses. For example, did you know that The Walt Disney Company owns the ABC television network, including ABC News?” If someone was hurt at a Disney theme park, would ABC be expected to report the story?

Choosing News is divided into six chapters. It covers all the basics: what is news, accuracy and credibility, fairness and bias, other types of news media, citizen journalism, and how to be a smart news consumer. Chapters are short with a readable text. Interspersed throughout each chapter are side bars that explain in more detail what is being discussed along with pictures that are well-captioned. Included is a glossary, additional resources (books and web sites) source notes, bibliography, and index. A series of exercises expand the book and offer ways students can become more media literate.

Is the author qualified to write a book on this topic? Yes! Palser is an experienced journalist. She is a feature writer for American Journalist Review and is director of digital media at McGraw-Hill Broadcasting Company.

Choosing News would fit in a display that includes novels about school newspapers: Peeled by Joan Bauer, Adam Canfield of the Slash by Michael Winerip, Girl Reporter Blows Lid Off Town by Linda Ellerbee, A Matter of Principle by Susan Beth Pfeffer, The Truth About Truman School by Doris H. Butler, and Andrew Clements, The Landry News.