Monday, November 17, 2014


Our second graders do a unit on advocacy each year. I'm always on the lookout, then, for books about people who are advocates, especially in a way that children will understand. ALICE WATERS AND THE TRIP TO DELICIOUS, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author of SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY and more recently FARMER WILL ALLEN AND THE GROWING TABLE, definitely fits into that category.

Alice Waters spent part of her young adulthood in Europe, tasting yummy foods, then opened a restaurant, Chez Panisse. At the time most chefs were men. And most restaurants worried about finding good recipes, not good ingredients. Alice Waters changed all of that. She cooked with only the freshest ingredients and her restaurant became hugely popular.   Alice was the first woman to win the James Beard Chef of the year. She cooked for presidents and for the Dalai Lama.

But that wasn't enough for Alice. Every day as she packed her daughter's lunch, and as she drove by schools, she wondered whether children were having opportunities to taste fresh and delicious food. When the principal of a middle school contacted her, she paired with that school and the The Edible Schoolyard Project was born. Now there are Edible Schoolyards across the United States, because

Alice Waters is sure:
Kids who know good food,
who grow, gather, and share good food,
will care about the soil, care about farmers,
care about everyone having enough to eat.

Kids who get to Delicious can change the world. 

This is illustrator Haelin Choi's first picture book, and her playful illustrations capture the essence of the book. Back matter includes an afterword by Alice Waters (advice for kids about growing and eating food), an author's note, a list of resources for further research, and a bibliography.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


 "Every September, the great white sharks return to San Francisco. Their hunting grounds, the Farallon Islands, are just thirty miles from the city. 

While their 800,000 human neighbors dine on steak, salad, and sandwiches, the white sharks hunt for their favorite meal."

So begins NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS, Katherine Roy's debut picture book, which is probably one of the most unique books I've read recently. The first few pages appear to be typical picture book format, with two or three lines of text on a page. About the fifth page, however, that format changes, to more an upper grade nonfiction type book. The first text-heavy spread describes the pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) that live on the Farfallon Islands, and the scientists that study them. The next five two-page spreads are devoted to five unique adaptations that enable sharks to effectively hunt seals. Did you know that sharks pectoral fins provide lift in the water, similar to the wings on a jet plane? Or that they have a complex web of arteries and veins that acts as a heat exchange system, which through swimming, increases their body temperature, and allows them to digest food and move more quickly? Or that their jaws aren't fused to their skulls, but instead can be projected forward, so that they have maximum bite force?

After describing these adaptations, Roy switches back to typical picture book format for a few more pages, before going back to a few more text-heavy spreads that describe the scientists' process for tracking sharks, the great whites' place in the food chain, and their migration process.

Katherine Roy studied under David Macauley at the Rhode Island School of Design, and the water color illustrations in this book are incredible- the way she captures the sharks' movement and attack feels as real as, well, as real as watching the shark attacks in JAWS. Kids are going to love the illustrations. The book also includes lots of beautiful labelled diagrams, which they are going to enjoy just as much.

A terrific book for classrooms and Christmas presents!

Katherine Roy wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club about a month ago.

And was interviewed by Mr. Schu here

And here's a really interesting blog post about the process Katherine Roy used to create SHARKS.

And another link to her sketchbooks.


Carl Sagan seems a pretty complex guy for a picture book, but Stephanie Roth Sisson manages to make his life accessible to kids in her biography, STAR STUFF: CARL SAGAN AND THE MYSTERIES OF THE COSMOS. Sisson traces Sagan's life from his boyhood, growing up in the Bronx and attending the 1939 World's Fair, (I especially loved a page where Sagan goes to the library to get a book about stars and is first given a book of Hollywood stars) to his adulthood fascination with planets and stars, including his work on the Voyager. Throughout the book, Sisson manages to convey Sagan's continual curiosity and wondering. Several vertical and foldout pages emphasize the immensity of the universe and add to the visual appeal. End pages include a note from the author, information on sources, and a bibliography.

Friday, November 14, 2014


All last week, weather forecasters predicted a cold front. Temperatures were going to be in the twenties, they said. The weather at that point, however, was glorious-- temperatures in the mid-sixties, red/yellow/orange remnants of fall coloring the landscape, and it was hard to believe that winter was coming.

On Monday, winter hit with a vengeance. It was almost sixty degrees when I took the dogs outside at 8 a.m., then at ten, a wind came up, and by six o'clock the temperature had plummeted into the twenties. Which was warm, compared to -11, which was what it was when I went to work yesterday morning. I'm having a hard time making the adjustment, but, well,  Amy Gerstler describes the advent of winter much better than I ever could …


I dread the white concussion
of winter. Each snowfall demands
panic, like a kidnapper's hand
clapped over my chapped mouth.
Ice forms everywhere, a plague of glass.
Christmas ornaments'
sickly tinkle makes my molars ache……

the mercury just plummets,
like a migrating duck blasted
out of the sky by some hunter
in a cap with fur earflaps. 

Amy Gerstler

Read the rest of the poem here.

Check out other Poetry Friday offerings at Keri Recommends.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


 In January, 2013, Katherine Applegate won the Newbery for THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Now Applegate's back with another Ivan story, only this one is a beautifully written, poetic, take your breath away, picture book. Listen…
In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began…
 Somehow, within the space confines of only a few pages, Applegate manages to capture the injustice of Ivan's life- how he was taken from his family in the jungle, confined in a dark crate, dumped off in Washington, confined at the shopping mall for years, and then finally, released to the Atlanta Zoo, where
In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began
G. Brian Karas illustrations are pretty close to perfect. He describes his illustration process here.

Back matter includes two pages, "About Ivan," as well as some words from Jodi Carriage, Ivan's main keeper at Zoo Atlanta, who says, "Ivan loved to paint, which was evident by how quickly he came right over and made delighted sounds when I got the painting supplies out. I would hold out the colors and he would paint to the one he wanted to use-- his favorite color was red."

I'm tucking this one into my bag to take to school today. I can't wait to share it with kids!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


A new Steve Jenkins' book?? Yes sirree, when my all-time favorite nonfiction picture book author releases a new book, I am on it! OK, actually this book was released in April, but who's counting? In EYE TO EYE, Steve Jenkins takes on the topic of animal eyesight. The book begins with several pages of narration about how animals use their eyes to find food, to protect themselves, to attract mates, etc. Jenkins then goes into an explanation of the four different types of eyes- eyespot, pinholes, compound, and camera eyes. From there, each page features information about  a different animal's eyesight, with an enlarged head shot, and then a thumbnail of the entire body. Lots of interesting and bizarre facts, sure to delight even the most reluctant reader:
  •  A young halibut has an eye on each side of its body. As it gets older, however, one eye migrates over the top of the fish's head. Eventually, both eyes end up on the same side. The halibut spends most of its adult life lying on its side on the bottom of the ocean, and the arrangement means that both eyes will be directed upward, away from the sea floor. 
  • The bullfrog doesn't appear to see things that aren't moving. It eats insects, but face-to face with a motionless fly, it will starve to death.
  • The Eurasian buzzard has the sharpest eyesight of any animal. Its vision is eight times more accurate than ours-- keen enough to home in on a rabbit two miles away.
End pages include the evolution of the eye, a page with a few more facts about each featured animal, a bibliography and a glossary.

Monday, November 10, 2014


I'm a huge Laurie Halse Anderson fan. When I saw the the impossible knife of memory in the audiobooks area at the library, I grabbed it right away and have been listening to it in the car for about two weeks.

Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have settled in her father's hometown, after five years of over-the-road truck driving. Andy is a decorated veteran struggling with horrible PTSD, which he tries to numb with alcohol and marijuana. Hayley must deal with her dad's serious mental health issues, and also adjust to high school, after five years on the road.  Her relationship with the quirky swimmer, Finn Ramos, helps a little. But there are all of those memories from childhood that she just wants to suppress…

I loved impossible knife and am thinking I'm going to have to buy the book to share with the eighth graders at my school.

THE STORY OF LAND AND SEA was my adult book club novel for this month. It's historical fiction, set in coastal North Carolina, during Revolutionary War times. I love historical fiction and expected to love this one, but quite honestly, despite the carefully crafted literary writing, I really didn't.

THE STORY OF LAND AND SEA is about a ten-year-old girl named Tabitha, her father John, and her grandfather Asa. Other major characters include Tabitha's slave, Moll, and her son, Davy. The book is divided into three parts- the first about Tabitha, the second mostly about John, and the third mostly about Asa and Moll. When the book opens, Tabitha, a lover of the sea, is about to turn ten. On her birthday, she contracts yellow fever and becomes very ill. Her father, hoping the salt air will cure her, decides to takes her on a ship, bound for Bermuda. The second part of the story is devoted mostly to John. He was a poor orphan, who eloped with his much more well-to-do wife, Helen, after her father refused to allow them to marry. The third part of the book is devoted to Asa, Helen's father, a "god-fearing" politician who keeps slaves, and worries about his granddaughter's salvation.

The book is beautifully written but very bleak. There's not one character whose life has a happy or even hopeful ending. At this point in my life, that was really hard for me. Maybe there are just some times in life when you need a little more hope…