I always head straight to the new books bin at one of our libraries–something about that little yellow “New Book” sticker by the spine label excites me. (Incidentally, the label isn’t on the spine anymore, since the library has abandoned traditional shelving in favor of browser bins, so what do we call those labels now?) Of course, now that the Cybils are underway, there’s the added excitement of maybe picking up a nominated title to read for my Armchair Cybils challenge! Today I’m highlighting three very different titles that we enjoyed.
How Do You Hug a Porcupine? by Laurie Isop is a book that I was surprised to like as much as I did. I was a little skeptical about the premise, thinking that it a.) has been done to death or b.) must surely devolve into some pop-psychology mumbo-jumbo about loving those who are hard to love. Well, I have to say that this is a fresh and fun take on that premise, and one that in my opinion doesn’t even have the faintest whiff of pop-psychology about it. It’s a pleasant combination of questions, rhyming answers, and fun. Here’s a sample from the opening pages of the book:
Can you hug a horse?
With arms around her neck,
Eventually the titular question is answered, but not until a whole host of other animals, from goats to dolphins, has been hugged. Gwen Millward‘s pencil, paint, and ink illustrations are expressive and finely-drawn. The pages are stark-white, and the illustrations have no extraneous marks about them whatsoever. Seeing her porcupine makes me remember the shock of seeing one up-close (well, sort of) at the Nashville Zoo a few weeks ago. Somehow in all of my zoo-going, I don’t remember seeing one before.
I think this picture book will be a hit, especially among animal loving kids. (Simon & Schuster, 2011)
Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud relates the true story of Belle, one of the mules to pull the wagon carrying the casket of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the book, Belle’s story is told as history by an elderly woman to a young boy sitting on the front porch of a general store in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. They are looking on as Belle, the honored mule, is placidly eating collards out in the woman’s garden. When the boy questions why the mule is allowed to do this, Miz Pettaway responds by telling him Belle’s history. It’s a touching story of the poverty of Gee’s Bend and the dedication and perseverance in the face of adversity of the Benders (as the inhabitants of Gee’s Bend are called). Dr. King visited Gee’s Bend several times, and an African American man from Gee’s Bend was apparently one of the first to vote after the passage of the National Voting Rights Act of 1965. Because he worked so hard for the poor, disenfranchised black person, Dr. King requested that his hearse be pulled by mules as a symbol of his mission. I found myself teary-eyed at the end of this story. John Holyfield‘s paintings are a beautiful addition to this story. My only complaint about it is that it feels a little too didactic at times. While I am certainly no writer, I wonder why the authors chose to have Miz Pettaway narrate this story instead of just having Belle tell her own story herself. This framework makes it come off more as a history lesson than a story, but it’s a good, worthwhile history lesson, so I still give it a Highly Recommended. (Candlewick, 2011)
- Reviews of a couple of picture books about the Civil Rights movement, including one by Calvin Alexander Ramsey
- Review of Leaving Gee’s Bend, middle grade fiction novel set in Gee’s Bend, Alabama
Well, I started this post with a zoo-ish sort of book, so I think I’ll end it with one. ZooZical by Judy Sierra also happens to be a Cybils nominated title, so I’m tagging this post for the Armchair Cybils challenge, too. It is the rollicking story-in-rhyme of what happened when “the midwinter doldrums arrived at the zoo”:
Owls did not give a hoot.
Pandas quit being cute.
Even penguins were surly.
The zoo gates closed early.
All would be lost except for a small hippo and her excited friend, the young kangaroo–
When they tapped, and they rapped, and they twirled on their feet
All the animals rocked to the hip-aroo beat
The zoo animals commence to putting together a ZooZical–a zoo musical. This, of course, is just what the zoo (and the town) needs to lift its spirits, and the animals pull together to put on a fabulous show. Interspersed throughout the rhyme and apart from the text are lyrics to kids’ songs, adapted for the zoo cast. For example, for their part in the show, the seals sing “The Seals on the Bus.” I think this is one thing that makes this story so much fun for kids. The inimitable Marc Brown is the illustrator who perfectly captures the energy and exuberance of the story. While my chapter book-devouring second grader was a little too sophisticated for ZooZical, it was just about perfect for my kindergartener. (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)
Our first Armchair Cybils link-up will go live next Tuesday, November 15, so you still have time to join in–the details are here.
Have you read any good books lately with your children? Please share!