Harlem in the early 20th century was home to some of the most successful African-Americans in the country. In Sugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood, Carole Boston Weatherford (born and raised in Baltimore!) takes readers inside a remarkable part of Harlem and introduces its famous residents. Weatherford’s energetic rhymes are perfect for reading aloud and R. Gregory Christie’s bold illustrations capture the excitement of this dynamic community. Single lines of text encapsulate the contributions of the men and women who contributed so much in such an array of fields. Artists, musicians, entertainers, civil rights leaders and lawyers are all represented, including Faith Ringgold, Miles Davis, W.E.B. DuBois and Thurgood Marshall. Biographical blurbs offer further information, but this is really a tribute to an influential community that cherished its artists, dreamers and leaders.
Kristy Dempsey imagines the life of one young Harlem resident in A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream. This lyrical tale told in powerful free verse is narrated by a young girl growing up in 1950s Harlem. Her mother works tirelessly as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House, and while waiting for her to finish up, the narrator dances in the wings. She attracts the attention of the Ballet Master, who invites her to join his class. But this lively little girl still wonders, “Could a colored girl like me / ever become / a prima ballerina?" When she attends the debut performance of Janet Collins, the first African-American prima ballerina, at the Met on November 13, 1951 the young girl realizes her dream can come true. Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator Floyd Cooper sumptuously illustrates this story of hope and inspiration and vividly brings to life one young Harlem girl.
Billy Miller is about to start second grade and is very worried. He hit his head in a fall over the summer and is worried he won't be smart enough for school. Reassuring him, his father tells him this will be The Year of Billy Miller. Follow Billy through his second grade year in this charming novel by Kevin Henkes. Broken into four parts, Billy’s school year is told through his relationships with his teacher, sister, father and mother. Realistically portraying the worries of a 7-year-old, The Year of Billy Miller touches on a little bit of everything.
Does his teacher like him? When Billy thinks he has offended his new teacher he worries and wonders how to fix it. Can his little sister fill in for his best friend when a planned sleepover is cancelled? He really wants to stay up all night. Is he really too old to call his father “Papa?" That’s what the know-it-all Emma says. Will he be able to recite the poem for his mother in front of everybody? Will his mother like it?
Henkes delivers a poignant, realistic portrayal of Billy that is relatable to any elementary school student. Fans of realistic fiction such as the Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary will enjoy this novel. Kevin Henkes is an award-winning author of over 50 picture books as well as numerous novels for children. The Year of Billy Miller is a worthy continuation of his great body of work.
Ava loves words and wordplay, especially palindromes, due in part to her name being a palindrome: A-V-A. So are her sister’s, mother’s and father’s: Pip, Anna and Bob. It’s no wonder that palindromes are an important part of her life, along with writing in her diary and trying to decide what she wants to be when she grows up. In Ava and Pip by Carol Weston, fifth grader Ava uses her diary to share her feelings and thoughts about such critical issues as her sister’s shyness, her parents’ tendency to ignore her and her hope of becoming a writer.
Although Pip is 2 years older, Ava feels responsible for her sister and wants to help her overcome her shyness and be more outgoing. In an odd turn of events, she finds help from a new seventh grader named Bea, who seems to be everything that Pip is not: bold, confident and mature. However, Ava and Bea’s plan to turn Pip from a wallflower to a social butterfly may not be as easy as they believe.
Weston’s book is reminiscent of the Ramona and Beatrice stories by Beverly Cleary, particularly the relationships between the sisters and their parents. The character of Ava is well-drawn even if she does seem unusually precocious at times for a fifth grader. This book would especially appeal to children who are going through the trials and tribulations of middle school, and also those who love playing with words.
Valentine’s Day will be here soon. However, you don’t need the calendar to read February 14 in order to share some heartwarming picture books about love with your little ones. In The Runaway Hug, written by Nick Bland and illustrated by Freya Blackwood, a little girl named Lucy asks her mommy for a hug before bedtime. This hug is special because it’s the very last one that her mommy has and because of that, Lucy promises that she will return the hug back to her. Lucy decides that she must share this very special last hug with everyone else in her family. She shares this last hug with her daddy, the twins and the baby before sharing it with the family dog, Annie. But when Lucy tries to get the hug back from Annie, the dog runs away playfully and takes Mommy’s very last hug with her. Will Lucy be able to keep her promise to return the last hug to her mommy? Bland’s text meshes well with Blackwood’s illustrations, depicting a loving and somewhat chaotic home to which parents will easily relate.
Even though love is not something that you can see or touch, love can be found all around us in Love Is Real, written by Janet Lawler and illustrated by Anna Brown. Using rhyme, Lawler tells a story about how love can be found in simple acts of kindness. Adorable families of forest creatures show how everything they do throughout the day, from helping you get dressed in the morning to putting a bandage on a skinned knee, are examples that love is real.
Another book about love featuring forest animals is Love You More Than Anything by Anna Harber Freeman. Children will love the simple rhyming text and bright, playful illustrations by Jed Henry. Whether it’s ladybugs, playing on the playground or a bubble bath, there is nothing that the chipmunk parents love more than their little kids.
It’s hard work for picture book protagonists to get a decent meal these days. In Buddy and the Bunnies in: Don’t Play with Your Food, our hero is a monster to be reckoned with. All frantic mouth and teeth, wide eyes and pointy claws, Buddy announces his intention to eat a trio of peaceful, checkers-playing white rabbits. But these clever lagomorphs have other ideas for keeping Buddy busy, beginning with playing hide and seek and baking a dozen delicious cupcakes. Each day the horned, orange-striped monster returns for a rabbit repast, and each day there are more bunnies who are too much fun to eat. Children are guaranteed to laugh out loud at Buddy’s wild mood swings, from frightening and frantic to endearing and delighted, broadly depicted by author-illustrator Bob Shea. His bold, bright pastel palette adds to the story’s upbeat, energetic tone. Buddy and the Bunnies demands repeat read-alouds.
The trench-coated fox of Mike Twohy’s Outfoxed makes a midnight run to the chicken coop, mistakenly grabbing a duck in his haste. The two return to his den, where the exhausted predator is all set to cook his prey. But this is no ordinary duck! Thinking on her feet, the fowl proclaims that she is actually a dog. Duck jumps and slobbers and barks, working hard to convince Fox of her worthiness as a canine companion. Twohy, a longtime cartoonist for The New Yorker, uses a brightly inked comic book style to tell this comedy of mistaken identity. Young readers are sure to delight at Duck’s misbehaving dog act, while the book invites a debate of the merits of the old saying “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” Outfoxed is sure to be a story time favorite.
On Jan. 31, many will celebrate the first day of the Chinese New Year and welcome in the Year of the Horse. It is a time to let go of the troubles of the past year, to clear one’s debts and to start anew. These tenets are found in Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim, a delightful picture book illustrated by Grace Zong.
A retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Yim’s tale is set in a Chinese town, the bears are pandas and the porridge is congee. Despite her name, Goldy Luck does not feel all that lucky. While on her errand to wish her neighbors a happy new year, Goldy spills the plate of turnip cakes she had been carrying. Her neighbors, the Chens, are not home, and when Goldy tries to clean up the mess she discovers bowls of congee – a porridge made of rice. Following the traditional story, she ends up eating the porridge, breaking a chair and sleeping in a bed that is just right. When discovered by the neighbors, she runs away. Will the tenets of the new year bring Goldy back to the Chens’ to set things right? And can she reconcile her differences with Little Chen? Children will love the familiarity of the story and the colorful illustrations. A recipe for turnip cakes can be found in the back to add to your own celebration of the new year.
If you would like to celebrate Chinese New Year at the library, please visit our Owings Mills Branch at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1. Children ages 5 to 12 will enjoy stories and a craft. For more information on this and other programs, please refer to our dateLines page.
Inviting the reader to imagine a time traveler going back to early America, Ick! Yuck! Eew!: Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey makes history come alive. Describing American history in all its gross, minute detail, Huey focuses mainly on the odors and insects. She describes the inevitable aroma of the streets of New York City in the 1700s as pigs and cows roam the street freely. Did you know in South Carolina it was once illegal to kill a buzzard because they served to clean up the rotten meat from the marketplaces? The smells weren’t limited to the outdoors either. The smell of rotting food, forgotten chamber pots and the people themselves added to the overwhelming stench of the day. If the description of odors doesn’t fully engage the reader, the author moves on to describe the numerous flies, bedbugs, lice and parasites that Americans lived with in the 1700s. Describing the tremendous number of dead flies, Huey quotes the fictional time traveler as saying “they are gathered by the bushels” four times a day. Designed to pique the interest of children who may be bored to tears of traditional history lessons, Ick! Yuck! Eew! takes learning history to a whole new level.
For students of world history, try Oh, Yikes!: History’s Grossest, Wackiest Moments by Joy Masoff. Spanning the course of human history the book includes fascinating trivia from all elements of world including the history of clowns, diapers, plagues and underwear. Masoff includes wacky history like “idiotic inventions” (chicken eye glasses!), “humongous hoaxes” and “heinous hair,” as well as some informative timelines of history.
Fans of the You Wouldn’t Want to Be… series will love Ick! Yuck! Eew! and Oh, Yikes!
The most prestigious annual awards for teen and children's literature were announced by the American Library Association in Philadelphia today. Awards were given in a wide range of categories that covered all formats and age levels. A complete list of awards, winners and honorees can be found here.
The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. This year’s winner is Locomotive by Brian Floca, an exploration of America’s early railroads. Stunning, detailed illustrations and vibrant text bring the sounds, smells and strength of these mighty vehicles alive on the page.
The oldest of the medals awarded, the John Newbery Medal, is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. This year’s medal recipient is Kate DiCamillo for Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, the story of a cynical girl and an ordinary squirrel. DiCamillo, a previous Newbery Medal winner, was recently inaugurated to serve a two year term as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
The Michael L. Printz Award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit. This year’s winner is Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick. Readers will be hooked by the masterful storytelling that links seven stories of passion and love separated by centuries but mysteriously intertwined.
The Coretta Scott King Awards are given to outstanding African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African-American culture and universal human values. Bryan Collier received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for his magnificent watercolor and collage art in Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, written by Daniel Beaty. Rita Williams-Garcia was awarded the Coretta Scott King Author Award for P.S. Be Eleven, the continuing coming-of-age stories of the Gaither sisters, first introduced in One Crazy Summer.
It all began with a vacuum cleaner. Popular children’s author Kate DiCamillo returns with a tale of a cynical young girl and an ordinary backyard squirrel turned superhero in Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. The inciting incident occurs in the first few pages (presented in a comic book style by illustrator K.G. Campbell) when Donald Tickman presents his wife with the ultimate birthday present – a Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X. Neighbor Flora happens to be peering out the window just as the out-of-control vacuum propels into the Tickmans’ yard, sucking up a hapless squirrel. A fan of comics and survival literature (but not the sappy novels penned by her romance-writer mother), Flora turns out to be the perfect person to revive the fur-stripped mammal.
Well aware that “impossible things happened all the time,” she soon recognizes that the squirrel’s run in with the vacuum has granted him amazing powers (among them, flying and typing poetry). Upon witnessing his super strength, Flora dubs him Ulysses and becomes his de facto sidekick. Of course, every superhero has an arch nemesis, and in this case it’s Flora’s own mother who has it in for the rodent.
Campbell’s appealing pencil illustrations are essential to the enjoyment of this engaging and exciting novel. DiCamillo is a master at creating the quirky characters that are the hallmark of her work, appealing to both young and older readers. The winner of the 2004 Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux (and a Newbery Honor in 2001 for Because of Winn-Dixie), DiCamillo was inaugurated as The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature on Jan. 10. According to the Library of Congress, the National Ambassador “raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” DiCamillo's platform is "Stories Connect Us” and she will be serving in the position during 2014 and 2015.
It can be difficult raising a head-strong, impatient, stubborn and impulsive little girl. But what happens when that little girl is also a witch? That’s the challenge Salem’s parents face in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso.
When Salem’s spelling skills are questioned by a fellow student studying for the school’s spelling bee, she sets off to prove that she is a great speller. However, instead of spelling the word “dinosaur,” Salem turns Mrs. Fossil into a dinosaur. No one is supposed to know that Salem is a witch, and this mistake almost causes her to be expelled from school. What Salem needs is an animal companion, and Aunt Martha knows just the right one for the job: Lord Percival J. Whamsford, also known as Whammy, an 800-year-old talking cat who still has five of his nine lives left.
Will Whammy be able to instruct Salem in the fundamentals of being a witch? Can she really fly using a vacuum cleaner instead of the traditional witch’s broom? What will happen when Salem’s spell goes completely awry as she tries to ensure that she is crowned the new Miss Spelling Queen? And will all this be too much for Whammy to handle? Find out in the first installment of a delightful new graphic novel series. This fast-paced, humorous book is excellent for mid- to upper-elementary readers who will surely enjoy the simple green, black and white drawings reminiscent of Sunday morning comics.