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A First Look at Nature’s Heroes

Life in the OceanRachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the WorldFor the BirdsThree of the most famous naturalists of the past one hundred years get their due in introductory, illustrated biographies for young readers. Each extraordinary life shares a common thread--following a strong interest in the natural world as a child and developing it into a career that changed the way Americans interact with their environment.

 

In Life in the Ocean: the Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, the sea and all of its hidden plants and animals are brilliantly portrayed by author and illustrator Claire Nivola. From the New Jersey farm she lived on until age twelve, to the seaside in Florida where she spent her adolescence, these surroundings shaped Sylvia Earle’s life and her curiosity about the natural world. Diving into the depths and encountering whales and amazing bioluminescent fishes, her ongoing exploration of the ocean and fight to keep it clean and preserve its treasures has made Earle a pioneer for female marine biologists.

 

Rachel Carson is well-known worldwide for her seminal critique of pesticides and the chemical industry, Silent Spring, as well as other important works. Rachel Carson and her Book that Changed the World is a good introduction to her life and accomplishments. Showing an early interest in nature throughout her childhood, she found her niche after taking a biology course in college.  Laurie Lawlor covers both Carson’s triumphs and difficulties in this tightly-written biography.

 

Though known in his neighborhood for his unusual habits as a child, Roger Tory Peterson is now noticed for what he noticed--the incredible world of birds. His curiosity and lifelong passion to educate the masses and conserve the habitats our feathered friends is the subject of For the Birds: the Life of Roger Tory Peterson. Peterson, best known for his many field guides to bird identification and behavior, is described vividly by Peggy Thomas, and the illustrations by Laura Jacques are striking. Of particular note is a double-page spread of a flicker just taking flight.

 

Budding environmentalists can learn about three of the most famous names in natural science with these timely picture book biographies.

Todd

 
 

The Pioneer Woman Does It All

Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My FrontierCharlie the Ranch DogBlack Heels to Tractor Wheels

Ree Drummond is a successful blogger, Food Network star, and author.  Her down-home comfort foods have really struck a chord with readers and cooks from all walks of life. Drummond’s success began with her blog The Pioneer Woman, which has a legion of followers, receiving 24 million hits monthly.  The blog covers her family life on an Oklahoma cattle ranch, her efforts to homeschool her children, and of course, cooking.  The recipes are delicious and easy to follow, and readers love that Drummond illustrates them with step-by-step photos.

 

It seemed like a natural transition for Drummond to publish cookbooks.  Her most recent, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from My Frontier, is filled with tasty recipes color photos, and Drummond’s anecdotes and comments.  You’ll want to try the recipes for yourself when you see her homemade glazed doughnuts, cowgirl quiche, and “Knock You Naked” brownies!  The book quickly became a bestseller, and there are now more than 480,000 copies in print.

Drummond recently started filming the second season of her Food Network show “The Pioneer Woman”.  Like her blog, the show features her life on the ranch, her family, and her favorite recipes.  Viewers will also be interested to know that she has published a picture book called Charlie the Ranch Dog that features her family’s beloved basset hound.

 

It’s not all about the recipes, though.  To learn more about Drummond’s life, try her memoir Black Heels to Tractor Wheels: A Love Story, which tells the story of how she met her husband Ladd Drummond who she affectionately calls Marlboro Man in the book and her blog.  Ree originally planned to go on to law school, but everything changed when she met Ladd.  She shocked her family by marrying him and moving to the ranch. The rest, as they say, is history.

Beth

 
 

Horten Finds a Clue

Horten Finds a Clue

posted by:
May 16, 2012 - 12:11am

Horten's Miraculous MechanismsSummer is off to a doleful start for 10-year old Stuart Horten. Stuart is the pint-sized son of exceptionally tall, exceptionally brilliant parents (his mother is a doctor and his father is a crossword puzzle constructionist). Clever as they may be, Stuart’s parents aren’t always the most sensible sort of people. This can surely be the only explanation for why they’ve chosen to uproot young Stuart just at the start of summer vacation, to move to nobody-knows-where Beeton. With the start of the school year and any reasonable opportunity of meeting kids his own age a far removed prospect, Stuart prepares to settle in for a very long, exceptionally dull summer.

 

Beeton does have one claim to familial fame and Stuart’s interest. It was here that his great-uncle Tony developed a dazzling career in magic, before mysteriously disappearing fifty years ago. However, those magical days are long gone; the mystery of Uncle Tony’s disappearance unsolved and mostly forgotten. Until this summer, that is.

 

Stuart resigns himself to exile in Beeton. However, he wasn't prepared for the meddling triplet girls next door, or the seriously spooky encounter with an out-of-order telephone booth. With one mystifying phone call, Stuart is set on a path of puzzles and clues, designed by his great-uncle Tony to lead the “right sort of boy” to an altogether splendid secret workshop filled with marvelous – perhaps even miraculous – mechanisms. With clues afoot, newfound friends at his back, and even a hint of danger in the air, Stuart’s summer is swiftly turning into the adventure of a lifetime.

 

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms is perfect for children ages 9-12 and in particular for children who enjoy elements of mystery and puzzles in stories. Parents will also appreciate the expansive introduction to vocabulary provided by the dialogue of Stuart’s crossword clue-dropping father. Additional recommendations for those who have enjoyed this story include The 39 Clues series (various authors) as well as the Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Meghan

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The Bee's Knees

UnBEElievablesThe Honeybee ManBackyard beekeeping continues to rise in popularity and two recent children’s titles spotlight these buzzy critters and their importance to our world.  In UnBEElievables by Douglas Florian, this award-winning poet of the natural world offers 14 lively poems.  The subjects of his verses range from bee anatomy, to the different types of bees, to the collapse of bee colonies in recent years.  He uses his trademark wordplay and puns, but also manages to sneak some information into the poems as well.  A paragraph offering further explanation follows each verse and the illustrations bring the words to life. Working in gouache, colored pencils, and collage on paper bags, Florian captures the essence of the world of bees. This is a fun and visually appealing book that comes complete with a BEEbliography.

     

In her children’s debut, Lela Nargi shares the story of Fred from Brooklyn in The Honeybee Man. Every morning, Fred climbs to his rooftop and greets his beloved bees, “Good morning, my bees, my darlings!" His honeybees travel across Brooklyn searching for flowers all day and return with nectar to store in their wax rooms.  At the right time, Fred makes honey which the entire neighborhood enjoys. This beautifully written story accompanied by Kyrsten Brooker's collage-style illustrations offers an inside look at the life of a sweet beekeeper and the honey-making process.  An afterword of "amazing facts" explains more about apiarists, bees' life cycles, and more.  Even the endpapers provide a learning opportunity with labeled diagrams of bees and beekeeping materials. This is an unusual glimpse of beekeeping in an urban setting inspired by two neighbors in Nargi’s New York community.  

Maureen

 
 

Jean Craighead George, 1919-2012

Julie of the WolvesMy Side of the MountainPopular children's book author Jean Craighead George has died at the age of 92. A long-time resident of the Washington DC area, she was best known for her naturalistic writing for children. George won the Newbery Medal in 1972 for the Julie of the Wolves, and was also well-known for My Side of the Mountain, among countless other works.

Todd

 
 

Hats off to Magritte

Hats off to Magritte

posted by:
May 9, 2012 - 12:11am

Magritte's Marvelous HatYou don’t have to be familiar with artist René Magritte’s work to appreciate Magritte’s Marvelous Hat by D.B. Johnson. His homage to Magritte is a wonderful introduction to surreal artwork for the preschool to elementary school set.  In this book, with all canine characters, Magritte is a painter who buys a magical hat that floats just above his head.  The hat stays with Magritte as he heads home and is inspired to paint his best work ever.  He has fun with his hat, playing hide and seek and walking through the park. When he starts painting day and night, the hat feels neglected and runs away. 

 

The story is charming, but it is the illustrations that will wow the reader.  Inspired by Magritte’s surreal paintings, the book is filled with references to his greatest works.  Readers will be tickled to look into the fish market and see an ocean with fish clouds above.  Did you notice that it is raining under the umbrella? Does the reflection in the mirror seem “off”?  Johnson includes four transparent overlay pages that further delight. With its bright, bold illustrations, Magritte’s Marvelous Hat is a visual treat for any age. Take your time, and let your young reader really absorb the artwork.  They’ll have fun picking out what’s wrong(?) and maybe they’ll ask for a book about Magritte's art!

Diane

 
 

Skullbania is Not a City in New Jersey

Fangbone! Third-grade BarbarianFangbone! Third-grade Barbarian: The Egg of MiseryEastwood Elementary has a new third grade student, a young warrior who hails from the faraway land of Skullbania. Clad in raggedy homemade boots, a cape, horned helmet and what the other students interpret as “fur underwear,” Fangbone tumbles though a portal into a garbage dump on the hillside overlooking the school. He’s been entrusted with protecting the big toe of Drool, which will keep evil from his land. But strange new challenges (like the concept of toilets) lie ahead for Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian, the engaging hero of Michael Rex’s silly new graphic novel series for elementary school readers.

 

The first book introduces Fangbone as he attempts to assimilate into class 3G. Soon he’s made a new best friend, Bill, while gathering the whole class as his army of minions. His clueless principal thinks it’s all an exercise in appreciating other cultures. Soon Fangbone leads the losing 3G Extreme Attack Unicorns through a victory in the beanball games, and his classmates come through for him when evil strikes from his homeland. Rendered in simple comic book style line drawings, Fangbone! holds special appeal for young boys who appreciate an abundance of goofy, mildly gross humor and plenty of battle action.  

 

The adventures continue in Fangbone! Third-Grade Barbarian: The Egg of Misery, as a strange oversized egg appears, sent from Skullbania by the warrior’s clan. The class works hard to hatch this bizarre, spotted egg, believing it contains a baby dragon. Meanwhile, they must all work together to present their assigned animal, the dodo, for the third grade’s Extinction Pageant. Craziness and danger ensue, as Fangbone wields his sword against Skullbanian evil and the trials of a group project.

 

Known for his popular parodies of classic children’s picture books such as Goodnight Goon and Furious George Goes Bananas, Michael Rex has found a new niche in graphic novels. Young fans of Dav Pilkey’s Ricky Ricotta and Captain Underpants series will quickly devour these adventures. Look for a third Fangbone! title, The Birthday Party of Dread, to debut in August.

Paula G.

 
 

The Pigeon is BACK!

The Pigeon is BACK!

posted by:
May 9, 2012 - 12:11am

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?Mo Willems delivers his first Pigeon book in four years with The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?, and it’s worth the wait.  When the Duckling asks politely for a cookie and gets one, the Pigeon is SHOCKED! True to form, Pigeon falls into a major tantrum and lists all of the things that have been unfairly denied him: driving the bus, hot-dog parties, a walrus, one more story, and even his own iceberg. The Pigeon's rant is quickly terminated when the Duckling generously offers him the treat.  (In a funny twist, by book’s end, the Duckling’s motives will be revealed to be less than pure.)  As Pigeon moves from apoplectic to apologetic, he is almost speechless.   

 

Simple text within balloons and animated illustrations highlight the story and mark Willems’ popular brand of storytelling. This is a fun read-aloud and an excellent way to introduce topics of manners and politeness. While the Pigeon may not get the point, young readers and listeners will. This is a fabulous and funny addition to the Pigeon stories. The legion of Pigeon fans will be delighted and new fans will be looking to catch up on all of the Pigeon’s previous antics. Be sure to have plenty of cookies on hand for this treat!

 

Willems maintains an active online presence, and www.pigeonpresents.com is a treasure trove for kids and grown-ups with games, teacher’s guides, and event planning ideas.  Also available for ipad and iphone is Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App. It allows children and adults to participate even more in the Pigeon’s stories, and includes an interactive Mad Lib and a Draw with Mo feature. And the Pigeon tweets!  Become a follower on Twitter @The_Pigeon.

Maureen

 
 

The Wild Rumpus Falls Silent

Where the Wild Things AreLittle Bear AudioBumble-ArdyMaurice Sendak, beloved children’s book author and illustrator, died Tuesday as the result of complications from a recent stroke. A prolific creator of picture books that have become part of the American psyche, Sendak is perhaps most widely remembered for his groundbreaking classic, Where the Wild Things Are, which delved into the imagination of young Max, escaping from punishment in his room to a land populated by monsters who welcome chaos. Sendak was awarded the Caldecott medal in 1964 for this groundbreaking book.

 

His career began as an illustrator of others' work, most notably the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik. Sendak’s carefully detailed, expressive animal characters are an integral part of the success of those titles, beginning with the original Little Bear in 1957. Still popular with children today, Sendak’s illustrations were brought to life as an animated series.

 

Sendak’s most recent picture book, Bumble-Ardy, was the first both written and illustrated by him since 1981. Bumble-Ardy began life as an original "Sesame Street" animated segment, also by Sendak, centering around a nine year-old pig who had never been given a birthday party. According to the storyteller of the book, “Bumble-Ardy had no party when he turned one (his immediate family frowned on fun).” He decides to make up for this grievous neglect by throwing his own raucous event (which quickly gets out of hand) at his aunt’s house while she’s away. Like most of Sendak’s work, this acknowledges a dark side to childhood.

 

Visit a Baltimore County Public Library branch to explore more of this beloved author’s body of work.

Paula G.

 
 

The Darkest Dark

A Black Hole is Not a HoleMost people consider the science of the sun, moon, planets, stars and the surrounding universe interesting, but often overwhelming. A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole, written especially for middle graders, turns out to be an excellent introduction to deep space concepts for people of all ages.

 

Big scientific concepts such as matter, mind-boggling distance (light-years!), and perhaps the biggest of them all, gravity, are given ample, clear explanations. The existence of black holes has been difficult to prove since their discovery, and what could become too much astrophysics is distilled as simply as possible. That Einstein never fully accepted the concept of black holes in his lifetime shows how far science has come in recent decades. Artist depictions and telescopic images fill the book with pictures that do their best to make the unimaginable come to life. Facts are engaging and well-explained. For example, the outer limit of a black hole is called the Event Horizon; from this point, no matter can escape the pull within. And our own galaxy has black holes, the largest of which makes up the center of the Milky Way, found in the constellation Sagittarius!

 

An extremely useful glossary and websites to further explore round out this brilliant informational book that will open the eyes of readers who will learn how a black hole is not quite a hole, or at least not a hole in the way that we on Earth know them. And as the author often states, science is a moving target, and each day researchers are learning more about the darkest dark of our universe.

Todd