>Library column printed in The Mercury, December 4, 2011
When kids start reading longer novels, many are captivated by the magical qualities they can experience through the pages of a book. This is not a new phenomenon, considering children’s classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), to name just a couple. Luckily for our kids, children’s book authors continue to combine magical adventures and imaginative plots with skillful writing, creating avid young readers who clamor for more. Here are few titles that might top the list this year:
In Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier, Peter is a blind orphan who works for a cruel master. He has enhanced senses to make up for his loss of sight, which have helped him become a stealthy, skilled thief. One day he steals a mysterious box from a charismatic haberdasher, but the contents of the box are puzzling – just six strange little eggs. When he cracks the eggs open, he finds the yolks are inedible, but they feel powerful to Peter. Finally, in a moment of realization, Peter recognizes the yolks as eyes! “Ever so gently, he slipped the two eyes into his sockets. He blinked. And just like that, Peter Nimble vanished into thin air.” Thus his great adventure begins.
Auxier’s debut novel reminds me a bit of Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Peter picks up some eclectic friends along the way (including a part-cat, part-horse knight, Sir Tode), and these characters help him as much as he helps them. Like Dorothy and her cohorts, they encounter a number of extreme environments, going from a vast ocean with giant fish to an endless desert run by ruthless ravens to the inner walls of a clockwork castle. References to age-old nursery rhymes are scattered throughout, as in the name “Nimble” and a rock shaped like a teapot, giving the book a fairytale quality. If originality is what you crave, you will not be disappointed. Watch the enticing book trailer or read the first chapter on Auxier’s website, thescop.com.
Another fantasy that spins off the fairytale world is Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. The title invites readers to conjure up images of Hansel and Gretel escaping the woods, but the plot is more centered on Hans Christian Andersen’s haunting tale, The Snow Queen. I haven’t finished this novel yet, but I am intrigued by the connections between the stories main character Hazel reads and tells, and the way pieces of these tales come alive in her world that is otherwise grounded in harsh reality. Will Hazel become the heroine needed in her story, like the ones she admires in Narnia and The Golden Compass? Kids who have read a lot will appreciate Hazel’s references throughout to many children’s books, from A Wrinkle in Time to Coraline.
No Passengers Beyond This Point by Gennifer Choldenko is told from alternating viewpoints of three siblings: India, the annoyed fashion-minded teenager; Finn, the responsible worrywart brother; and Mouse, the super intelligent youngest sister. Everything makes sense at the beginning. The children’s mother reveals that their house is going to be taken by the bank, and the children must go live with their uncle. After a bout of turbulence on the plane ride, the story takes a surreal turn. The children exit the aircraft to find they have mysteriously landed in “Falling Bird” instead of Denver. Their taxi is “shocking pink with silky white feathers,” the driver turns out to be a kid with a fake mustache, and it feels as though they are flying through clouds instead of traveling on roads. However strange this seems, the ride is warm and comfy, lulling the children to sleep.
When they wake up, they find that Falling Bird is rather well-prepared for their arrival, greeting them with signs of “We love you, India,” and “Mouse is our favorite.” In fact, everything in Falling Bird seems to be a dream come true for each child. But maybe it’s a little too good. Finn is the first to notice that something is off kilter, and staying in Falling Bird might be a detrimental decision. The question is, how do you leave a place if you don’t know how you go there? A surprising twist at the end kept me thinking about this story long after I finished.
Finally, an excellent new novel-picture book by the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (soon to be released as a movie) is Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. It is not a fantasy per se, but certain coincidences in the plot have a magical edge to them. Twelve-year-old Ben’s life has gone a little haywire since his mother was killed in a car accident and a freaky lightning storm causes him to go totally deaf. Meanwhile, Selznick weaves in a story that takes place 50 years earlier, involving another deaf child, Rose, and her desire to explore New York City. Like Hugo Cabret, this 637-page book is filled with more than 450 pages of black and white sketches that tell much of the story through pictures. Ben’s journey leads him to the American Museum of Natural History, where he stumbles upon a new friend and a place to hide out while he discovers the secrets of his past. Rose emerges, too, with her own masterpiece to share.
Enjoy settling in with a cup of hot cocoa and any of these marvelous adventures to add a little magic to your reading this winter.
Review by Jennifer Adams
Each year, the State Library of Kansas and the Kansas Center for the Book designate a week in November to focus on the benefits of reading aloud to young children. Kansas Reads to Preschoolers Week begins today, and it’s easy to participate. Grab a book and your favorite toddler or preschooler and have a rollicking good reading time.
The featured book for Kansas Reads to Preschoolers Week is a beloved alphabet book written in 1989 by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. The rhythm and rhyme of the story makes it a wonderful chant, and the little alphabet letters climbing up the coconut tree have personalities all their own with colorful illustrations by Lois Ehlert. The book was chosen to honor Bill Martin, Jr., a Kansan who grew up in Hiawatha and attended college in Emporia, which ties into the yearlong celebration of Kansas’s Sesquicentennial. Martin passed away in 2004, but he left behind a legacy of amazing children’s books, including Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Knots on a Counting Rope.
Manhattan Public Library is celebrating Kansas Reads to Preschoolers Week in several special ways. First, the Manhattan Library Association, our friends group, provided funds to purchase paperback copies of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom that were delivered to more than 100 local daycares, preschools and child care centers by Marsha Tannehill and staff at Child Care Aware and Smart Start. We will also give the book to children who attend our storytimes November 14-19. We will read Bill Martin, Jr. books at the November 18 ZOOfari Tails at 10:00, including Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Barn Dance and Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Claflin Books‘ staff will be on hand with Bill Martin books for sale, so you can start your holiday shopping at the program.
We have also created an “early literacy” station in the Children’s Room that will be set up when we are not using the storytime space for programs. The activities in this area feature Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and they encourage children to develop early literacy skills. Johnson County Library refers to these skills as “6 by 6” because “researchers have identified 6 important pre-reading skills that children need to know before they learn to read – around the age of 6.” The skills are not really anything new, and most parents and teachers will find they are already doing all of them with their toddlers and preschoolers:
- Print motivation, which simply means that children have fun with books. From bedtime stories to visits to the library, parents and other adults can make sure all children have positive experiences with books and reading.
- Print awareness, which occurs when children notice print all around them, from street signs to cereal boxes. Pointing out words and letters to children helps them understand that these lines and symbols create words and have meaning.
- Vocabulary, which increases greatly if parents talk to their children a lot, read books aloud, and explain what new words mean instead of choosing a more simple word.
- Narrative skills are a child’s ability to tell stories. This starts at a very young age when babies babble using the inflection of an adult’s storytelling voice and continues as preschoolers learn how to tell us what they did during the day, retell a story, or even make up a story from their imagination.
- Letter knowledge includes recognizing specific letters of the alphabet, but it also starts at a young age when toddlers learn to distinguish and name the different shapes. As they grow older, children can look for the letters in their name or play “Letter Day” games where they look for everything they can find that begins with a certain sound or letter.
- Phonological awareness, a fancy word for recognizing rhyming words and hearing the different sounds within words, is a fun skill to work on. Sing songs together, recite nursery rhymes, play word games, and try clapping or drumming the rhythm to songs and chants.
Celebrate reading to preschoolers with us this week. Have some fun at the library using our magnet board, homemade drums, and puzzle rhymes to practice 6 by 6 skills. Then share a great book like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom or one of your own favorites with a preschooler in your life, and know that you have played an important role in that child’s journey to success.
by Susan Withee, Adult Services Manager
Tessa Gray’s search for hermissing brother leads her into Victorian London’s supernatural underworld,where she must learn to trust the demon-killing Shadowhunters in order tocontrol her powers and find her brother. Prequel to the Mortal Instruments series.
After surviving her second time in the arena, Katniss has been propelled intoleading a revolution. Residents of District 13 have been preparing for war foryears, and are at the front of the fight. It seems the world is on Katniss’sshoulders as she struggles with being the face of the rebellion and target ofthe Capitol’s vengeance. Final book in the HungerGames trilogy.
Nora’s life has never been ordinary, but now that she has learnedabout her true Nephilim bloodline and her guardian angel, she wants to knowmore. What really happened to her father? Does Patch really love her? Is hehiding something? Sequel to the best-selling Hush, Hush.
Nineescaped from the planet Lorien just before it was destroyed by the Mogadorians.Hidden amongst the Earth-beings, the nine wait for the time they can regroup tofight their would-be destoyers. But Number One was caught in Malaysia, Number Two in England, and Number Three in Kenya. Theykilled them all. Number Four is next.
As Meghan approaches her 16th birthday she discovers she is thedaughter of a faery king, a princess. A changeling has taken the place of herkidnapped brother. Meghan will leave behind everything she knows and travel tothe fae world to find the truth, face unknown enemies, save those she caresabout, and maybe even fall in love.
Cassia is happily surprised when at the Matching Ceremony, her lifelong bestfriend Xander’s face appears on the screen. Then something startling happens –Ky’s face appears on the screen briefly before fading to black. Cassia beginsquestioning everything. What if all the choices that have been made her wholelife aren’t the only choice and she could make her own? Should she follow the lifeset forth for her by the Society, or travel down an unknown and defiant path.
Max is starting to believe the scientists saying she needs to save theworld. Fang has left, and the flock’s new member, Dylan, may be her perfectmate. Meanwhile, Max needs to help lead her flock to defeat a doomsday cult outto kill all the humans. Seventh book in the bestselling Maximum Ride series.
Employed by theInternational Paranormal Containment Agency, a fairy ex-boyfriend, a mermaidbest friend, and current boyfriend who is a shape-shifter. No, Evie’s lifeisn’t exactly as a “normal” teenager. Seeing paranormals for what they areisn’t exactly something all teenagers can do. Actually, pretty much no one elsecan.
Friday, February 12 started just like any other day for Sam Kingston –atleast the first time. The car crash that night should have taken her life.Somehow though, she is not dead, but reliving the day – seven times. With eachreincarnation, Sam learns more about how her actions effect others and the truevalue of the people, things, and events in her life.
When Calla saves a humanboy on her mountain from a bear attack, the consequences are farther reachingthan could be imagined, especially when that boy shows up at her school andappears to be a favored companion of her masters.
Another inky evening’s here—
The air is cool and calm and clear.
We’ve feasted, fluttered, swooped and soared,
And yet…we’re still a little bored…
Then word spreads quickly from afar;
A window has been left ajar.
Can it be true? Oh, can it be?
Yes! Bat Night at the library!
Brian Lies’s introduction to his beautifully illustrated picture book, Bats at the Library, is just the invitation kids need to see a library visit from a new perspective. Bats swoop through shelves, looking for books and playing wingtip tag. They hang upside down from lamps and read Goodnight Sun instead of Goodnight Moon. If you enjoy the fantastic night scenes and creative bat antics, you will also need to check out Lies’s Bats at the Beach (with wingboat races and roasted bug-mallows) and Bats at the Ballgame (“buy me some beenuts and Cricket Jack”). At our next ZOOfari Tails program, Sunset Zoo staff will be reading Bats at the Library, as well as Daft Bat by Jeanne Willis.
For longer novels that feature bats, I highly recommend Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel. Young silverwing Shade gets separated from his bat colony as the others are migrating and is left alone and afraid in a storm. Things turn around when Shade befriends Marina, a bat who has been banned from her colony because she is “banded” by humans, which her colony believes is evil. Together, Shade and Marina travel the perilous journey in search of Shade’s family, narrowly escaping many dangers. Kids who enjoy animal fantasies like Brain Jacques’s Redwall or Erin Hunter’s Warriors series may enjoy following Shade’s adventures, which continue in Sunwing and Firewing, or they may want to try the prehistoric prequel, Darkwing.
Bats also play a significant role in the popular fantasy series beginning with Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games). When 11-year-old Gregor goes after his baby sister down a tunnel from a vent in the laundry room, he lands in an underground world with amazing creatures, including giant cockroaches, rats and bats to name a few, as well as a whole race of violet-eyed people called The Underlanders. To them, Gregor’s fall from above was no coincidence – he may be the prophesied overlander come to save them. But first Gregor must learn to fly on a bat and earn the trust of his new comrades.
If you want to learn more about bats, The Bat Scientists by Mary Kay Carson was recently reviewed by children’s librarian Jessica Long on our blog. Jessica recalls bat-watching with her family when she was young, and she found Bat Scientists to be “absolutely full of interesting tidbits about bats. For instance, only one half of one percent of bats contract rabies, and they very rarely bite humans. But did you know that bats have bellybuttons?” You might not want to get close enough to check that out, but Manhattan does have bats, most commonly the little brown and big brown bat species. Charlie Lee, wildlife specialist at K-State Research and Extension, says that during the summer, you can often find bats at evening ballgames. Just look up at the ball field lights where bats fly around eating insects. Children will be fascinated to learn that bats catch the bugs using echolocation instead of sight.
Other books in the children’s room with facts and incredible photos that capture bats’ night-flying abilities include Amazing Bats by award-winning science author Seymour Simon, and Bats: Hunters of the Night by Elaine Landua. Hello, Bumblebee Bat by Darrin Lunde is an informational picture book that can be shared with preschoolers. Do you think you have bats living in your house? It’s possible. Go to K-State Extension’s bat info page at www.wildlife.ksu.edu to find out what to do.
Join us at the library for bat stories at ZOOfari Tails on October 28 at 10:00. Other fun events coming up include READ with Dogs today from 2-4 and Wii Play Day on October 27 from 2-3:30, featuring Mario Kart and Smarty Pants Trivia. Kids can come dressed in costume to Halloween storytimes on October 31 at 10:00, 11:00 or 4:00, and trick-or-treat throughout the library after storytime. As evenings get darker, remember the library is open so you can flit in like a bat to “flutter off and lose yourselves, among the books lined up on shelves…Every evening, one and all will listen for that late-night call: Can it be true? Oh, can it be? Yes! Bat Night at the library!”
Column by Jennifer Adams
If you’re looking for a book with lots of racy gossip about famous personalities, glimpses of trendy fashions, and risqué humor in large doses, Vicky Tiel’s new book is just for you. It’s all about the Dress: What I Learned in Forty Years about Men, Women, Sex and Fashion is escapist reading at its best. You won’t regret reading about this spunky designer’s very colorful past.