Friday, April 11, 2014

PPBF: Moonshot

TitleMoonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11
Author/Illustrator: Brian Floca
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers/2009
Genre/Audience: nonfiction/Ages 4-10
Themes: space exploration, moon, Apollo 11

Opening: "High above there is the Moon, cold and quiet, no air, no life, but glowing in the sky."

Synopsis: (from School Library Journal)

"Large in trim size as well as topic, this stirring account retraces Apollo 11's historic mission in brief but precise detail, and also brilliantly captures the mighty scope and drama of the achievement. Rendered in delicate lines and subtly modulated watercolors, the eye-filling illustrations allow viewers to follow the three astronauts as they lumber aboard their spacecraft for the blastoff and ensuing weeklong journey ("…there's no fresh air outside the window;/after a week this small home will not smell so good./This is not why anyone/wants to be an astronaut"). They split up so that two can make their famous sortie, and then reunite for the return to "the good and lonely Earth,/glowing in the sky." Floca enhances his brief, poetic main text with an opening spread that illustrates each component of Apollo 11, and a lucid closing summary of the entire Apollo program that, among other enlightening facts, includes a comment from Neil Armstrong about what he said versus what he meant to say when he stepped onto the lunar surface."

Why I Love This Book
After reading the Caldecott winning Locomotive, I had to get some of Floca's other books. Moonshot is enthralling. Floca combines lyrical storytelling with gorgeous illustrations. This book has a wide audience, appealing to those with an interest in space, astronomy, and U.S. history, but most importantly, to those who are not yet interested in those topics. I challenge you not be drawn in by this book.


Field Trip: If you are local and looking for exhibits of spacecraft, the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles International Airport, houses many models, prototypes, and gear, including the Space Shuttle Discovery.

NASA Missions Page on Apollo 11

"Field Trip to the Moon" Educators Guide - Grades 5-8

Virtual Field Trip to the Moon

Craving more Perfect Picture Books? Author Susanna Leonard Hill compiles weekly book reviews from bloggers at Visit Fridays or click the Perfect Picture Books tab at her website for a subject listing.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Contest Entry: Wolfgang and the Three Little Pigs

The Contest on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog: Write a children's story, in poetry or prosemaximum 400 words, that is a fractured fairy tale. 

Wolfgang and the Three Little Pigs
by Laura Renauld
389 words

Wolfgang peeked in the window of a straw house. He couldn’t believe his luck. A pig sat at the table. Wolfgang would finally get a chance to meet a storybook celebrity!

He reached up and excitedly rapped on the door. “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in!”

“Who is it?” called the pig.


“A wolf GANG? Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!”

The wind began to howl. Wolfgang called, “The wind will huff and puff and blow your house in.” But his warning was too late. The cottage was flattened.

“SQUEAL!” Without looking back, the pig raced down the road to his brother’s stick house. Wolfgang ran after him.

“Wait!” But before he could introduce himself, Brother Pig slammed the door. Two celebrities! he thought. Wolfgang knocked. “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in!”

“Don’t do it!” whispered the first pig to his brother. “He’s got a gang of wolves and they just blew my house down!”

“Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!”

The wind strengthened and Wolfgang called, “The wind will huff and puff and blow your house in.” But once again, his warning was too late. The stick house collapsed. Two pigs emerged from the rubble and ran squealing down the road to their sister’s brick house.

Wolfgang ran, too. They bolted the door. Rap, rap, rap! “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in!”

“Wolf GANG” was all Sister Pig needed to hear. “Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin. Your gang will never flatten my house, you despicable WOLF!”

 “The wind can’t blow your house down,” Wolfgang yelled.

His words got jumbled in the howling gale. “I’d like to see you try!” cried Sister. The wind was too strong. Falling sideways, Wolfgang grabbed hold of the window frame.

Tap, tap, tap. Wolfgang pressed his face against the windowpane. “Let me in!” he shouted.

Sister Pig gasped. “That’s not a wolf!” She quickly opened the window and grabbed Wolfgang’s arm. Heaving him inside, they both collapsed in a heap.

“Thank you,” Wolfgang said, catching his breath. “It is such an honor to meet the famous Three Little Pigs! You are my storybook heroes. And now you are my real-life heroes!”

“The pleasure is ours,” said Sister Pig.

“Sorry for the misunderstanding,” mumbled Brother Pig.

“Wolfgang …,” mused the first pig. “What an odd name….”

Friday, March 14, 2014

PPBF: Zephyr Takes Flight

TitleZephyr Takes Flight
Author/Illustrator: Steve Light
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/2012
Genre/Audience: fiction/Ages 4-8
Themes: airplanes, imagination

Opening: "Zephyr loved airplanes. She drew pictures of them, made them out of paper, and built them out of junk. Mostly, she played with them. One day, she hoped to fly one of her own."

Synopsis: (from Booklist)

Zephyr is well named: the little wisp of a girl is crazy about airplanes and flying. One day, after being sent to her room for a “triple loop-de-loop” crash-landing off the couch, she discovers a secret door behind her dresser that leads to “the most wondrous place Zephyr has ever seen.” It looks like an airplane hanger, filled with vintage flying machines and maps. What’s an adventure seeker to do? Zephyr climbs aboard the FS Bessie, flips a switch, and is off. After a malfunction and a bumpy landing, our ponytailed, bubble gum–chewing gal ends up in a strange land where pigs actually do fly. Zephyr helps Rumbus, the only pig without wings, before returning to her family—just in time for pancakes. Light’s (The Christmas Giant, 2010) fountain pen, pastel, and colored pencil sepia-toned illustrations exude old-fashioned charm, and swirling lines in the air emphasize Zephyr’s joy. Panels throughout nicely propel the action, while full-page spreads offer a wider view of Zephyr’s landscapes. A flight of fancy sure to appeal to the imagination. Preschool-Grade 2. --Ann Kelley

Why I Love This Book

Zephyr is spunky and imaginative, challenging the assumption that only boys are interested in airplanes. The story arc closely follows Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak): child pushes the limits and is sent to his/her room; child journeys to an unusual world; child decides to return to his/her family. The illustrations are gorgeous, full of whimsy and energy. And what's not to like in a book that "logically" plays on the expression "when pigs fly"?


Field Trip: If you are local, or are an avid airplane fan looking for a vacation idea, head to the Udvar-Hazy Center. Located adjacent to Dulles International Airport, this Smithsonian facility sports two giant hangers with planes and space vehicles galore, including an Air France Concorde and the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Free paper airplane designs

Leonardo da Vinci's Flying Machines

The Flying Pig Bookstore: a shout-out to my favorite indie children's bookshop! (Well worth another field trip… to Vermont!)

Craving more Perfect Picture Books? Author Susanna Leonard Hill compiles weekly book reviews from bloggers at Visit Fridays or click the Perfect Picture Books tab at her website for a subject listing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Author/Illustrator Study: David Lucas

"My drawing is picture-writing – I never draw from life – I make patterns, 
as if I was knitting with ink." - David Lucas

I became enthralled with the work of David Lucas when his book The Robot and the Bluebird (2007) made its way into the pile of books my boys and I were checking out of the library.

This contemporary folktale juxtaposes the linear lifetime of a machine with the cyclical nature of migration and seasons. It plays on the meaning of "broken heart" and "live in his heart." It offers a second chance and the bond of friendship where there had only been dejection and hopelessness.

I had to read more.

Peanut (2008) is the story of a tiny monkey who is frightened by the great, big world he has just been born into.

From his perspective, insects are monsters, rain is "the sky … falling down," and sunset is the end of the world. With the help of a friend, the forest changes from frightening to magical overnight and Peanut is eager to be a part of it.

David Lucas' debut picture book as author/illustrator was in 2003 with the book Halibut Jackson.

A painfully shy boy named Halibut Jackson goes to great lengths to blend in and not be noticed. Until, one day, he miscalculates and stands out. Sometimes the most amazing things occur when you are forced out of your comfort-zone.

Here is the opening line in Cake Girl (2009) that immediately had me hooked: "The Witch was alone on her birthday… again!"

Combining celebration, magic, and menace, Lucas' story is truly a testament to the power of empathy and friendship.

From the looks of things, Nutmeg lives with her cousin and uncle in a junkyard. Everything is always the same, but when Nutmeg dreams of something different, she is rewarded in the most unusual way.

Nutmeg (2005), is one of the most quirky, off-beat, and dream-like stories I have ever read. The opening illustrations of clutter, dirt, and rust make a spectacular contrast to the pages at the end where pastels, clean lines, and new horizons prevail. All because of the power to dream.

Friday, February 21, 2014

PPBF: When Lions Roar

Title: When Lions Roar
Author/Illustrator: Robie H. Harris/ Chris Raschka
Publisher/Date: Orchard Books/2013
Genre/Audience: fiction/Ages 3-5
Themes: noise, fear, coping strategies

Opening: "When lions roar! When monkeys screech!"

Synopsis: (from School Library Journal)
Loud, unexpected and upsetting noises can send a child into a tailspin. Shrill sirens, earsplitting animal sounds at the zoo, a rumbling thunderstorm, and angry parents are a few of the sounds that distress this small boy as he goes through his day. When he's fearful, he takes control of his emotions, turns off “the scary,” and creates a haven for himself. He simply sits down, shuts his eyes, gathers his courage, and confronts his fear: “‘Go away,' I say. ‘Scary! Go away.'”  Brightly colored, deceptively simple crayon and watercolor illustrations in red, orange, green, blue, and brown showcase the character and the main noisemakers on a crisp white background. Use this title along with Florence Parry Heide's Some Things Are Scary (Candlewick, 2000) to discuss fear and methods to challenge it. Scary happens, you deal with it, and then you move on: a good lesson.–Maryann H. Owen, Children's Literature Specialist, Mt. Pleasant, WI

Why I Love This Book
Simple text, colorful and emotive illustrations, and a straightforward approach to handling fear make this a winner.

A Parent Resource for Understanding Children's Fears

15 Books to Help Kids Overcome Their Fears

Chris Raschka bio

Craving more Perfect Picture Books? Author Susanna Leonard Hill compiles weekly book reviews from bloggers at Visit Fridays or click the Perfect Picture Books tab at her website for a subject listing.

Friday, February 7, 2014

PPBF: A Sweet Smell of Roses

TitleA Sweet Smell of Roses
Author/Illustrator: Angela Johnson/ Eric Valasquez
Publisher/Date: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/2005
Genre/Audience: historical fiction/Ages 5-8
Themes: American History, Civil Rights Movement, March on Washington

Opening: "After a night of soft rain there is a sweet smell of roses as my sister, Minnie, and I slip past Mama's door and out of the house down Charlotte Street."

Synopsis: (from Booklist)

K-Gr. 2. History and politics get personal for young readers in this dramatic, large-size picture book about an African American child and her younger sister who steal out of the house to join the Civil Rights marchers and listen to Dr. King speak. The child's clear, first-person narrative draws on the language of the struggle ("we look farther down the road"), and Velasquez' realistic charcoal pictures, in black and white with an occasional touch of red, evoke the news footage of the time. The protestors confront the glowering police, and there are children among the racists who yell, "You are not right. Equality can't be yours." But this book is not only about segregation; it's also about the crowds of people "walking our way toward freedom," the thrilling portrait of Dr. King, and the two brave kids who cross the line. Hazel Rochman

Why I Love This Book
While African-American History is American History, setting aside the month of February to honor African-American leaders, writers, scientists, etc. is an important way to highlight achievements that have traditionally been marginalized. A Sweet Smell of Roses reaches into that space where young children are learning about the history of our country's inequality for the first time. It places them into the shoes of children who feel hope and pride and a powerful sense of positive change coming from the peaceful protests of the Civil Rights Movement. Children of all races and backgrounds need books like this to empower them and remind them of the important role they have to play. As Angela Johnson says in her Author's Note, this book is "a tribute to the … brave boys and girls who - like their adult counterparts - could not resist the scent of freedom carried aloft by the winds of change."

The 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington was in 2013. Here is a list of resources, including a Civil Rights Interactive Timeline

Documentary Film (2005) - Mighty Times: The Children's March information

Nonfiction book (2012 - for middle and high school students) that delves into the role of young people in the Civil Rights Movement - We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March

Website telling the stories of those who were Kids in Birmingham 1963

Craving more Perfect Picture Books? Author Susanna Leonard Hill compiles weekly book reviews from bloggers at Visit Fridays or click the Perfect Picture Books tab at her website for a subject listing.