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Casa Azul: An Encounter with Frida Kahlo - Pandora of athens: 399 B. C

Casa Azul: An Encounter with Frida Kahlo

. Watson-Guptill, New York, 2005. No price given, uncorrected proof copy ISBN: 0-8230-0411-2 148 p. Gr. 9-12. This book is another in the publisher's "Art Encounters" series, which seek to educate young readers about the lives of famous artists "through evocative and thrilling stories that reflect the individual paintings featured." In this book, Kahlo's painting "Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird" is the centerpiece. There's a lot of great things about this work: it is enthralling, manages to give a lot of accurate biographical data, and, perhaps most importantly, it draws even reluctant students into art history and leaves the reader wanting to know more. What's not so great: the fantasy distracts and misinforms, but, as the author points out in the preface, "the problem with real life is that it does not always add up." Truly, this story is tidy and optimistic, where Kahlo's life was often a mass of 'thorn necklaces' and angst. Two children - a 14 year old girl and her 8 year old brother - serve to personalize the book for young readers through their own dark adventure that becomes intertwined with Kahlo's life immediately after her divorce from Diego Rivera. The author shows some brilliance by choosing to have the animal characters in Kahlo's paintings (and even the inanimate articles in Casa Azul) come alive, talk, and help Kahlo rescue the two young protagonists. The reading level on this could easily be middle school, except for the adult language Kahlo uses. As a work of fiction, it's an engaging read; as a biography, we can only hope that readers will want to seek the truth on their own. P7 Q8


Moss, Marissa.

Amelia's 6


Grade Notebook

. Simon & Schuster, New York, 2005. $9.95 ISBN: 0-689-87040-x 80 p. Gr. 4-7. The ever-insightful, precocious Amelia is promoted to middle school and faces a whole set of new challenges. Through her first-person narrative, written in a chipboard school journal, readers will walk the halls of preteen trauma and share her angst and victories. As the parent of 2 children who recently navigated the 6th grade minefield, I can attest to her portrayal being fairly accurate. The Amelia books are wonderful for so many reasons: they give a voice to preteen feelings, which can be hard for them to sort out; they show journaling at its finest; most importantly, they are entertaining. Unlike so many of the popular preteen books, Amelia books can be read in any order or by themselves without frustrating the reader. My only wish: that Moss would write a series from the boy's perspective. My son loves Amelia books, but wouldn't be caught dead checking one out in middle school! P9 Q8


Moss, Marissa.

Amelia's Most Unforgettable Embarrassing Moments

. Simon & Schuster, New York, 2005. $13.95 ISBN: 0-689-87041-8 80 p. Gr. 5-8. Continuing on her middle school dialogue, Amelia writes a compendium of embarrassing moments, or at least that's how it begins. Right after she pens "kids to avoid working on science projects with" she lets the reader know that her science class is going on a long field trip. This might be not so embarrassing, except that her klutzy, gross, and carsick older sister Cleo has been asked to go along as an aide. From that point on, it's a tale of two siblings who discover each other's strengths and learn to communicate and support each other. It's a bit more saccharine than other Amelia books, but a good read. P9 Q8


Holm, Jennifer L. & Matthew Holm.

Babymouse: Queen of the World

. Random House, New York, 2005. $5.95 ISBN: 0-375-83229-7 96 p. Gr. 2-6. This is a fun romp through preteen angst, using a most unusual cast of characters: a mouse, cat, giraffe, weasel, and other assorted animal friends. Baby Mouse is at the center of this, as she deals with her fantasy of being 'queen of the world', peer pressure and rejection, and learning the value of true friendship. This would be yet another cutesy book, except that it is told so creatively in graphic novel format. It's a great book for engaging reluctant readers (though it seems targeted towards girls, with its pink and black illustrations and girl power message) and might also be used to inspire beginning writers to construct their own graphic novels. P8 Q7


Holm, Jennifer L. & Matthew Holm.

Babymouse: Our Hero

. Random House, New York, 2005. $5.95 ISBN: 0-375-83230-0 96 p. Gr. 2-6. Continuing on the same theme as Babymouse: Queen of the World, this lighthearted, young graphic novel deals with other preteen concerns: school work, bullies, self esteem. Babymouse learns to assert herself and becomes a hero. On the way, she indulges herself in some very amusing fantasies. A nice series, but it's not necessary to read them in sequence. P8 Q7


Landstrom, Lena and Olof.

Four Hens and a Rooster

. Raben & Sjogren Bokforlag, Stockholm, 2005. $16.00 ISBN: 91-29-66336-9 28 p. Gr. pK-2. OK, I'll admit it: I'm a chicken farmer and a sucker for any sort of poultry books, especially cute Swedish chicken ones. That said, I'm pretty critical of how chicken's characters are portrayed, since there's nothing worse than bad poultry anthropomorphizing.. Chickens are subtle, and their social structure is complex. Hens are usually pretty complacent and roosters can be major jerks. This book uses those traits to create a great story that even beginning listeners will be engaged by. The illustrations are so funny and complement the sardonic text perfectly. Four Hens and a Rooster would be a great addition to any elementary or public library, perfect for read-alouds. (Call me if you want to borrow a chicken!) P9 Q9


Reed, Lynn Rowe.

Thelonius Turkey lives!: (on Felicia Ferguson's Farm)

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2005. $15.95 ISBN: 0-375-83126-6 40 p. Gr. pK - 2 Forget what I just said above about my hatred of bad poultry anthropomorphizing. This book's central character, Thelonius, is a smart turkey (though in the real word, turkeys are famous for their doorknob-like I.Q.'s) who thinks his days are numbered and launches a barnyard revolution. This off-the-wall, quirky turkey replumbs the milking machine to give farmer Felicia a milk shower, makes "pinch me" signs and hangs them on Felicia for the geese to read (ouch!), hard boils the hens' eggs, and talks the pigs into crawling into Felicia's bed (pee-eww!) All the while, Felicia patiently feeds him and plucks his feathers. The day before Thanksgiving, Felicia hauls Thelonius into town, only to show him her fashion hat factory. Thelonius is relieved he isn't going to be dinner and thrilled that his feathers have made him a hat celebrity. The illustrations, a combination of bright, flat acrylics and 3-D collage items (like plastic horses and feathers) in the book are very fun and easy for young readers to relate to. This would make a great read-aloud (possibly inspiring some unique collages) to classes, especially around - you guessed it - Thanksgiving. P7 Q7

November 2005 Book Reviews
by D.C.

Banks, Paul.

It’s a Dog’s Life

.  Illus. by Jakob Kirchmayr.   Penguin: 2005   $14.99   ISBN 0-698-40009-7   Ages: Preschool   P - 7, Q - 5

This book will be picked up because of the cute dog illustrations but the story is someplace between average and irritating.  Banks has adapted on of his songs for this book.  When reading the story it is obvious that it may be a song and might work alright that was but doesn’t flow as well as a story.  It might have helped to have the song, with music, included with the book.

Broach, Elise. 

Wet Dog!

  Illus. by David Catrow.   Dial: 2005   $16.99   ISBN 0-8037-2809-3   Ages: Preschool - 2nd Grade   P - 7, Q - 8

An old and very hot dog shows everyone how to enjoy life and cool off on a hot summer day.  Some will want to read or look at this book just for the dog illustrations. 

D’Lacy, Chris. 

The Fire Within

.  Orchard: 2005, c2001   $14.95   ISBN 0-439-67243-0   Ages: Grades 4th - 7th    P - 7, Q - 7

Anyone who wants to have their own dragon will enjoy this story.  David is a college student that moves into a house with Liz and her eleven-year-old daughter, Lucy.  Liz makes small clay dragons to sell at the craft fairs.  But there is a mystery surrounding her dragons and David learns more about the dragons as he also learns that he is a talented writer.  The cover alone will encourage people to pick up the book and read it.

Hewitt, Kathryn. 

No Dogs Here!

  Illus.  Dutton: 2005   $15.99   ISBN 0-525-47200-2   Ages: Preschool - 2nd Grade   P - 8, Q - 7

It seems that everyplace is off limits to dogs.  Three dog friends decide this is because they don’t have clothes.  They put on clothes and enjoy going to the library, out for pizza, shopping, and skateboarding.  The trouble comes when the get hot and decide to try out the public swimming pool.  The moral to the story is great - and you have to read the book to learn it.  The illustrations are very fun.

Kelly, Irene. 

A Small Dog’s Big Life: Around the World with Owney

.  Illus.   Holiday House: 2005   $16.95   ISBN 0-8234-1863-4   Ages: Preschool - 2nd Grade    P - 6, Q - 9

This is a fictionalized account of the adventures of Owney.  The travels are real.  The letters are the author’s thoughts about what might have happened at some of Owney’s stops along the way between 1889 and 1897.  Owney and his tags are an exhibit of the National Postal Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institute.  The story and illustrations are entertaining and more interesting information about Owney and the writing of the book is in the Author’s Note.

King, Stephen Michael. 

Mutt Dog!

   Illus.  Harcourt: 2005   $16.00   ISBN 0-15-205561-4   Ages: Preschool - 1st Grade   P - 9, Q - 10

Mutt Dog is trying to survive on his own living in the city.  Finding shelter and food is very difficult.  But he really is a cute, scruffy dog and finds a home in the end.  The best illustration is Mutt Dog just after he is brushed.  This is just a fun story.

Robertson, M. P. 

The Great Dragon Rescue

.  Illus.  Dial: 2004   $16.99   ISBN 0-8037-2973-1   Ages: Preschool - 2nd Grade   P - 7, Q - 9

What could be better than a story with dragons, witches, toads, fiery dragon breath, a race and a rescue?  Yes, all of the ingredients for a good story.  On top of that the illustrations are perfect, including one where the caged baby dragon is forced to barbecue toads for the witch.

Sturges, Philemon.


.  Illus. by Jim Ishikawa.  Dutton: 2005   $16.99   ISBN 0-525-47116-2 Ages: Preschool    P - 5, Q - 4

The story is about a meeting of the dogs about getting rid of cats that a small cat spies on.  The dogs all hang up their tails before the meeting and the tails all get mixed up.  So, dogs now sniff each other looking for their own tails.  Even the youngest child will probably think the concept of dogs taking off their tails/waggers is just implausible.

Turner, Sandy. 

Cool Cat, Hot Dog

.  Illus.  Atheneum: 2005. $16.95 ISBN 0-689-84946-x   Ages: Preschool    P - 5, Q - 5

The illustrations for the book are the main interest in the book, not the story.  The illustrations are made with cut paper, pencil and collage.  This a conversation between a cat and a dog about who is best, of course.


November 2005 reviews by C.S.

Picture Books

Collicutt, Paul.  

This rocket

.   Farrar Straus Giroux, 2005.   $15.00.   0-374-37484-8.   unp.   Ages 4-10.   P8 Q4
 This book has technical text on endpapers aimed at sophisticated   student readers.   However the endpapers surrounds lack luster illustrations and verse, the longest sentence containing nine words.   Most of these words are too complicated for beginning readers, but too lame for advanced readers.  

Mugford, Simon.  

Sharks and other dangers of the deep

.   Priddy books [for St. Martin ’s Press], 2005.   $9.95.   0-312-49533-1.   unp.   Ages 4 and up.   P9 Q9
 Totally enjoyable!   Colorful, informative!   The only flaws I could find: a couple borders slightly irregular, and the curiosity of   highlighted text.   Some words appear in the glossary, most don’t.   This is such a minimal infraction, it’s hardly worth mentioning.   Wonderful endpapers (including glossary); terrific “danger rating” (zero jaws to five); creative “size” comparison model.   I highly recommend this book!   It will be a great asset when studying ocean units at school!   Moreover, I learned a lot about sharks while reading it.   For $9.95, it is a bargain!


Reilly, Matthew.  

Crash course

[Hover car racer, Bk 1].   Pablo Raimondi.   Simon & Schuster, 2004.   $9.95.   1-4169-0225-2.   207 p.   Ages 10-18.   P8 Q9.

This young Australian author first published Hover car racer online…   No longer free online, it is now in print.   The fast-paced action is set slightly in the future.   Fourteen-year-old Jason Chaser and his 12-year-old brother, “Bug,” pilot and navigate a hover craft.   The boys are so talented they become the youngest team accepted into the world-renown International Race School in Tasmania .   Futuristic : an elderly and eccentric backyard inventor creates a revolutionary flying machine and then rather and patent it, he makes the technology freely available to anyone.   Hover technology requires no gasoline, so the Mid-east oil-producing countries crumble.   Feminist : Jason befriends Ariel, the first girl to break into the “old boys club” racing world.   Other racers ostracize Ariel.   Being the youngest racer Jason can relate to being ostracized.    Subtle morals : advice given to Jason from his adoptive father   “Never ever worry about having the “Hard” teacher.   Trust me, the hard teachers are always the best teachers.”   
 This author has a lot going for him!   This fast paced, attention-grabbing story has an environmentally friendly nature, feminist worldview, and great role models.   Terrific web site, very appealing to Reilly fans and beginning authors alike.   This author will win over a lot of reluctant readers!   Reilly has five successful adult novels: Contest ; Area 7 ; Temple ; Ice Station ; and Scarecrow and is rapidly gaining readership around the world.


Krull, Kathleen.  

Giants of Science: Leonardo da Vinci

.   Boris Kulikov.   Viking, 2005.   $15.99.   0-670-05920.   124 p.   Ages 10-adult.   P7 Q8.
 This biographical study of Leonardo focuses on his fascination with science and investigation, less with his sculpture and painting (which actually was very minimal.)   Leonardo was particularly known for starting projects and then not completing them.   Because Leonardo’s math skills were lacking he often saw patterns that were not there.   His Vitruvian Man, although anatomically correct, caused him to incorrectly theorize that squares and circles formed the basis of everything in the world.   Today Leonardo’s manuscripts, know as Codices are spread around the world.   Some are still missing, many codices are available online, such as through the British Library in London .   This book seems well researched and provides a good bibliography and index.   I wish some of da Vinci’s actual drawings (Vitruvian Man, flying machines, etc.) could have been included, the illustrations provided are weak, almost comic, by comparison.   Toward the end of the book   (p. 112), Krull defines Leonardo: “he was like a surfer on a huge wave—the spirit of intellectual tolerance fostered by the Renaissance, the empowering access to information supplied by the new printing presses.   Yet he always remained out of step: a left-handed, illegitimate, homosexual, antiwar vegetarian with extraordinary artistic talent.   His outsider status took him on paths others couldn’t even see.”


November 2005 Reviews by N.W.


Allen, Judy. 2014-07-19 18:44
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