Friday, September 21, 2007

Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas, by Meghan McCarthy

This picture book biography tells the transformation of a small, skinny, Italian immigrant named Angelo Siciliano into Charles Atlas, “The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.” Yes, Angelo really did get sand kicked in his face by a bully but with determination, ingenuity and hard work, he became strong and muscular. After watching a lion stretching at the zoo, he developed a fitness routine that built muscles as he stretched.At the suggestion of friends, he took a new name to go with his new body.
Atlas developed a course that not only would build muscles but encouraged his pupils to live a healthy life-style.Meghan McCarthy’s thick acrylic paint illustrations add humor and a cartoon-like quality to this work.At the end of the book, McCarthy illustrates four fun exercises for children to do daily. In her author’s note, McCarthy tells us other tidbits from Atlas’ life, many of which take on an exaggerated quality like those of a tall tale character.

Grades K-5

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I Am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Culler

Cornelia is the daughter and caretaker of once reveered painter, Rembrandt van Rijn. Her beloved brother has just married and moved out and she is left with her nearly mad father and his awkward but devoted apprentice, Neel. Cornelia's dull life takes a romantic turn when she meets Carel, the son of wealthy shipping magnate and they share their love of painting. She begins to imagine herself living a courtly life when a dastardly family secret is revealed and her romantic ideals are shattered.

The story tries to give the historical and personal background to some of Rembrandt's most famous paintings (all is documented in strong historical notes at the end) but these parts don't really flow with the rest of the story very well, nice try though!. The reader does learn a great deal about how Rembrandt worked and how he truly felt he was "God's hand" when he painted.

Strong historical fiction with major ties to the art and art history world.

Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf : A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer Holm

An inventive twist on the notebook style novel. Ginny's 7th grade school year is shown to the reader through a collection of stuff including To-Do lists, bank statements (despide several babysitting job deposits, it seems to always remain at $5 ), doctor's notes, store receipts (bad idea to dye your hair the day before picture day), principals notes to her mom, and some amusing poems.

Ginny deals with some difficult subjects during the course of the year; new stepfather, brother getting sent to military school because of his dangerous behaviour, ex-best friend getting the lead in HER ballet AND never returning her favorite sweater. She handles them with the awkward grace of a 7th grader but also with humor and a very appealing style.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Help!: A Story of Friendship by Holly Keller

This endearing story of friendship conveys a wonderful message. Hedgehog discovers that his buddy Mouse is hiding from their friend Snake because he has heard a rumor that snakes can be very dangerous for mice. Even though Hedgehog tries to remind mouse of Snake’s friendship, he is unable to distract him from his fears. In fact he worries so much that he ends up having an accident and finds himself at the bottom of a hole with a hurt foot. Who will save him? Several friends are concerned, but have reasons for not being able to rescue Mouse. That's when everyone learns a powerful lesson about friendship vs. gossip.

This book would be an excellent read-aloud for young students developing a sense of community and learning how to get-along. On the back flap Keller explains how she creates her collographs or printed collages. The characters have a warm and friendly look reminiscent of Lionni's work. An example of Keller's clever use of color is seen on the page when Mouse blushes "a deep shade of pink."

Audience - K-1, for sure, but perhaps older because the message is so valuable.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick.

After the death of his father, young Hugo continues to tend to the clocks in a large Paris train station so seamlessly that no one notices the absence of his father. Using a notebook left by his father he also works on restoring a mysterious automaton. The most amazing feature of this story is the telling alternating between pages of detailed black and white illustrations and text. Reading the text one makes the pictures in one's head and reading pictures, one adds the words. All in all a satisfying and innovative experience.

I'm not doing this book justice because it has been a while since I read it. I hope others will read and continue to comment. This is one of the most intriquing books of the year.