Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Thanksgiving Day Parade, a poem by Jack Prelutsky


I was asked if I would watch Lilly, my neighbor's 6 year-old, for a little while the other day, and I brought over It's Thanksgiving! to read. We had a lot of fun going over all the poems but the hands down favorite was the poem about the Thanksgiving Day Parade, probably because of the TV hype.

The poem did generate some interesting conversation, especially about the balloons. Lilly and her mom were planning on going over to the Museum of Natural History where the balloons are inflated the day before Thanksgiving and it is almost as big a deal here in NYC as the parade is.

Some of the balloons mentioned weren't familiar to Lilly, but she didn't seem to mind and loved the poem anyway, so I thought I would share it with everyone today:

Luckily, no rain has been forecast the the parade this year. Wishing everyone a wonderful day of good food, good company, and good fun.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

It’s Christmas Eve, and Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul,12, is walking along 125th Street in Harlem, trying to get home as quickly as he can. Lolly has a new pair of sneakers from his mostly absent dad and he’s not about to let the two older boys following him snatch them off his feet. But when Lolly quickly turns the corner of 125th Street and 8th Avenue, the two boys abruptly stop, because Lolly lives in a world of imaginary protected borders, each border guarded by its own crew, and crews know better than to cross those lines.

Lolly, who is West Indian, lives in the St. Nicholas House, a public housing project on West 127th Street, with his mom and his mom’s girlfriend Yvonne, a security guard in a large toy store. His older brother, Jermaine had gotten involved with a drug dealing crew and was shot and killed outside a Bronx nightclub just a few months back and, while Lolly is still trying to come to terms with his loss, he is also trying to resist the pressure to join a crew.

One thing that Lolly does like is Legos, and he has painstaking put together all kinds of kits, following the instructions to the letter. But late Christmas Eve, he takes them all apart, suddenly wanting to built something else, something of his own. Later, when Yvonne comes home on Christmas morning, she has two garbage bags full of Legos for Lolly, and just in time. Pretty soon, Lolly has built a castle so big his mom is complaining about how much space it is taking up, so he is allowed to build in an empty storeroom in the after school program he goes to, run by Mr. Ali, an understanding, but underfunded social worker.

Soon, Lolly is joined by Big Alice, a special needs student suffering her own family loss, and who never speaks to anyone, but stays by herself reading. In the Lego room, she helps herself to Lolly’s Legos (Yvonne brings him more and more bags full) and begins building her own buildings, which resemble their neighborhood perfectly. At first, Lolly resents Big Alice, but soon the two are taking trips into midtown Manhattan, exploring the different buildings found in a architecture book Lolly was given for Christmas. Eventually, the two begin to build Harmonee, an enormous alien world, together.

All the while, Lolly, and his Dominican best friend, Vega are being harassed by the same two boys who followed Lolly on Christmas Eve. Part of a crew that wants Lolly and Vega to join them, they soon resort to violence as a means of persuasion. And it almost works…but then things in Lolly’s life take another totally unexpected turn.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet is a debut novel for David Barclay Moore. It is an all-to-realistic coming of age contemporary  novel, and Lolly is a wonderfully flawed character full of contradictions (like choosing Legos over video games). As Lolly tries to reassemble his life through the metaphor of Lego building blocks, life on the city streets is also becoming more and more complicated. Luckily, Moore has surrounded him with people who are caring and supportive - his gay mom, Yvonne, who is trying to help him through the grieving process by giving him Legos, the only thing she can do, Mr. Ali, who has recognized that Lolly needs to work through the trauma of losing his brother so violently, even his dad comes through, though not as much as Lolly would like. And their story threads together with those of Lolly, Big Alice, and Vega make this such a full-bodied novel.

Harlem is also as much a character in this novel as anyone, providing a living backdrop for Lolly’s important slice-of-life story. But, the danger those street hold for young men of color like Lolly isn’t something most people know or even think about and Moore has captured it with brutal honesty, compassion, and even humor. 

From the moment I started reading The Stars Beneath Our Feet, I could’t put it down. It may not be a book for everyone, but it is certainly a worthwhile read and, I think, a real eye-opener for many. Moore’s final message in this novel - it is not just family, but also community that can help change things for kids. 

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was an ARC received from the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sea Girl: Feminist Folktales from Around the World, edited by Ethel Johnston Phelps, illustrated by Suki Boynton

In his introduction to Sea Girl, author Daniel José Older writes that we need a new mythology, a new mythology that catches all the myths, folktales, and other narratives of women’s empowerment that have fallen through the cracks of history or just weren’t “marketable” enough for Disney. Older should know what he’s talking about. After all, he’s given us Sierra Santiago, hero of Older’s books Shadowshaper and Shadowhouse Fall. And now, the Feminist Press has reissued its series of feminist folktales from around the world in four volumes.

Edited by the late Ethel Johnston Phelps, who held a master’s degree in Medieval literature, Sea Girl is volume III in the series and it includes 10 fairy and folktales based on stories that have been handed down for generations. 

For instance, there is a changeling tale from Ireland about a single mother whose healthy child is taken by the fairy folk and replaced with a sickly child of theirs. Determined to get her own child back, she cares for the sickly child and brings it back to health and on May Eve, she confronts the Queen of the fairy folk, who had taken her son. The single mother is resourceful and brave in this tale, and confronting the fairy Queen takes a certain kind of courage, even the Queen admits that. But now that her own son is a healthy, robust little boy, will the fairy Queen be willing to exchange babies, so each goes with its own mother, or will be decide to keep both?

I’m a medievalist at heart, so naturally I found the English tale about Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell very appealing. Older that even Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (published in1476). In this story, Sir Gawain is given one year to answer a question posed by Sir Gromer, who is looking to avenge the loss of his lands to Arthur. The question: What is it that women most desire, above all else? The answer and end of the tale will really surprise you. 

In the Norwegian tale, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” a large white bear falls in love with a woodcutter’s daughter. Though the woodcutter refuses to let his daughter go live with the bear in his castle, the daughter isn’t afraid and agrees to go with him. She notices that night after night, someone comes into her room and lays down next to her. Curious, she discovers a handsome young man, who it turns out has been cursed by trolls. By day, he is a large bear, by night, a handsome man. The man and castle immediately disappear, and the lass finds herself sitting in the forest. Determined to break the enchantment, she decides to travel to the Land of the Trolls and find the young man. But first she must get to the castle that lay East of the Sun and West of the Moon with the help of the North Wind. But will she arrive in time to save him from his fate in the Land of the Trolls?

There are also tales from China (“Wild Goose Lake” - a wonderful tale about the titular Sea Girl), Finland (“The Maid of the North”), and a Punjabi tale (“he Tiger and the Jackal”), as well as an ancient Swahili fairy tale (“The Monkey’s Heart”), and one from Germany (“The Twelve Huntsmen”).  And though the tales vary greatly, they have one thing in common - here are women who, through their own wits and common sense, determine their own fate, one way or the other.

The beauty of folktales is that they root us not just in our own culture, but in the world at large, providing examples of women's courage and resourcefulness in the face of great odds. And they can be enjoyed again and again.

If Sea Girl sounds like a book you would like to read, you might want to check out the other three companion volumes of Feminist Folktales from Around the World:
Tatterhood - introduced by Gayle Forman
Kamala - introduced by Kate Schatz
The Hunter Maiden - introduced by Renée Watson

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Feminist Press of the City University of New York

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Discovery of Ramen (The Asian Hall of Fame Series) by Phil Amara & Oliver Chin, illustrated by Juan Calle

When I was in college, I practically lived on ramen. I was paying my own way, including a small apartment in the East Village in NYC. I would walk down to Chinatown, where I bought stacks of dried ramen packages with various flavor packets and experimented with fresh vegetable, tofu, and even chicken for about 25¢ each. I always assumed ramen was just some conglomerate’s invention to make a fast, easy buck. How wrong I was!

In this debut story for Immedium’s new Asian Hall of Fame line of books, two American children, Emma and Ethan, are on a class trip exploring the downtown area where they live. Suddenly, a delicious aroma comes their way and following it, they discover a shop where everyone is eating noodle soup.

As they wonder what everyone is eating, a small red panda named Dao suddenly appears, and tells Emma and Ethan the people are eating ramen. Dao also tells them he is “…a guide to the many fabulous creators from Asia - inventions from food to fun.”

Ready to show them how ramen came to be, Dao whisks Emma and Ethan off to Yokohama, Japan in 1880 and begins to explain that it was the Chinese who brought ramen to Japan, where it was sold from pushcarts. 

Off to 1910, Dao tells them, a man named Momofuku Ando was born in Taiwan. Momofuku later moved to Japan. After WWII, when food was scarce and rationed, ramen was made from the wheat the Untied States shipped to Asia. Meanwhile Momofuku moved to the US, and began experimenting with ways to making a fast, easy, and inexpensive packaged ramen. Yes, Cup O’ Noodles (now called Cup Noodles) is a Momofuku invention, made by the company he founded - Nissan Foods.

Besides the history of ramen, Dao shows Emma and Ethan how the noodles are made, how to heat and eat Cup Noodles, and they even take a trip to several of the ramen museums located throughout Japan. So you can see, there is much to learn about ramen in this fun, colorfully illustrated picture book, including some fun facts, like how 100 billion instant noodles are sold annually, and how chefs all have secret ways of seasoning their ramen in different restaurants.

I really enjoyed reading about the history of ramen, and I suspect that whether your kids are already fans of these curly noodles in their various forms or not, this is a book that will definitely tempt their taste buds. I made them for my Kiddo when she was very young, and she’s been a ramen fan ever since.

The Discovery of Ramen is also a wonderful and tasty way to introduce young readers to Japanese history and culture. There is also a glossary at the back of the book, defining the many Japanese words used throughout the book. 

The Discovery of Ramen will be available November 14, 2017.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Immedium Books

FYI: Momofuku Ando was honored on his 105th birthday with his own Google Doodle:

And, since I began this by saying that ramen was one of my main staples in college, here’s an interesting article about Momofuku and hungry college students from the Christian Science Monitor.

Monday, November 6, 2017

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It’s Monday! What are you reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. It’s Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kid lit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. The purpose is the same: to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. Twitter: #IMWAYR 

I didn't get as much reading done as I usually do last week, but I have a good reason. I was in Hershey, Pa (aka The Sweetest Place on Earth), and had a wonderful time attending KidLitCon2017, where I saw some old friends and met some new ones. Charlotte at Charlotte's Library put together a really stellar program, and I was lucky enough to be on the Historical Fiction panel with fellow blogger Sondra Eklund (Sonder Books), and authors Alexandria LaFaye (Walking Home to Rosie Lee, Worth and more), Celeste Lim (The Crystal Ribbon), and Michael Spradlin (Prisoner of War, Young Templar series among others). 

You can find the complete program along with the names of all the wonderful authors who spoke or participated in panels, including Floyd Cooper, Rachel Renée Watson, and Pam Tuck, HERE

Funny Girl by Betsy Bird, ed.
Viking, 2017, 224 pages, age 8+

On the train to and from NYC and Hershey, I did get to read this new anthology of stories edited by Betsy Bird. You've no doubt heard of all the authors who contributed to this work, and they are pretty funny. Among my favorites were "Dear Grandpa: Give Me Money" by Alison DeCamp, "Swimming is for Other Kids" by Akitah Hughes (and a story I can personally relate to), and "Brown Girl Pop Quiz: All of the Above" by Mitali Perkins. There are a wide variety of story topics but they are all definitely related to growing up girl.
A word of warning: if you are reading this on Amtrak, do not sit in the quiet car - loud laughing annoys the other passengers and interrupts their frantic scrolling on their phones to find something interesting to read.  

Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
Peachtree Publishers, 2017, 32 pages, age 7+

During the Balkan War, on May27, 1992, a bomb killed 22 people in the last bakery in Sarajevo. Afterward, each day for 22 days at the exact time the people were killed, cellist Vedran Smailovic, a member of the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra, took his cello and played Albinoni's 
Adagio in G minor, both in remembrance of those killed by the bomb and in defiance the enemy. The story is told from the point of view of a young flower vendor named Drasko, who father had already been conscripted. This is a beautiful story, and a powerful reminder of the kind of destruction war brings with it. 

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael James Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk
Atheneum BFYR, 2017, 48 pages, 7+

I was always into jazz more than the blues until I was in college and used to go see Alberta Hunter at The Cookery, a now long gone jazz club on University Place and 8th Street. She often mentioned Muddy Waters, and when I finally heard him, I was hooked. Naturally, I couldn't wait to read this picture book for older readers about Muddy's life and music. This is wonderful introduction to this legendary musician and the illustrations are so perfectly reflective of his music, I can almost hear him playing the blues. He was raised by his grandmother, who is the one who started calling him Muddy, and who told him the blues didn't put food on the table, but he persevered anyway. And Mahin captures that spirit in his refrain "But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told." A beautiful tribute!

So, this is what I read last week, and I have decided what to read this coming week. But, what are you reading?

Imagination Designs