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F&Gs for Winter July 22, 2014

Posted by ccbooks in Bookstore.
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I noticed a few trends as I went through the stack of F&Gs–an increasing number are written in first person or present tense, which I find interesting–and in the process found a set that all deal with winter or the seasons in a variety of different ways.
Blizzard by John Rocco
blizzardBased on the author/illustrator’s memories of a big snowstorm of his childhood, a family works together to stay warm and fed in the midst of snowdrifts that block the doors and make walking to the store impossible. When food runs short, it is up to the young narrator (who knows all about arctic survival) to create makeshift snowshoes and venture out for supplies. This is the perfect adventure story without being too scary and the one fold-open spread of the neighborhood under snow is fantastic. A great choice for a read-aloud.
Winter is Coming by Tony Johnston, illust. by Jim LaMarche
winterYoung naturalists and artists will be jealous of the narrator of this picture book, who has her own treehouse hideout from which she can observe all the animals of the forest. She watches each species looking for food as the days grow shorter and the temperatures drop. Her specific, detailed notes will inspire other young scientists while the beautiful colored pencil spreads (and the sketches the narrator makes) will prompt other young artists to try their own.
What Forest Knows by George Ella Lyon, illus. by August Hall
forestThis poetic text follows the creatures of a forest through all four season, paired with luminous illustrations by August Hall. From budding leaves to burrowing insects, this forest has seen it all and encourages the reader to “Listen. Look.” Lots of information is included in the simple sentences, making this a great book to use in science lessons or as a classroom read aloud. I could see asking students to choose a spread and annotate it with their own scientific explanations of photosynthesis, hibernation or decomposition. A great mix of story and information for young readers.

Fall F&Gs July 10, 2014

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It’s been awhile since I went through the stacks of F&Gs (that’s ‘fold and gather’, the bookseller term for a picture book that hasn’t been published yet) at the store. Here are some titles I’m looking forward to seeing (and selling) this fall.
blueBlue on Blue by Dianne White, illus. by Beth Krommes
A great read aloud about a summer storm with beautiful scratchboard illustrations from Beth Krommes, who won the Caldecott for The House in the Night. Set on a country farm near the water, short rhyming sentences and fun details of animals and plants will make this a new favorite. Teachers may want to use with Come on Rain by Karen Hesse or Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle to compare thunderstorms in the city with those in the country.
I Am a Witch’s Cat by Harriet Muncaster
Perfect for Halloween (or anytime, really) is this sweet story about a little girl and her mother. The narrator (who always appears in a black cat outfit) is sure that her mother is a witch. Doesn’t she have strange potion bottles in the bathroom and magic to stop hurts? The illustrations are photographs of mixed-media settings along the same lines as the books I highlighted in this post. Young artists will be inspired to create their own similar settings for their own stories and read this one again and again to look at the magical details.
Draw! by Raul Colon
Colon is one of the most well-known illustrators in children’s lit, with hundreds of unique titles to his credit. We’ve been seeing many more children’s illustrators creating books about their own evolution as artists (Allan Say, Lois Ehlert) and Colon creates a beautiful tribute here to the power of imagination and the inspiration of the natural world. He depicts himself as a child reading books about africa and then through smaller panels, shows how he imagines himself getting up close and personal with elephants, zebras and hippos. He even invites one of the primates to draw a portrait of him! This is a lovely wordless book to add to your collection and hand to aspiring artists or naturalists.
The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
This title reminded me of nothing so much as The Wizard of Oz, probably because of evocative grey backgrounds. The farmer is working on his land when a circus train passes by and something–someone?–falls off. What will he do? This is perhaps the simplest but most touching picture book I’ve seen so far this year and the final spot illustration is just perfect. This is a book that will put a smile on your face every single time you read it. Beautiful!

My Theory of Maggie Stiefvater July 5, 2014

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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Maggie Stiefvater, author of The Scorpio Races, Shiver trilogy and Raven Boys series, is one of my favorite authors. I love her use of mythology and fairy lore, the way she engages with her fans and how enthusiastic she is about everything from art to cars. I read her book The Scorpio Races first and only recently have I gone back to the Shiver trilogy, which was her breakout series back in 2009. Many people have commented on the shift in style that happened in her writing between the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races. Now that I’ve read all of her work (with the exception of the next Raven Boys installment), I have a theory (okay, more like an observation) about this shift.

In Lament, the first of the Books of Faerie series (Ballad is the other and maybe eventually there will be a third, Requiem?)  the story begins when harpist Deirdre Monaghan meets a mysterious boy at a music competition. In Shiver, main character Grace has had encounters with the wolves before the story begins, but essentially the fun starts when she finds ‘her’ wolf transformed into a human boy and bleeding on her porch.

All of Stiefvater’s books have these central relationships–partly because they are romances, to one degree or another and partly because she explores how people change. Both Lament and Shiver start with a surprise–a magical encounter completely out of the ordinary that pulls the main character away from everyday life. Deirdre and Grace then have to decide how to react.

In The Scorpio Races, the story begins when Puck Connolly makes a choice–she will compete in the races as a way of getting her brother Gabe to stay on their island just a little while longer. The Raven Boys  is more complicated and takes longer to get going, but Blue Sargent also has a choice to make–whether or not to join the Raven boys on their search for Glendower.

This is what I see as the central difference between Stiefvater’s early work and later work–the way the main characters are launched into their stories. In her early work it is a big event–someone transforming, a mysterious figure showing up–that then pushes the main character into the crisis or conflict of the novel. In her later work, which builds more slowly, the main character makes a choice that gives them their purpose and leads them to the relationships that precipitate change. I think Stiefvater has been getting better and better as a writer; each book she writes impresses me more than the one before. I’m looking forward to Blue Lily, Lily Blue, which is out in the fall.