Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nonfiction: Learn to Speak Dance

Dancing queen Anne-Marie Williams has a wonderfully open, inclusive approach to dance. She starts with movement: Dance, as she puts it, is just a mashup of everyday movement and your imagination. Your instrument is the human body, and your job as a dancer is to find out what it can do!

Within the pages of this book, judgement, self-consciousness and embarassment are forbidden. Instead, use the prompts and and tips to learn how to move in a way that speaks to your unique rhythms and heart. If you weren't interested in dance before, you will be by the time you're done reading!

For extra inspiration, Williams has included video recommendations that span dance styles from ballet to b-boy (breakdancing, apparently, is so out!) For those with America's Best Dance Crew dreams, there are tips for assembling a your crew: business tips to help you go bigtime, and practical info on how to work with the behind the scenes folks who make performances go.

It helps that this excellent information is packaged up into a retro-styled, glossy tome weighing in at a respectable 96 pages. The sharp art-deco palette and squared-off art perfectly illustrate the balance of precision and creativity that's needed to carry off a dance. This is a wonderful example of art and text working together to make a finished product that pops.

For kids or teens who can't help wiggling and jiggling along to the music, this book might just be the catalyst that propels them into a full fledged dance career. It certainly made me want to kick up my heels!

Grades 6-12
Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue.

Fiction: Floors

Groundbreaking author Patrick Carman takes a break from his mixed-media experiments with this entertaining romp through the secrets of the Whippet Hotel.

Ten year old Leo is the son of the Whippet's janitor, and he knows ever crack and cranny in the hotel: or so he thinks. As his father's right hand man, Leo loves being sent on urgent errands to keep the hotel running smoothly. There's just one problem: Merganzer Whippet, the eccentric creator of the hotel, has gone missing. In fact, he's been gone for exactly one hundred days when something amazing happens.

While returning from a high priority duck mission (don't ask!) Leo finds a small purple box tucked away where only he will find it. The box is from Mr. Whippet, and it contains cryptic instructions: apparently, there are four boxes for Leo to find, two days to do it in, and only one other person may be recruited as a helper. What could this possibly mean? What's in the boxes, where will the clues lead, and why, exactly, should Leo bring a duck!?!

Kids will enjoy the fast-paced ride as Leo and his friend unravel the mystery of the boxes, finding hidden floors, secret elevators and brain-boggling puzzles as they go. There's a good reason for the breakneck pace: the greatest mystery of all - Mr. Whippet's disappearance - is waiting for the boys at the end of the clues!

Boys in particular will identify with the goodnatured Leo. The slapstick humour and the hotel's amazing contraptions seal the deal: this is a fun, fast read for middle grade kids!

Grades 5-7

Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!

Nonfiction: Art Panels, Bam! Speech Bubbles, Pow!: writing your own graphic novel

This solid installment in the Writer's Toobox series covers the basics of how to craft your own graphic novel. Readers who are ready to make the jump to creation can use this title as a starting point, but may need to consult more detailed works as well.

The simple text is aimed at younger readers, who may be relatively inexperienced at reading graphic content. The clear, large-scale cartoons are designed to appeal to younger readers, and support rather than enhance the text information. Each full page spread includes a "tool", or tip, for writers: these tips are actually more like annotated steps that kids can follow during the creation process. The "getting started" exercises at the end of the book are particularly useful as prompts for those suffering from the dreaded writers' (or illustrators') block.

Again, this very simple title contains just the basics about creating a comic. Background info, such as "what is a graphic novel", is completely appropriate in this context: older readers with more graphic titles under their belts might find some introductory elements too obvious, and hunger for a meatier guide. Suggest this title for kids in grades 3-6 who are looking for a place to begin their graphic opus.

Grades 3-6
Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!

Nonfiction: The Batman Handbook

I love that the author felt it necessary to include a warning at the front of this book: Batman is fictional, vigilante justice is illegal, and Batman himself would be a wanted criminal if he did, in fact, exist.

With that disclaimer out of the way, author Scott Beatty goes on to explain the basics of how to look, act, and fight crime just like everyone's favourite nocturnal hero.

Each of the five chapters covers a skill area, complete with clear, stylized graphics that support the more technical points of the text. Although the illustrations are clearly more utilitarian than decorative, readers will appreciate the visual additions.

Tips on training a sidekick will be particularly useful for those with younger siblings, but parents might want to keep tabs on the reader when he or she reaches the section on rappeling down buildings, or swinging round flagpoles. The entire chapter covering fighting skills is carefully organized to focus on defensive tactics (e.g. breaking a chokehold, disarming a gunman).

Chapters four (Detective Skills) and five (Escape Skills) include tantalizing subsections on collecting blood samples, withstanding a poison kiss, and extinguishing an inferno. I mean, really, what kid doesn't need to know this sort of stuff?

With its high-profile hero and bite-sized chapters, this utility manual is perfect for nonfiction fans or graphic novel fans looking for a text-based experience. It's also an excellent format for group reading, with plenty of opportunites to test out the more practical instructions. Just don't blame the author if you run into trouble while taking out a roomful of goons. Remember, he warned you!


Grades 5-8

Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nonfiction: Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem

The story of Salem's witch hunts is mysterious, compelling, and horrifying. In the late seventeenth century, the Puritan inhabitants of Salem town were caught up in a whirlwind of fear and accusations of witchcraft. The resulting witch hunt took more than 20 lives, and ruined countless others.

Author Rosalyn Schanzer tells the true story of the accusations and trials in Salem and the surrounding towns. She uses many primary sources, and the story is always referenced back to documents and realia from the time period.

This would be a fantastic book for a class study (although the topic is definitely not on the Canadian curriculum). The transparent structure of the book gives kids a very clear idea of how narrative writing is related to research, and the length (144 pages, with woodcuts) is short enough to welcome kids who are new to the narrative nonfiction format. National Geographic is always a forward thinking publisher, and the QR code in the back of the book adds appeal for readers who come with their smartphone in hand.

With details that horrify and captivate at the same time, even reluctant readers would find this book accessible, interesting, and worthy of discussion.

Nonfiction (narrative)
Ages 9-14
Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!

Nonfiction:The Monstrous Book of Monsters

Kids who love all things monstrous will be captivated by Candlewick's newest nonfiction title. The gruesome, intricately detailed pages are packed with information about monsters, including anatomy, monster spotting, and identifying a home infestation.

Part utility manual, the latter half of the book is a guide on how to avoid contact with the more dangerous varieties of monster. If all else fails, consult the book's section on defensive tactics (hint: under the bed is NOT a safe place) or resort to the ultimate solution of capture.

Kids will spend hours poring over the tiny flaps and sneaky jokes: grownups should get ready to be regaled with zillions of revolting monster facts and trivia tidbits. A great read for boys, and lovers of nonfiction.

Ages 7-11
Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fiction: Tales of a Sixth-Grade Muppet

The muppets are big news right now, with the new movie coming out this winter. Kids publishing is keeping up, and this middle grade title (aimed at grades 5-8) is perfect for fans!

Like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, the doodle-style art is mixed in with a first person narrative. The story follows sixth-grader Danvers Blickensderfer as he is transformed from an ordinary, goofy kid into a fuzzy headed muppet! Of course, once he's a muppet, his world is slowly infiltrated by characters from the muppet show. This might sound like a good thing, but imagine being heckled by the critics everywhere you go, or being chased by the Swedish Chef with a knife!

Boys who love slapstick humour and the muppet show will enjoy this quick read for its heavy illustrative content and fast paced plot.

Wordless Picture Book: Hocus Pocus

Normally, I'd put a picturebook in the preschool books section. But this book? It's PERFECT for kids in grades 1-5, and so I've slipped it into our kids' book blog.

I'm partial to wordless picturebooks on principle. They require kids to "read" the images very carefully, and apply their knowledge and understanding to the art. They have to work extra hard to derive meaning from the text, because the author/illustrator isn't making anything explicit. They essentially become the co-authors of a wordless book, as the message that they get from reading it is so heavily influenced by the experiences and understanding that they bring to the table when they read.

Hocus Pocus is the tale of a magician for hire, his faithful dog, and the rabbit that lives in his magic hat. When Mister Magic and dog come home from work, both settle down for a nap. Rabbit pokes out his head, and decides it's time to play! A hilarious dog-and-rabbit battle ensues, with rabbit scheming to get the tasty carrots on the counter, and dog pulling out all the stops to stuff him back into the hat.

The art is framed in comic-strip style, with white space dividing the small frames (up to six per page). The cartoon drawings are digitally inked, with bold retro-sixties graphics and bright, attractive colours.

The standout aspect of the illustrations, though, is definitely the expressiveness of the characters. Although there are no words or speech bubbles, each character's emotions are screamingly apparent through subtle tricks of eyebrow tilts, mouth quirks, and body posture. Kids will love poring over the pictures as they read the emotions and follow the slapstick action. A fabulous book, and one that takes a surprising amount of book-comprehension (rather than word-literacy) to read successfully.

Wordless picture book
Grades 1-5
Click here to visit the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!

Nonfiction: Trapped

In 2010, 33 miners were trapped 2000 feet below the Chilean desert when a cave in collapsed the shaft leading to the surface. This book tells the story of their rescue, as people from all over the world worked frantically to save them.

The text follows the timeline of events from the perspective of both the trapped miners, and the rescuers aboveground. Some kids will be interested in the technical information about mines and rescue operations, while others will be gripped by the suspense as various rescue attempts fail and are adjusted.

It's obvious that this title is aimed at older kids and younger teens. The prose is simple and straightforward, but the format looks like a chapter book. The pictures and diagrams are sparsely placed throught the text, and there is a glossary of mine terms and a brief biography of the miners at the end of the book.

This book has surprisingly wide appeal. Kids who are fascinated by rescue stories and high-stakes technical feats of engineering will enjoy it as much as kids who want to focus on the human-interest side of the story.

Grade 6-10
Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nonfiction: You Are the First Kid on Mars

This chatty nonfiction title has standout illustrations, and scientifically current ideas about the future of space travel.

Facts about space travel to Mars are integrated seamlessly into the narrative story, which follows you (a school-aged boy) on your journey from Earth Base to the red planet. The simple prose describes each step of the journey, from the layout of the space station to the exploration of the Martian surface. The fantastically realistic illustrations supplement the simple text by providing accurate and appealing depictions of spacecraft, planetary surfaces, and people.

The author touches on some fascinating topics (such as the possibility of Martian life) while glossing over practical details, like the feasibility of actually establishing an extraterrestrial colony, and the development timeline for the technology needed to make this possible. It would have been nice to see these topics covered briefly in the short fact section at the end of the book, where readers can learn more about the planet's characteristics.

This is an appealing title with excellent illustrations, and a fresh approach to planetary exploration: it's a bit short on fact and detail, but most kids will happily read up on specifics in other titles while appreciating this book for its originality.

Grades 3-6
Click here to check out the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!

Biography: Jim Henson: the guy who played with puppets

OK. You know Jim Henson, right? The creator of the muppets, creative force behind Sesame Street, voice of Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog?

Right. Of course you do. EVERYBODY knows who Jim Henson is, or at least knows his work on sight. Pretty much everyone around agrees that he was an amazing individual, which is why any biography about him had better involve a whole lot of awesome.

This biography? It's serviceable. It's very nice, in fact. It's written in picturebook format, with lovely soft-realism illustrations featuring Jim and his creations. The text is written at about a grade 4 level, and it summarizes Jim's life and work in earnest detail. The problem, really, is the distinct lack of awesomeness.

When you read a biography about a guy who created the muppets, you kind of expect a splash of whimsy. You want titillating details about how he came up with a puppet that lives in a garbage can. You're looking for hilarious interjections from Animal, some snarky comments from the Critics, and maybe some cookie crumbs scattered here and there in the gutters. Jim Henson was a guy brimming with originality and creativity: this biography is...not.

Technically, this biography is perfectly adequate. It takes a broad overview of Jim's personal life, provides general information about his work, and contains attractive illustrations that fit the text. But I can't help feeling let down, because I was desperately hoping for something amazing, brilliant, funny, and totally worthy of Jim Henson's lasting genius. Adults who are lifelong Muppet Show and Sesame Street devotees may pick up this book to learn more about Jim, but there's nothing here to wow a kid who isn't already a fan.

Grades 3-6
Click here to visit the Port Moody Public Library's catalogue!