Saturday, April 25, 2015

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bluffton: My Summer with Buster by Matt Phelan

It's 1908, and not much happens in Muskegon, Michigan.  But all that changes when a troupe of vaudeville performers come to summer not far from Muskegon.  Henry can't believe his eyes.  The elephants, zebras, and the kids who travel with their families!  What a life!  Henry befriends Buster, a kid his age who is part of his family's act.  Henry wants Buster to teach him all his tricks, but all Buster wants is to play baseball and pull some pranks.

Henry is a fictional character, but all the vaudeville people mentioned in the book are real, and they really did summer at Bluffton where Joe Keaton, Buster's father, founded The Actor's Colony.  Buster, of course, is Buster Keaton, famous comedian and film star.  Before he became that famous film star, we learn, he was part of a family act where he was "the human mop."  He got throw around, took lots of falls, and got right back up again.

Henry is jealous of Buster.  Henry thinks his life is boring.  Here he is in this nothing little town, where nothing every happens.  His father owns a store.  He helps his father in his store.  He goes to school.  That's his life.  But Buster!  Buster gets to travel the world!  He can do all sorts of tricks and falls.  He can juggle.  He meets all kind of interesting people.  He's personable and friendly.  Henry wants to be like him.

Buster, we the reader can see, does not think he's quite so lucky.  He wants to spend his summer, the only time he doesn't have to perform, playing baseball.  He doesn't want to teach Henry falls and tricks.  He doesn't want to do them when he doesn't have to.  We can tell Buster wishes he'd had more schooling.  Perhaps more of a "regular" life.  That maybe he doesn't want to be in vaudeville forever, but Henry can't see that.

There's a lovely moment in the book where Henry talks to his father about not wanting to be a store keeper.  His father tells him he never expected him to be.  He wants Henry to do whatever will make him happy.

The art is done in lovely pale water color.  It invokes a feeling of "another time."  There are many wordless panels where everything we need is in a look or gesture.  A beautiful book.  Might take some pushing to get kids to read it.  It might not be one they'll just pick up.  Sell it by talking about the elaborate pranks Henry and Buster pull on the school principal.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial by Darryl Cunningham

Darryl Cunningham debunks a number of prevalent myths, from the moon landing being a hoax to vaccinations causing Autism.  For each myth Cunningham uses science and proven facts to explain why the myths are just that: myths.

I found this to be a very informative book, but it's also a book that's preaching to the choir.  You're not going to pick up this book if you're a person who thinks climate change doesn't exist or that there's no such thing as evolution.  This isn't going to be the book that manages to convince naysayers otherwise, because the naysayers aren't going to pick up a book on exposing the myths of science denial, even if it's in a friendly graphic novel format.

But if you're a person who's interested in where these myths come from, and how they can scientifically be refuted (so you can impress your friends and be prepared for your next cocktail party when someone says, "So what do you think about fracking?") this is the book for you.

What I liked about it was that it stressed critical thinking and the scientific method.  Cunningham was very clear that just because we find something to be true now using the scientific method, doesn't mean that that will always be the case.  Some new piece of information or research might come along that changes things.  Something new might be discovered.  But we must think critically and base our understanding on facts that come about through careful experimentation and observation.  We can't disregard pieces of information because they don't fit with what we personally think, or what we'd like to be true.

Cunningham provided evidence for each issue he was looking at, as well as explaining how the myth originated, and how scientific data and facts can prove the myth inaccurate.

The writing is clear and straightforward, although I found some concepts easier to understand than others.  I still find the concept of fracking confusing.  Also, frack will never not make me think of Battlestar Galactica (the one with the moral dilemmas, not the one with the laser beams).

The book is arranged in strips, with three rows on each page with two panels per row with little variation.  The art is carrtoonish, and is mixed with real photographs and detailed portraits of individuals mentioned.  It made for an interesting mix.

While younger middle school students might have difficult, I think this would be appropriate for 8th grade and up.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

Helene used to be friends with a group of girls at schools.  But now they all make fun of her, calling her fat.  Helene has no one now.  She finds comfort in reading Jane Eyre.  Jane had no on either, but she was still smart and capable.  The final straw comes when Helene is humiliated in front of everyone on a school trip.  Not even Jane Eyre is enough anymore.

This was lovely.  A heartfelt story about bullying, the feeling of isolation, and the impact a single person can make by reaching out to another.

Helene takes things especially hard because the girls who are now tormenting her were once her friends.  Helene doesn't really know what happened, but now she has no one.  No one will talk to her.  She is a social outcast.  Helene works her way through Jane Eyre, finding a companion in isolation and comfort that things can work out OK, even for someone who is friendless.  Helene begins to despair when things take a bad turn for Jane, and she has to go on a retreat with her whole class.

It's on this retreat that Helene, feeling more alone than ever, sees the fox.  The fox is beautiful and approaches her.  But even this magical moment is ruined and makes her feel like a freak.

I was confused throughout the book by how Helene was draw.  All her ex-friends are calling her fat.  She's sure her mother is ashamed of her.  But she didn't look overweight at all.  It all becomes clear toward the end when Helene goes for her yearly physical and her doctor informs her she's right on track.  Helene insists she's fat.  The doctor informs her she isn't anything of the kind.  The kids at school calling her fat got into her head until Helene truly believed that she was.  And the kids calling her fat were just being cruel.  It was based on nothing.

The illustrations were for the most part in gray and black, reflecting Helene's depression and feelings of isolation.  The only color was when we saw Jane Eyre.  Jane's life had a little color in it, although Jane herself was still all black and white.  For Helene, everything is gray until the fox appears.  The fox is bright with color.  A fleeting brightness in Helene's life.  But then it's gone and everything is black again.

As Helene makes friends with Geraldine, color begins to come into Helene's world.  Not right away.  But after making a friend and realizing she isn't actually overweight, we begin to see a few spots of color.  On sneakers and tee shirts, in the trees, and it ends with Helene walking into a world of color.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


John Green to Wi10 Booksellers: Life Would 'Suck Without You'.  From PW.

"I Am Malala" Wins Grammy For Best Children's Album.  From Forbes.

Pennsylvania: Budget Cuts Take Toll On School Librarians In Philadelphia.  From Library Journal.
My inspiration: Jennifer Niven on Virginia Woolf.  From The Guardian.

Someone Is Writing The Ultimate Generic Dystopian YA Novel On Twitter.  From io9.

Which YA character would be your BFF?  From BuzzFeed.

2015 Battle of the Kids’ Books Battle Plans and Brackets Unveiled.  From SLJ.

Interviews with some of the Battle of the Kid's Book contenders: Candace Fleming, Cece Bell, Gregory Maguire, Jacqueline Woodson.  From SLJ.
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