The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton

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Barton, Chris.  The Day-Glo Brothers.  Charlesbridge, 2009.  $18.95, 44 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.chrisbarton.info/

Links to Interviews with Author:

  • cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2009/07/author-interview-chris-barton-on-day.html

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: What started out as an experiment to enhance a magic trick soon became America’s brightest new thing!

Summary:

Bob and Joe Switzer never set out to create new colors.  Joe enjoyed magic.  Bob wanted to be a doctor.  But after an accident that left him with seizures and unable to be a doctor, Bob found himself recovering in the basement of his parents’ home.  Joe soon recruited him to help with a magic trick that used ultraviolet lamps and fluorescence.  Soon the brothers were experimenting using chemicals from local universities and their mother’s kitchen mixer.  Their glow in the dark paints were a hit with theater costumers, on posters, in toy displays, and even with psychics to fake out gullible customers.  The brothers continued to experiment and soon developed a paint that glowed in daylight and in ultraviolet light.  Day-Glo was born and quickly put to use during World War II.  After the war, Day-Glo also made its way into commercial products like toys, magazine covers, detergent boxes and even into cultural pieces like Andy Warhol’s paintings.  The Switzer brother had brightened up almost every aspect of American life.

Evaluation:

This nonfiction text was an original story that showcases two creative brothers who invent something without even setting out to do so.  The narrative style of this book is easily followed and enjoyable to read.  Based on first hand interviews with people who knew the Switzer brothers, it includes charming and entertaining details about their experiments (and a glowing angel food cake), their initial successes (with a decapitated Balinese dancer), and their triumphs (with the multitude of ways Day-Glo was used in World War II that helped America win the war).  The language of the text is not weighed down by many technical terms, but rather remains conversational in the telling of a story. The illustrations are retro, calling back to the 1950’s and 60’s and early educational cartoons.  They start out initially in gray scale, but more colors and brighter colors are utilized with each success of the brothers.  The author’s conclusion was also quite touching, acknowledging that one brother wanted to save lives, and one brother wanted to wow audiences, and through their Day-Glo, both were able to achieve these things.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: nonfiction, science, history

Appeal Factors: illustrations, use of color, science, experiments, history

Readalike Titles or Authors:

    • The Boy who Invented TV by Kathleen Krull
    • Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Siebert Award honor book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Balinese dancer illusion
  • Experimenting with every day items
  • Billboard on fire

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does the author imply that Day-Glo has saved lives?
  • How are colors used in this book?
  • What does the author say about problem solving and invention?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this because of the unique subject matter of Day-Glo paint.  The brothers’ story was unfamiliar to me and to many others.  I was also drawn in by the retro illustrations and the clever use of color.

April and Esme, Tooth Fairies by Bob Graham

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Graham, Bob. April and Esme, Tooth Fairies. Candlewick Press, 2010.  $16.99, 40 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.walker.co.uk/contributors/Bob-Graham-3108.aspx

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: April and Esme show their parents that they are grown up enough for tooth retrieval.

Summary:

Tooth fairy April Underhill receives a special request on her cell phone from Daniel’s grandmother for her and Esme to pick up a tooth.  The problem is that Daddy and Mommy do not think the young fairies are old enough to go by themselves.  April meticulously records the details of the pick up, and reassures both Daddy and Mommy with logic why she and Esme will be perfectly safe and are capable of the job.  Flying to Cornflower Terrace, the girls identify Daniel’s room by following a trail of toys.  April has to take a swim for the tooth that Daniel had put into a cup of water.  Just as April gets the tooth, Daniel wakes up!  April and Esme have to pull his eye lids shut and whisper that they were just a dream.  Before they head back to their waiting parents, the girls fly to Grandma’s room, where April shares their success and Esme wants to get Grandma’s dentures.  Upon their successful arrival at home, the girls are greeted with much love and pride in their accomplishments.

Evaluation:

Bob Graham’s April and Esme, Tooth Fairies is a lovely tale of growing up.  April articulates logically to her parents why she and Esme should be able to go get the tooth.  She is able to figure out where the tooth is, and to trouble shoot when the tooth is in a glass of water.  Graham creates an imaginary world that closely parallels the real world, so that readers can relate to the fairy girls’ dilemma of seemingly overprotective parents.  Fay (Mommy) recalls a time when “foxes still chased hares on the hill,” using the same argument that parents use about times changing and the past being safer for children.  The details included in the illustrations, as well as snuck into the plot, also create a world very similar to ours.  April has a cell phone, Mommy dries her hair with a hair dryer, the girls wear coats, Mommy tells the girls to text if there is trouble.  At the same time, there is the fanciful element, where Mommy bathes in a tea cup, Daddy has a desk chair made from a bottle cap, a giant daffodil (compared to the fairies) grows in the girls’ bedroom.  Overall, this story is a delightful and triumphant tale of parents letting children accomplish things on their own.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: fantasy

Appeal Factors: illustrations, fantastical elements, fairies, detailed world building, realistic elements, sisters, adventure

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Moonlight Tooth Fairy by Lulu Frost
  • The Tooth Mouse by Susan Hood
  • Mabel the Tooth Fairy and How She Got Her Job by Katie Davis

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Charlotte Zolotow Award honor
  • Notable Children’s Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Convincing Mommy and Daddy that they can go
  • Last minute advice before they leave
  • Having to dive for the tooth

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How is the tooth fairies’ world the same as ours?
  • What convinces Mommy that April and Esme are old enough to go?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it was about tooth fairies.  The fanciful and magical elements of this story were enchanting.  I loved the way the illustrations created a world so like ours, but also with fantastical elements.

Let’s Go for a Drive by Mo Willems

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Willems, Mo. Let’s Go for a Drive.  Hyperion Books for Children, 2012.  $8.99, 57 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.mowillems.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Piggie and Elephant make plans to go for a drive.

Summary:

Piggie and Gerald the elephant decide to go for a drive.  Gerald emphasizes the need for a plan.  Included in his plan are all of the things that the two friends will  need for a drive.  This includes a map, umbrella, sunglasses, and bags to keep all of the stuff they need for their drive.  Once they are packed, Gerald realizes that they still need one more thing for their drive…a car!  Since neither has a car, and before Gerald can panic too much more, Piggie suggests they play pirates instead.  And play pirates they do.

Evaluation:

Characteristic of Mo Willems’ work, Let’s Go for a Drive features two familiar friends, Gerald the elephant and Piggie, a problem to solve, and lots of silliness.   The catchy rhythm and silly repetition of words and sounds makes this a good book for early readers. The liberal use of exclamation points amps up the energy of this book.  Willems’ signature illustrations add to the silliness of Gerald and Piggie.  Their emotions are clearly expressed in their facial expressions and body language.  Gerald’s close to hysterics is apparent in the illustrations toward the end.  Their antics are entertaining, as is their final solution to the problem of no car, making this quite an enjoyable read.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: fiction, easy reader

Appeal Factors: humor, illustrations, friends, animals, use of imagination

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • New Socks by Bob Shea
  • Can You Make a Scary Face? by Jan Thomas
  • My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Theodor Seuss Geisel Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The need for a plan
  • All of the things they need to drive

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why do they need so many things for their drive?
  • What would you need for a drive?
  • How have they incorporated the items they needed for a drive into playing pirates?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because I wanted to read one of Mo Willems’ books.  My son and I had listened to a different Elephant and Piggie story at a library story time, and I liked the two friends’ energy.

The Schwa Was Here by Neal Schusterman

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Shusterman, Neal.  The Schwa Was Here.  Dutton, 2004.  $15.99, 276 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.storyman.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Taking advantage of being invisible, Calvin Schwa and Antsy’s antics include profiting off of dares, a blind love interest, and finding Schwa’s mother who disappeared into thin air.

Summary:

Until Anthony “Antsy” Bonano met Calvin Schwa after attempting to destroy indestructible dummy Manny Bullpucky, no one noticed the Schwa.  Abandoned by his mother in the grocery store as a young child, forgotten by his brain damaged painter father, Schwa drifts through life invisible.  Antsy soon realizes that they could capitalize on this fact, and starts charging for the Schwa’s invisible services.  Until a dare at Mr. Crawley’s house goes horribly wrong and both boys are caught.  Faced with either the police or to be indentured dog walkers, the boys choose the dogs.  But soon Antsy is hired by Crawley to take around his granddaughter, and Antsy steels himself to be punished with the company of said granddaughter.  Except Lexie turns out to be fun and attractive, and both Antsy and the Schwa, who Lexie can “see” even though she is blind, start to fall for her.  This love triangle strains their friendship, and then the Schwa decides to find out the truth about what happened with his mother.  The Schwa is no longer invisible, but then he disappears all together.

Evaluation:

The story started off a little slow, but the characters were quirky and endearing from the Schwa to Mr. Crawley to Antsy to Lexie.  It was wonderful to see a blind character who did not struggle with being blind.  The structure of the novel was easy to follow.  The chapter titles were as quirky as the characters. The Schwa’s predicament seemed rather unrealistic, but the concept was intriguing.  In true teenage boy fashion, the two are able to get into some mischief using the Schwa’s abilities.  The plot also has some strange situations (walking 14 Afghans?, a mother running off with the Night Butcher?, buying a billboard on an abandoned freeway?).  However, the underlying story of friendship and self-discovery is one that everyone can relate to.  Feeling invisible is another point of entry for readers.  A fun read for those who enjoy a little of the strange and wonderous.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: friendship, romance, feeling invisible, teenage boys, humor

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer
  • Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Fiction
  • ALSC Notable Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Testing the Schwa Effect
  • Getting caught at Crawley’s
  • The Night Butcher

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Is Calvin really invisible to all these people?
  • What does Antsy learn about “truth”?
  • Has the Schwa ceased to be invisible?  Or has he learned how to live invisibly happily?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book initially for the title.  I was curious to see what the story had to do with the schwa sound.  The idea of an invisible boy was also a draw to the story.

How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz

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Shulevitz, Uri. How I Learned Geography. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2008.  $16.95, 32 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://us.macmillan.com/author/urishulevitz

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Hard times as an immigrant are escaped through reading and learning geography.

Summary:

After fleeing his wartorn homeland of Poland, a young boy finds himself and his family in a foreign land, poor and hungry.  When his father triumphantly returns from the bazaar with a map instead of bread for dinner, the boy and his mother are angry.  But soon the boy finds himself fascinated with the map.  Not only does it bring color to their dingy living space, but it transports the boy to wonderful places.  He learns names of exotic place, traces and redraws the map on any paper he can find.  He imagines what it is like on these foreign beaches, in deserts, snowy mountains, steamy jungles, elaborate temples, and cosmopolitan cities.  Taken away from his hunger and unhappiness, the boy realizes his father made a wise decision after all.

Evaluation:

This semi-biographical picture book portrays one small aspect of the immigrant experience.  The hardships of poverty and lack of food take a backdrop to the glories of reading the map and learning geography.  The book actually speaks more about the power of reading as an escape than the immigrant experience.  The language is simple and easy to understand.  The watercolors that accompany the text tell the story almost as well as the text.  The colors add to the tone of the story.  The picture that accompanies the text about war is washed with reds and blacks, with the people washed out and devoid of color.  The busy bazaar pops with color and details.  The worried and hungry narrator and his mother wait for his father in muted blues and browns as night falls.  The imagined travels are highlighted with bright colors.  More so than the physical trials of immigration, this story tells of the inner conflict and the relationship the boy has with his father.  This is reconciled when the boy understands why his father has chosen the map, thus the boy can end the story that he forgives his father.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 2
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: illustration, immigrant experience, joy of reading, family relationship

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
  • Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home by Youme Landowne
  • The Little Refugee by Ahn Do

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Notable Children’s Book
  • Charlotte Zolotow Award
  • Calecott Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The narrator’s home
  • His worry about his father coming home late
  • Places he visited through the map

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Do you think the narrator’s father made a good choice in buying the map?
  • What would you have said if it were your father?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book because of the title.  I was curious to see how the immigrant experience played into learning geography.  Initially I thought it was because the author had to travel to a lot places.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

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Portis, Antoinette. Not a Box.  Harper Collins Children’s Books, 2006.  $14.99, 32 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.antoinetteportis.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: For a bunny with an imagination, a box is so much more than a box.

Summary:

A bunny sitting in a box is plagued with questions from a pesky narrator.  First the narrator wants to know why it is sitting in a box.  Then the narrator wants to know why it is standing on the top of the box.  The narrator doesn’t understand why the bunny is squirting the box with a hose.  Or why he wears the box.  Finally, the bunny explains that it is not a box, but a Not-a-Box.

Evaluation:

Not a Box is a very simple picture book that beginner readers can enjoy.  The stark text against a single colored background and illustrated with simple drawings makes readers use their own imaginations.  The box has the potential to be many other things, a tall building, hot air balloon, race car, and much, much more.  Although simple in text and illustration, the message about the power of imagination is clear.  The anonymous narrator asking questions is disdainfully reproached by the imaginative bunny with a look of disbelief when he/she keeps asking about a box.  This delightful read has a powerful message wrapped in simple trappings.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: fiction

Appeal Factors: illustrations, use of imagination

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Brave Spaceboy by Dana Kessimakis Smith
  • Big Brown Box by Marisabina Russo

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Theodor Seuss Geisel Award honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Series of box as not a box picture

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does the narrator keep asking the bunny about the box?
  • What other things can you imagine the box could be?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because of its simplicity.  From the drawings to the text, everything was very simple.  I liked how Portis was still able to tell an entertaining story with so little.

 

Mister Orange by Truus Matti

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Matti, Truus. Mister Orange. Enchanted Lion Books, 2012.  $16.95, 160 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.letterenfonds.nl/en/author/381/truus-matti

Links to Interviews with Translator:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: To deal with his brother’s departure for war, Linus makes friends with an imaginary superhero and a real life artist.

Summary:

When Linus’ older brother Albie goes to Europe to fight in World War II, Linus is left with Mr. Superspeed, the superhero Albie created, to reassure him that Albie will be safe.  Along with other changes, Linus now takes over the delivery of groceries for the family store.  One of his regular customers is a man he calls Mister Orange for the crates of oranges he delivers.  Mister Orange turns out to be an artist from Holland (based on Piet Mondrian), who left to escape the Nazi oppression of the arts and artists.  Linus soon befriends Mister Orange and they have interesting conversations about art and life.  It is Mister Orange that Linus turns to when he reads a letter from Albie that portrays the reality of war as opposed to the romanticized version that Linus imagined when Albie first left.  Convinced that imagination has no practical use in the world, Linus even stops his conversations with Mr. Superspeed.  Through his friendship with Mister Orange, Linus is able to move past his shattered innocence and find a place for his imagination and himself in the world again.

Evaluation:

The story was written with simple and straightforward language.   Told from the point of view of a child, there is an innocence and wonder about the world as experienced by Linus.  The conversations with the imaginary superhero add to the innocent atmosphere.  This is until his illusions are shattered by the harsh truth about war and about life.  Matti has a beautiful scene where Mister Orange talks to Linus about the value of imagination.  This really conveys his theme also about art and its value.  The characters are likeable and believable.  Linus and his family could be any family with a child off at war.  Their relationships and struggles are true to life and easy to sympathize with.  Mister Orange is based on a real artist, Piet Mondrian.  At the end of the book is additional information and resources about Mondrian.  Overall, this book, while set during World War II was more about art and life than about war.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: historical fiction

Appeal Factors: art, history, World War II, family relationships, comics, imagination

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Erika’s Story by Ruth Vander Zee
  • Copprenickel Goes Mondrian by Maria Popova

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Batchelder Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Conversations with Mr. Superspeed
  • Reading Albie’s letter about his friend dying
  • Mister Orange’s apartment decor
  • Conversation with Mister Orange about imagination

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Mister Orange says that you have to have imagination to be able to go to war.  Do you agree or disagree?
  • Can art fight wars?  How?
  • Why does the author use the conversations with Mr. Superspeed?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because I thought it was a novel about World War II.  It actually ended up being more about art and an artist.  However, the message about imagination was powerful and the characters were delightful.