August 31, 2011

Back to school

by Avi

When her one-room school unexpectedly closes, Ida Bidson’s wish to go to high school seems dashed. But her friend Tom gets an idea: Ida can be the teacher! It seems like an unbelievable plan, but her parents are willing to let her try and her classmates agree to it. They just have to keep it a secret otherwise Mr. Jordan, the head of the school board, will shut them down.

Ida finds it difficult to teach and do her chores at the same time. It’s also hard for her to study. But with her students all working together, she manages to keep going. When news of the secret school gets out, the townspeople are surprisingly supportive.

Avi has written a very cheerful, positive story, with little conflict. Only one parent truly objects; the rest let their kids do whatever they want. But then, children were much more independent in 1925. Ida even drives to school, though she cannot reach the pedals. Her seven-year-old brother, Felix, works the brake and clutch.

A good, easy read for kids who like happy endings.

August 25, 2011

Boynton books make great apps

Sandra Boynton's books are filled with movement and music, making them ideally suited for apps. 

In Blue Hat, Green Hat, meet an error-prone turkey, who can't quite get the hang of putting on clothes. While the other animals wear their hats, shirts, pants and socks the usual way, the turkey's got his shirt around his waist, his pants on his head and his socks on his wings. Every OOPS! contains a surprise, like sending clothes flying or making the turkey walk on his head. Letting the rain fall for long enough causes a flood, the animals can be walked off the page, and you can undress and dress the turkey. It ends with a refreshing dip in the pool. Guaranteed to make you laugh!

Other Boynton apps: The Going to Bed Book, and Moo, Baa, La La La (both reviewed in an earlier posting)

Coming soon: Barnyard Dance! (definitely a must-buy!)

August 23, 2011

Morris' flying books

A popular app getting rave reviews is The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It is based on an animated short film of the same name, both by William Joyce, a well-known picture book author. (George Shrinks,Bently & Egg, Dinosaur Bob)

Morris Lessmore is a young man who loves books. He loves reading them and writing them. One day, as he's writing in his book, a mighty wind comes up. It blows away his words and, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, sends him into another world. In that world are books that fly. They take Morris to their home, a vast library, where he cares for them until he dies. At the end, he becomes young again and flies away, leaving his books in the hands of young girl who will care for them in turn.

The trailer is quite appealing and convincing, as you will see:

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore iPad App Trailer from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

The app allows you to do many things, such as starting the wind, painting a sky, playing a piano, or mending a book. You can also make the books talk or create words in a bowl of cereal. However, there are a few problems. Sometimes it's hard to figure out what to do on each page. Your random tapping and swiping can result in unwanted page turns, which is a bit frustrating if you have the narration on. Other times, the interactivity is very brief, resulting in an is that it? feeling. And the Pop Goes the Weasel motif can get stuck in your head for days.

The story is longer than most ebooks, so it may be unsuitable for impatient users.

Far better is the 14-minute short film, which has a nice, smooth flow and makes the story easier to understand. It also shows that a really good story doesn't need words or interactivity to capture a reader's attention.

So, I definitely prefer the film, and wish that I had known about it before I bought the app. But with the reasonable prices - $4.99 for the app, $6.99 for the film - you can buy both and decide for yourself.

August 18, 2011

Journey to freedom

by Alma Fullerton

Libertad and his brother Julio live near a garbage dump in Guatemala City. After their mother dies, Libertad knows that their only hope is to find their father, who works in the United States. Though they are fortunate to find help along the way, they must deal with beatings, theft, and drug abuse. But in the end, they are free.

Told in free verse, the novel can easily be read in one sitting. It has enough suspense to keep the story flowing, and the emotions captured are very real. Good for reluctant readers.

August 17, 2011

Grandfather's Journey

written and illustrated by Allen Say

With simple, direct language and bold, tranquil portraits, Allen Say talks about his grandfather's journey from Japan to California and back again. A Caldecott medal winner, Say quietly shows how he and his grandfather can be homesick for two countries at the same time. A good book to share with many generations.

August 16, 2011

Sometimes you've gotta work with what you've got

by Cynthia Lord

The rules are for David, Catherine's autistic brother. She hopes they'll help him act normal so people won't stare at him or stare at her.  She's also resentful that her parents don't pay more attention to her. It makes it difficult to make friends with Kristi, who just moved in next door. But Catherine does become friendly with Jason, whom she meets at David's therapy centre. 

Jason communicates by tapping words on a board. When he adds Catherine's own name to his board, she starts creating more words for him so he can express a wider range of feelings. Jason helps her see that "normal" really depends on one's point-of-view.

An excellent, funny book for anyone who has ever felt different or has had to deal with a special needs sibling.

August 12, 2011

Helen's Eyes

by MarfĂ© Ferguson Delano

Many people know the story of Helen Keller, but few know about the life of her “miracle worker”. This photobiography shines a light on Sullivan’s story, enabling readers to truly understand her extraordinary achievements and to fully grasp what she meant to Helen. Emotional and inspiring, it should be read alongside Sarah Miller's Miss Spitfire.

For more information about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, visit the website of the American Foundation for the Blind.

Also read My Heart Glow: Alice Cogswell, Thomas Gallaudet, and the Birth of American Sign LanguageIt's about a girl named Alice who was the inspiration behind the creation of schools for the deaf in the United States.

August 10, 2011

Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller

by Sarah Miller

Before Annie Sullivan came into her life, Helen Keller was well on her way to becoming an uncontrollable wild child. With her own impoverished background, poor eyesight, and barely concealed fierceness, Annie is the perfect match for the strong-willed Helen.

Annie's task is far from easy. Helen cannot tolerate her, and rebels every step of the way. But though Annie often despairs, she is also determined. Through sheer grit and perseverance, she succeeds in chipping away Helen's defenses, eventually winning her abiding affection. The scene at the pump is all the more moving when Helen learns t-e-a-c-h-e-r and her own name.

Told from Annie's point-of-view, Sarah Miller ably captures all of Annie's emotions - her loneliness and frustration, her hopes and yearnings. It makes Annie's accomplishment all the more amazing. A compelling read even for those familiar with Annie's and Helen's story.

After reading Miss Spitfire, I was inspired to read Teacher, Helen Keller's own reminiscences about Annie Sullivan. But it's been difficult. The problem is that of voice. Keller sometimes refers to herself in the third person and the language she uses is often florid and melodramatic. Her description of Sullivan makes her sound like a saint or a monster. It made me wonder who is actually telling the story, Keller or someone else (perhaps Nella Braddy Hanney, who wrote the introduction?). But perhaps it is not so surprising when you consider that Keller's experiences cannot help but be colored by her interpreters' versions of them. Keller has written other books, notably The Story of My Life, but I'm not sure if it's worth tackling.

August 3, 2011

Girl naturalist

by Jacqueline Kelly

Eleven-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate (aka Callie Vee) doesn’t excel in sewing or cooking, skills her mother deems important for a girl about to come out (as a debutante). Smart and observant, Callie is more interested in science. This is not an acceptable calling for a girl in 1899, but it delights her crotchety grandfather. He gives Callie a controversial book, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and includes her in his outdoor explorations. They even think they've discovered a new plant, and send a letter to the Smithsonian for verification. While they wait for word from the institute, Callie describes her other adventures - a piano concert gone awry, her brothers’ love lives, her brother Travis’ pet turkeys, and her miserable cooking lesson.

Callie’s voice is feisty, engaging, and hilarious, especially when forced to critique her woeful knitting. As her mother lectures her, Callie spends the time thinking about the intelligence of parrots. Needless to say, her parents will not approve of Callie's scientific aspirations. But when one of her New Year's resolutions come true, we know that Callie will somehow find her way.

A tender romance

by Deborah Heiligman

This story begins with Charles Darwin making a list. It has two columns: “Marry" and "Not  Marry”. In between, he wrote This is the Question, then proceeded to note down the pros and cons of the idea. At the end of this exercise, he decides that marrying seems the best idea. So, although they do not know each other well, he and his cousin Emma Wedgewood, announce their engagement. But there is one major concern – religion. Emma is a devout Christian and fears for Charles’s soul because of his doubts about God.

Instead of a straight biography, this is a portrait of a marriage and of a family. It is often very serious and distressing, with its account of death and ill health. But we also get to know Darwin not only as a scientist, but as a loving husband and father. In turn, Emma is supporter, companion, mother, and confidante. Excerpts from their letters show that although they had their differences, neither could live without the other.