Back to School Book Cover Trends: Classroom Desks

Cindy and Lynn: While store flyers have advertised Back to School sales since July 5th, the reality is just setting in here in Michigan. Cindy heads back officially on August 26th. Students are charging their Chromebooks and perhaps still sharpening a few pencils and figuring out what to wear next week on the first day. Some can’t wait, and others are dreading getting up early. Last year, we put together a cover trend of books featuring lockers and suggested putting together a display with directions on how to master that Masterlock. This year, we give you books with classic school desks on them, although in many schools, familiar rows of identical desks with attached chairs are being phased out and replaced by “flexible learning spaces.” For the vintage look, though, line up these titles for a back-to-school display:

 

The Unteachchables, by Gordan Korman

Wednesday Wars, by Gary Schmidt

Cryer’s Cross, by Lisa McMann

The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier

What titles did we miss? School us!! Leave us a comment.

Warblers and Woodpeckers – Adult Book Break

Lynn: We love youth books and that is mostly what we read. But now and then it is fun to take a break and dip our toes in adult books. We’ve decided to add a new feature at Bookends – adult books that have a connection to kids, libraries, or the youth book world, and that we think our readers might be interested in. We’re calling it…..Adult Book Break. 

My first recommendation is an adult book by a renown youth author, Sneed B. Collard III, Warblers & Woodpeckers: A Father-Son Big Year of Birding (Mountaineers Books, 2018). In 2016, Collard’s almost 13-year old son, Braden, suggested they do a “Big Year” together. Collard thought about it hard, citing some of the difficulties of such an effort from the physical to the financial. But Braden’s enthusiasm won the day. As Collard notes, “I wondered how much longer he would want to hang around with his dad.” And so it began.

I’ve been a birder all my life, inheriting the interest from my parents, but I am the rankest of amateurs! I have found some birding accounts a bit off-putting and, frankly, snobbish. Sneed Collard’s warm and lively book was accessible, informative, and anything but elitist. Told in a chatty confiding style, the stories of this father-son adventure are down-to-earth, relating triumphs and disasters from killer bee attacks to being stuck in the snow. The pair managed several special trips to important birding areas where they added a plethora of species to their growing lists. The stories of discovering new birds were really inspiring to me and I loved reading about the birding hot spots they experienced. Collard ends the chapters with a list of the birds seen that month and the back matter includes the complete Big Year list for each. There are also wonderful color photographs of birds that both Collards took during the year.

This Big Year experience was a joy to read and I came away feeling both as if I had been along on the trip and also yearning to pack my binoculars and head out immediately for my own Big Year. But the real heart of this book is the story of a father and his young son sharing something truly special. You don’t have to be an expert birder to love that.

Cindy: This was going to be a solo post by Lynn, but she talked about her “year list” all spring and when I headed to Arizona for Spring Break I decided to start my own Life List. By the time I returned to Michigan for the start of spring migration and the warblers started to dazzle me, I was hooked. It was fun to read about Sneed and Braden’s adventures as I had fresh memories of a couple of their Arizona hot spots. A Saguaro National Park ranger suggested I drive south an hour to Madera Canyon, and it was worth it!

I enjoyed their stories and their bonding over birds, and the peek into the birding research world through some of Collard’s contacts for his books. I appreciated Braden’s tenacity and enjoyment in building his list. Both father and son were hungry for the numbers, but their love of their special year together and their love and respect for the birds came shining through the text as well.

Queued up for this weekend is my first viewing of Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson’s 2011 film, The Big Year. It’s what got Braden into wanting to do his “Big Year,” so I figured I should add it to my list. Braden and Sneed (and the rest of the fam), you have an open invitation to come to West Michigan to bird with Lynn and me. There’s 380+ species in our county alone (Ottawa, MI). We have lots of gorgeous hot spots to show you!

For the children birders on your list, don’t miss our recent post, New Picture Books About Birds Take Flight. Sneed’s new book Birds of Every Color is included in the roundup.

 

New Picture Books about Birds Take Flight

Cindy and Lynn: We love the fun coincidences that enliven our days as reviewers! Ever since Lynn infected Cindy with her birding obsession this spring, everywhere we turn we find gorgeous new picture books about birds! Here is a round-up of this flock of wonderful books taking flight. All of them will make lovely additions sitting next to your Stokes and Sibley guidebooks to help encourage the next generation of birders.

Birds of Every Color, by Sneed B. Collard III (Bucking Horse, 2019)

An excellent explanation of the science behind bird coloration and the current theories on the whys behind all that beauty. Full page stunning color photographs on every page make this a real stand-out. Perfect for young readers, the writing is clear and simple yet includes scientific terms in an approachable way. Renown science author Collard and his teenage son took the breath-taking photographs and the outstanding book design and enticing cover make this simply irresistible.

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends, by Heidi E.Y. Stemple (Seagrass, 2019)

Stemple introduces the little known ornithologist Frank Chapman and his development of the Christmas Day Bird Count. She also talks about that count, how it works, why it is so important and how kids can be involved.

Conversational in tone but with a wonderfully conveyed enthusiasm for birds and bird conservation, this book is perfect to use with kids in a classroom or storytime to introduce birding and spark interest in understanding and supporting conservation. Practical ideas and examples of how kids can be involved in the count are especially important as Stemple assures kids they can participate at their own bird feeders for a specific (and short) amount of time that is very practical. Cover Robin’s collage illustrations are as gorgeous as they are inviting. Back matter includes additional information about Chapman, how kids can be involved in Count Day and in helping to save birds.


Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me
, by Susan B. Roth (Holiday House/Neil Porter, 2019)

Roth focusses on a single species, the Bowerbird from Australia and New Guinea. She and the bird have a lot in common as they are both collage artists. The Bowerbird builds structures from a variety of materials and decorates it with bits of color and other found items to attract a mate. Roth uses a variety of colorful materials to build her attractive art to tell a story. The double-page spreads showing their similar work habits, materials, and resulting efforts are genius and make for an interesting way for children to understand both human and bird artists.

Hummingbird, by Nicola Davies (Candlewick, 2019)

Davies also takes on a single species while explaining bird migration. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are visiting my nectar feeders and flowers while they get ready for their long flight back to Mexico, Central America and the southern part of Florida to spend their winters. Even adults are amazed by the endurance of these tiny birds so children are sure to be enchanted with this book. It’s the story of a young girl who learns about the migration from her Granny and from her own observations after flying on an airplane to New York City where she sees her favorite bird during the summer. Hummingbird migration and breeding facts are included to supplement the story, beautifully illustrated by Jane Ray.

“Following the Bend in the Road” – Michael Morpurgo and WWII in the Camargue

Lynn: One of the things I love most about the world of books—and children’s books in particular—is the way authors keep crafting new stories from the past that connect deeply to the events of the present. There is no better way for readers to learn about history and its driving forces and to realize that those same forces impact us still. Michael Morpurgo’s new book, The Day the World Stopped Turning, (Feiwel, 2019) is a shining example of that. There have been thousands of books written about WWII (and we have read a LOT of them) but Morpurgo tells a story that is fresh and unique and one that shines a beam on today’s issues in a way that will resonate with young readers.

Morpurgo uses an unusual structure for a book for middle schoolers. The framing story is that of Vincent Carter, an adult over 50, looking back briefly at his youth and then at his decision as an 18-year-old to leave home and travel to the south of France, following the path of the artist who inspires him, Vincent Van Gogh. He is further motivated by a childhood story about the wisdom of following the bend in the road to wherever it takes him. While walking in the isolated marshy area of the Camargue, Vincent falls seriously ill and collapses. He is rescued by an autistic man, Lorenzo, and taken back to a farm by the beach where Lorenzo and his companion Kezia nurse Vincent back to health. It is here that that heart of the story lies. As Vincent gradually regains his health, he becomes curious about his rescuers and their mysterious history. The narration then shifts to Kezia as she slowly relates their story that begins in 1932, of Lorenzo and his farmer parents and of Kezia only child of Roma parents who moved from town to town with their beautiful carousel. As Kezia grew older, her parents decided to stay in the town near the farm so she could go to school. The war is on, France has been defeated and the Vichy government rules the Camargue but for the most part, the war has left the area relatively untouched. All that ends one day when the Germans roll into town to set up fortifications on the beach and to stay. Lorenzo’s parents know that Roma people are being rounded up and they offer to hide Zezia and her family on the farm. This decision will forever change the lives of the two children, their families, and the town. And the story, as Kezia tells it, will forever change Vincent’s life as well.

This is a quiet tale and although there are great tension and suspense, the story allows time for readers to absorb and to reflect. It is a story about the issues of racism and hatred, of war and fear. But it is also an uplifting story of the greater power of friendship, kindness and love, courage, and the enduring nature of doing what is right. The setting will be unfamiliar to most American students but the lyrical writing brings this remote and beautiful place to life. The narratives are an interesting blend of adult and child perspectives with the framing voice adult and the WWII sections of the book in young Kezia’s voice. This device brings added emphasis to the central story and puts readers firmly in the shoes of the children experiencing the events of the occupation.  The parallels to issues in the headlines today are stark and kids will readily make the comparisons and come to their own conclusions.

This book is not for every kid but it offers rich rewards for a mature and curious reader ready to try something different.

“Children Deserve Important Books!” Thank You, Margaret Wise Brown.

Lynn: As a young librarian I was taught to honor Margaret Wise Brown and as a parent I loved to read her books to my boys. But with all that, I knew very little about the life of this iconic author. Mac Barnett steps up to help me with that glaring error in his new stellar picture book biography, The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown (Harper/Balzer+Bray, 2019)

Right from the start, Margaret was a different soul and Barnett does an outstanding job of bringing that difference forward and letting readers know that it was more than okay. I LOVE Barnett’s writing in this book. He speaks directly to the reader, is conversational, blunt and refreshingly honest with kids, acknowledging some of Brown’s strange actions. Kids probably won’t know of many other authors who skinned a dead pet rabbit and wore its pelt around her waist, swam naked, or blew her entire first book earnings on an entire flower cart and threw a big party! And, Barnett goes on to say, Brown also wrote strange books, at least strange for her time although not so dissimilar, kids will note, to the very book they are reading.

What comes through wonderfully here is that it is OK to be strange and Margaret Wise Brown was strange in some truly important ways. Brown believed that children deserve important books and as Barnett again points out, life is strange and books that reflect that may seem strange but they also “feel true.” Margaret Wise Brown was a champion for children and books and after reading this amazing book, I think Mac Barnett is too.

Cindy: Maybe the reason we knew so little about Margaret Wise Brown is that she thought the stories were more important than the author! Here is the quote that Barnett opens with:

“It did not seem important that any one wrote these stories. They were true. And it still doesn’t seem important! All this emphasis today on who writes what seems silly to me as far as children are concerned.”

No matter, we know a little bit more now about the author of Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, The Important Book, The Little Fur Family, and so many more. While Barnett spins the tale, we get to immerse ourselves in Sarah Jacoby’s watercolor and Nupastel paintings. There are bunnies, and dogs, and many flowers and trees, and bunny children reading books or being read to by librarians like Anne Carroll Moore. The scenes are at once familiar and fresh.

And then, Mac Barnett slices into our hearts with his truthful pen, or computer, and says:

“Lives don’t work the way most books do.
They can end suddenly,
as fast as you kick your leg in the air.”

And it goes on and is beautiful and is a tribute that Margaret would have liked, I think. But you’ll have to buy the book and read the rest yourself because I am crying just a little and the words are blurring.

Gondra’s Treasure – Dragon Lore History and Blended Families in a Picture Book

Lynn:  Readers might be surprised if we described a new picture book for the PreK-Gr.2 set as an introduction to dragon lore, its history and cultural differences, a story about biracial families and a sweet bedtime tale all in one. But if we then revealed that the author is the talented Linda Sue Park, all would be explained. Park’s new picture book, Gondra’s Treasure (Clarion, 2019), is all of those unusual elements and more and the result is completely charming.

Gondra, a small dragon, confides that her mom’s family is from the West and her Dad’s is from the East. As Gondra goes on to describe her family, readers get an introductory lesson in dragon folklore and the cultural differences in the traditional stories. Gondra’s mother breathes fire and her father breathes mist. Her mother’s ancestors lived in caves with treasure and her father’s had a single magical pearl that could control the weather. Gondra herself is a charming mix of both and this blend is presented along with a loving banter between the parents that is both humorous and reassuring. In what is clearly bedtime routine, Gondra brushes her teeth, dons striped pajamas (with her tail sticking out)  and hauls her stuffed toy and a stack of books off to bed, asking on the way, “What happened to the magic pearl and all the treasure?”

“Oh, that’s right. We don’t need them

anymore – because I’m your treasure.”

While the simple dragon lore is front and center here, the subtle message of loving acceptance and biracial families is the sweetly told heart of this dragon tale.

Cindy: Linda Sue Park’s story is warm and tender and encouraging to children living in many types of blended families. The humor in the tale is brought to life brilliantly in Jennifer Black Reinhardt’s whimsical illustrations. Created in ink, watercolor and collage paper, they are bright and expressive and Gondra made me snort in almost every scene. Unfortunately, I produced neither flames nor mist. Sigh.

Gondra’s attempts to fly and the caution to only breathe fire with an adult present will be familiar to the intended audience who are learning new things or having to wait to learn them. Gondra’s imagination shines as she takes to a swing to soar in the air while she waits for her magic to unfold.

An author’s note explains the lore behind dragons from different regions and some theories related to dinosaur fossil beds as to how people on different continents imagined dragon stories. Or perhaps, dragons are real? Gondra makes me wish it were so.

 

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager – YA Snark with a Sighting of Sweetness

Lynn: Opening the pages of Ben Philippe’s debut book, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager (Harper/Balzer+Bray, 2019) was like opening my own front door to hear the voices of my sons and grandsons. No, they aren’t Black Haitian hockey-loving Canadians like Norris Kaplan but they were/are smart, snarky, and cynical but with a sweet vulnerability and sometimes a little too clever for their own good. Seventeen-year-old Norris’s recently divorced mother has taken a rare tenure-track position in her obscure field at the University of Texas in Austin. Dragged metaphorically kicking and screaming from his home, friends, father and beloved Habs to attend high school in Austin, Norris knows just what to expect from watching American sitcoms: mean brainless cheerleaders, bullying jocks, clueless nerds and loners! Assigned to keep a writing journal in class, Norris records his observation of the “species” in his field guide and his entries are hilarious but also smugly dismissive.

Norris plans to keep his head down, get through the year and get home to Montreal as soon as possible but despite himself, Norris makes a friend, meets a stunning girl, takes a part-time job, and begins to realize it is not all that easy to lump people into neat stereotypes. Could his field observations be wrong?

This was laugh-out-loud funny with spot-on snarky dialog and such a clever premise. The endearing cast of characters was the real highlight of this book and Norris especially stole my heart. He is working so hard at being cynical but Philippe does a stellar job of giving readers revealing glimpses of Norris’s basic sweetness and the vulnerability he works so hard at concealing. As Norris matures through the course of the story, he begins to see beyond his own assumptions and so does the reader’s understanding of the real depth of all the characters. Early on, I settled in, happy to follow the plot of what I thought was going to be a predictable trajectory. But a surprise twist took the story in an unexpected direction. This was still satisfying but it made the book that much more intriguing for me.

Don’t miss this clever “field guide” and stay tuned for Ben Philippe’s next observation of the teen species.

Updated: Want more? Check out this All Things Considered NPR interview with Ben.