The Sweetest Scoop – What’s Your Flavor?

Lynn: sweetest scoopWhat kid doesn’t love ice cream? And who hasn’t heard of or tasted one of  Ben and Jerry’s crazy flavors? The new picture book The Sweetest Scoop: Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Revolution by Lisa Robinson had me smacking my forehead and wondering, “Oy! Why didn’t I think of that????” It’s a kid-perfect book, right? Could there be a better book for a classroom intro to biography or nonfiction?

Well, I didn’t think of it so thanks to Lisa Robinson who did! Ben and Jerry were childhood pals and even though they had different skills and interests, their friendship remained strong as they both struggled to find the right path. The friends decided their best plan was to go into business together. But what? The two tried several things. Bagels came first but they settled on a true love—Ice Cream. The boys bought an old gas station in Burlington, Vermont, rolled up their sleeves, and started to work. First, they had to fix leaks and resurrect the furnace, and then came the challenges of actually making great ice cream. And then there were the flavors! How DO you break up enough toffee bars to put Coffee Bar Ice Cream into production? Well, our boys persevered, created their signature wacky flavors to stand out, and Ben & Jerry’s was a huge success. Were there challenges ahead? You can bet your waffle cone it was often a Rocky Road! Have you ever heard of the Flavor Graveyard or the Pillsbury Boycott that aimed to put them out of business? I hadn’t and this sweet book filled me up with fascinating facts.

The Sweetest Scoop is a delicious book, combining an inspiring story of two hard-working men who wanted to succeed at something they loved and do it in a way that upheld their strong beliefs such as sustainable manufacturing and activism. Robinson’s text has a breezy grooviness appropriate for the boys’ 60’s spirit and sprinkles plenty of humor throughout, including groan-worthy riddles here and there. “How do you make a milkshake? Give a cow a pogo stick!” Stacey Innerest’s chalk and watercolor illustrations are totally chill too.

Back matter includes an Author’s Note, Timeline, and Sources. My only wish was for a list of flavors used over the years—AND for a great big cone to eat as I read!

Whatever your favorite flavor, Cherry Garcia, Chunk Monkey, or Save Our Swirl, you’ll love this perfect treat of a picture book!

How To Draw a Duck – Mr. McCloskey’s Marvelous Mallards

LyMr. McCloskey's Marvelous Mallardsnn:  November is Picture Book Month and what better way to celebrate than writing about a picture book that celebrates a classic and much-loved picture book? Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings (Viking, 1941) won the Caldecott and is still treasured by children. The story behind McCloskey’s book has been told in Leonard Marcus’ book, Caldecott Celebration (Walker, 2008) and now Emma Bland Smith brings that inspiring story to children in Mr. McCloskey’s Marvelous Mallards (Calkins Creek, 2022).

Having published his first book, young Robert McCloskey was searching for an idea for a second book. He remembered watching a pair of Mallards and their ducklings waddling into Boston’s Public Gardens all in row. Bingo! But getting the illustrations right turned out to be much harder. He sketched and sketched, only to have his editor, the legendary May Massee reject them all. McCloskey was determined to do better! He started by first bringing home a box of live ducklings to observe and sketch. Still not satisfied, he next brought home adult ducks to add to the chaos in his apartment before finally setting them all free on a pond at a friend’s home. This time his editor loved the sketches and text and an enchanting picture book came to life.

Smith tells this story wonderfully for children with just the right touch of humor and stressing McCloskey’s persistence and hard work to get the drawings just right. Illustrator Becca Stadtlander does a lovely job depicting the famous author/illustrator and his signature illustrations working in gouache and colored pencils in place of McCloskey’s iconic warm brown tones. It is a charming look at the artistic process as well as a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how a book is created. A perfect pairing of books for any story hour or classroom.

And, if you missed our earlier post, To McCloskey’s Ducklings with Love, check that out as well as Nancy Schon’s book Ducks on Parade about the sculptures of McCloskey’s ducks created for the Public Gardens in 1987.

Making Their Voices Heard – Playing Through the Turnaround

Lynn: Are you looking for something a bit different for the middle school set? Mylisa Larsen’splaying through the turnaround debut novel, Playing Through the Turnaround (Clarion, October 2022) is a great selection.

A group of students who haven’t all traveled in the same social circles, come together in an audition-based elective, Jazz Lab. It is a musical experience guided by an extraordinary teacher that changes the students and their appreciation of each other and of the music they play. When the teacher abruptly leaves and rumors of school budget cuts circulate, the group decides to unite to save their class. As their battle against an uncaring principal and school board escalates, the teens discover that many of them are struggling with the same basic issue at home: the adults in their lives do not listen to them or take their ideas and wishes seriously. This is a theme that will truly resonate with young readers and their actions both at the political levels and the personal levels are compelling to follow.

 

One of the major highlights of this book is the character development. Larsen has crafted 5 vivid and distinct individuals here and the characters truly carry the story. Told in alternating chapters, each voice is strong and authentic, revealing vulnerabilities and growing strengths. The resolution is somewhat ambiguous but readers will come away confident that this group of teens will move on together, providing support and deep friendship to each other.

This is a debut novel and I was really impressed with Larsen’s writing. She frames her story with a somewhat unusual setting – a Jazz Lab – and one that is welcome. The process of making their voices heard is especially timely. The uniting theme of the book and the endearing and authentic voices make this truly something special.

 
 
 

A Thoughtful New Look at Bullying and Hunger

Lynn: Lunch every dayKids have dealt with bullying through the ages and many youth books involve that issue.  So while it is not unusual to address bullying, it is rare to find a new approach to an old but serious issue. Kathryn Otoshi does just that in her new book, Lunch Every Day (KO Kids Books, 2022)

Powerful and emotional, Otoshi’s remarkable picture book is told from a young bully’s point of view, providing readers with a glimpse of what may propel his actions targeting “skinny kid.” Without excusing the bullying, the story asks readers to consider the large issues of abuse, bullying, power, and empathy. That is a lot in one short picture book but Otoshi does it brilliantly and in a pitch-perfect voice for young readers.

The moving act of kindness by skinny boy’s mother moved me to tears and is all the more remarkable as this story is based on the real-life experience of Jim Perez, a well-known anti-bullying educator.

What a discussion starter this book is!!!! Perfect for story-hours and classrooms!

Cindy: The fall holiday food drives are upon us, and it was always hard to watch the homeroom competitions for highest contributions when I knew that more than half of our student population qualified for free or reduced lunches due to poverty level. I’m always reminded of a rant that singer-songwriter Harry Chapin did on a live album. “What are these kids going to eat the next day?” Solving world hunger is a bigger problem than one picture book can address, but the act of kindness here is a good start. And so is showing that bullying almost always stems from deeper problems.

In addition to the moving story, Otoshi’s illustrations are strikingly effective and create a feel of smudgy chalk. Bold lines and intense colors provide a sense of mood while the facial details are often indistinct. This changes abruptly in the scenes with the mother talking to the bully in a subtle choice that emphasizes the power of the moment.

I do hope that Otoshi and Perez’s story makes it into every school library and classroom. Every kid should have Lunch Every Day.

Rust in the Root: An Alternate History to Savor

Lynn:Rust in the Root We keep mentioning the Covid period reading struggles but they remain a difficult issue for us both. As a life-long fantasy reader, I’ve struggled especially to find fantasies that hold my attention. Somehow they all seem the same, including the covers which all seem to have shadowy girls holding swords. In Justine Ireland’s newest, Rust in the Root (Harper/B+B, 2022), I found a fantasy that is extremely clever and unusual with a compelling plot and satisfying conclusion.

So what stands out? First and foremost is the skillful writing, intricate plot, and exquisite world-building. This is an alternate history in a reimagined 1937 America that is dependent on the magical workings based on the force called “the Dynamism.” The ruling classes believe in industry and technology based on the art of Mechomancy while a suppressed group of mostly Black Americans are practitioners of the Mystic arts. Ireland has seamlessly woven many of the events of the history of our own world into this one, creating a world that feels utterly plausible, each careful detail supporting the whole.

The main character called the Peregrine, is a young Floramancer who has come to New York with a dream of becoming a great baker. But her dream has run aground on the prejudice and repression of the city and, down to her last penny, she applies to the Bureau of the Arcane where a corps of Black practitioners ply their trade for the country. The Bureau is deeply engaged in a desperate battle against the Blights that have sprung up around the country – strange mysterious manifestations that poison the land and kill all living things. FDR has promised to repair the Blights and move the country forward and the Peregrine finds herself quickly recruited and sent into a nearby Blight to train and test her. Mentored by the powerful Skylark, the Peregrine discovers a surprising number of powers within her she knew nothing of. Soon they join a team of top mages and their trainees being sent to tackle the Great Blight of Ohio where previous teams of mages have disappeared.

The richly varied band of characters are well developed and instantly intriguing and their fates add intensity to the plot. Ireland never loses track of a detail or a thread yet pulls imaginative surprise after surprise into the story. Terrific dialogue, some welcome humor, and a completely satisfying resolution make this a memorable winner for me.

Ireland is at the top of her game here and this is a book to make readers cheer—even readers suffering their own sort of reading blight. Huzzah!!!

King and Levithan on Censorship for Kids

Lynn:attack of the black rectangles Censorship is a hot and timely subject, especially now. We all hear the news and read about politicians’ rhetoric. For librarians, authors, publishers, and teachers, this is not a new issue although it is especially front and center now. But how do you address censorship with kids? Amy Sarig King has written a terrific new book that does just that for middle-grade students. Attack of the Black Rectangles (Scholastic, Sept. 2022) approaches the subject through the eyes of 6th grader, Mac Delaney.

Mac already has a lot going on in his life. Mac lives with his mom and grandfather, with his erratic dad making occasional visits. Mainly during those, he works on a classic car that belongs to Mac’s grandfather. Increasingly, Mac’s dad tells him that he is really an alien from another world and an anthropologist studying Earth’s culture. Fortunately, Mac has great support from his mom, grandfather, and a close set of friends.

Mac is excited about 6th grade and he thinks his new teacher is “the kind of teacher I’ve wanted my whole if-it’s-not-interesting-I-don’t-care life.” For one thing, their lit circle is starting Jane Yolen’s intriguing book, The Devil’s Arithmetic. But strangely, when Mac gets his book and starts to read, he discovers words in the book that are covered over with black rectangles! What is going on? What are these words, who did this, and why?

King skillfully shows us Mac’s first encounter with censorship, his thought process, and the actions he and his friends undertake. Mac’s voice is wonderfully authentic and very engaging as this important issue is threaded into a compelling story of Mac’s struggles to understand his father, himself, his own coming of age, as well as the wider issues in the world. Interestingly, King has found a way to deal with censorship in a way that largely avoids the various political issues that are currently front and center without diluting the basic issue. This is a perfect book to use in a 6th-grade classroom and is guaranteed to generate discussion and thought.

Cindy: I’m late for my part here, having spent Banned Books Week finally reading The Handmaid’s Tale for my local library’s banned books reading challenge. Now, perhaps, I can finally check out the video series, if I can bring myself to do it. What a chilling read. 

As for King’s novel, I was sold by the cover art. It’s perfect and will certainly draw in young readers and will grace Banned Books Week displays for years. Once inside the pages, it is King’s mastery with characters that brings this story to life. She doesn’t shy from including the adults, and they are well done again here, especially Mac’s grandfather and their important relationship. And Jane Yolen’s surprise entrance at the school board meeting was a delight. Jane is everyone’s hero. Mac and his friends come up against adults who don’t want to admit there’s a problem and those who, instead, listen and support them when they take action. 

Answers in the Pages by David LevithanThe students in Answers in the Pages (Knopf, 2022) by David Levithan, are in the same situation when the parent of one student decides that the class science fiction novel is “inappropriate” for unstated reasons. The book’s structure features the current challenge to the book, alternating with excerpts from the challenged book, and another storyline from the previous generation in this town. The stories all merge at the end and will raise as many questions as answers as readers ponder what is “inappropriate,” how people read texts differently, and the importance of supporting a diversity of readers.

The majority of the challenges in our area, as well as across the country, focus on LGBTQIA+ issues, so books like Levithan’s will provide some food for thought for the younger readers who may wonder what all the fuss is about, while King’s book sheds bright light on the misguided efforts to protect children from words and ideas. My thoughts are with the educators and librarians who are striving to provide books for all of their readers despite the many attacks against them.

 

Having Emotions Means You Are Human…or Does It?: a Rover Named Resilience – A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga

Lynn: rover's storyWhat does it mean to be human? Does it mean the ability to wonder, to hope or to be scared? Does it mean recognizing that you have emotions? Jasmine Warga’s newest book explores that important question and she does it in a way that is intriguing, unusual, and compelling. A Rover’s Story (Scholastic, Oct. 2022) began when Warga’s young daughter asked her to turn on the TV to watch the Mars Rover Launch in November 2022. After watching in fascination together, one of her daughters asked Warga, “Mama, do you think the robot is scared?” And a book was born.

Resilience is a robot intended to travel to Mars, take samples and photographs, send home information, and locate another rover that has gone silent. Readers meet Resilience in a NASA lab where workers, especially scientists Raina and Xander, work long into the night to prepare the little robot for its mission. Short chapters alternate at the beginning between Resilience as something happens to create awareness, Sophie (Raina’s daughter), and Journey, another rover in production. Warga skillfully develops all these fascinating characters, both Homosapien and robot as all of them experience the various emotions that make us all who we are.

Spanning over 17 years, the story follows Resilience and his eventual teammates, Fly, his chatty enthusiastic drone, Guardian, a satellite, and the various humans remaining behind. Adventures, catastrophes, loneliness, hope, courage, and, yes, fear, all play a fascinating part in the explorations, both physical and emotional, in this story. I started the book a bit wary of anthropomorphizing the robot but I blew past that at light-year speed. I fell head-over-wheels in love with all these characters and will think about Resilience for a long long time. This would be a great choice for a classroom read-aloud.

Cindy: “Zappedty, zip,” I don’t blame Warga for getting sucked into the lives of the Mars rovers. I was hooked after reading The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (Clarion, 2012) by Elizabeth Rusch. Even though it was nonfiction, the rovers came alive in her writing and had me rooting for them as if they were human. The blurb on the advanced reader copy of A Rover’s Story describes it as The One and Only Ivan meets The Wild Robot. Having read and loved both of those stories for a similar age level, I would agree. There is much to be learned about what it means to be human in children’s books, and not just from the human characters. The teamwork between the scientists is equaled by that between Resilience, Fly, and Guardian. Sophie has her own worries, at first jealous of the time her mother gives to the rover, then concerned for the project once she meets Resilience and watches the launch, and then problems that aren’t so easily fixable as reprogramming a robot. This is a story that is sure to prompt some discussion amongst tweens, and it really would be a great read-aloud as Lynn suggests. 

Redefining Beauty – A Face For Picasso

Face for PicassoLynn: What is beauty? That question has deeply impacted lives, especially of women, through time and remains a dominant force today. And how does that definition dominate your life and worth if you are not beautiful by the classic ideal? Perhaps none know the answers to that better than Ariel and her twin sister Zan, born with a rare genetic disorder, Crouzon Syndrome. The life-threatening disorder causes the bones of a person’s face to fuse in infancy. With the skull unable to expand, the brain’s and face’s normal growth cannot happen. To save their lives, the twins underwent dangerous surgery at 8 months of age and eventually more than 60 surgeries to “correct” their facial features.

Ariel Henley’s searing memoir brings this experience to readers in her debut book and it is unforgettable. When they were young children, a national magazine carried a story about the twins, writing that, “their faces resemble the works of Picasso.” Henley uses Picasso’s appalling life story and treatment of women to frame her story, eventually reclaiming her life from that narrow definition and moving past it. Her story is broken into three parts, Before, After, and Healing with 7th grade, an especially emotionally traumatic year, as the midpoint.

Henley’s account describes the risky, often experimental, and incredibly painful surgeries in some detail but the most enduring pain she describes is the treatment and reactions of other people. That pain was deeper and more lasting than any surgical procedure and marked the twins in ways that it has taken decades to deal with. The casual cruelty of other people is the stuff of nightmares and Henley writes of it with great skill. The twins had a wonderfully supportive family and childhood friends but for years the reactions of others defined their sense of worth. Ariel Henley has come a long way in her healing and her story is both painful to read and incredibly inspiring. She is a writer to watch and a person to cheer for. Her reflections on beauty and how we as women allow that ideal to define us is, for me, the heart of this story. I will be pondering this for weeks to come.

Sadly, this book was hard to find in my public library consortium. It should be purchased by all libraries and available for teens and adults everywhere.

 
 
 

Retirement Means Indulgence Reading – Adult Book Reviews on Bookends!

Lynn: Cindy and I are both retired and, while we love keeping our hand in with youth books, we find ourselves drifting quite often into adult books. I used to feel a bit guilty about that but if you can’t experience some indulgence in retirement, when can you? We decided it’s long overdue to start including some occasional reviews of adult books that we are enjoying.

Unquiet Bones by Mel StarrI’m going to start our new category by reviewing a series I’ve been reading with great pleasure for many years, The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon (Lion) by Mel Starr. Adding to my enjoyment is the fact that Starr is a West Michigan author, and a career history teacher and I love finding local authors. Starr published the first of the series, The Unquiet Bones in 2008 but sadly I didn’t discover it until 2020 when I was looking for something to heal my pandemic reader’s slump. It was perfect for me! Totally engaging, with a charming and oh-so-human hero, an interesting mystery, and an outstanding historical setting. I loved it and I have been steadily moving through the series ever since, inserting it in the midst of YA, MG, and the occasional high-octane adult thriller and science fiction.

In the Unquiet Bones, we first meet Hugh de Singleton, a young surgeon fresh from training in Paris, setting up his first practice in Oxford. When an important local lord has a serious accident under his office, Hugh rushes out to provide medical assistance. Greatly impressed and grateful, the powerful lord offers Hugh a position as surgeon for his area and as his Bailiff.

Starr does a wonderful job of weaving the details of ordinary life in the 1300s into an intriguing mystery. Hugh is thoughtful, often introspective, and has a strong sense of justice. There is plenty of humor and Starr nails the dialog and setting in such an accessible way, providing a Glossary with terms. The descriptions of the meals are worth the time all by themselves. Who wouldn’t enjoy a feast of parsley bread and honeyed butter, fruit and salmon pie, aloes of lamb and pomme dorryse?

This is not a fast-paced thriller with explosions everywhere but an intriguing mystery confided by long-time friend and gently paced. Each new volume gets better and I love watching Hugh and his family grow and develop. Give them a try and stay tuned for more adult book recommendations.

To McCloskey’s Ducklings with Love

Lynn: Ducks on paradeThis is a post about a childhood favorite, a city’s tribute, and a book celebrating them all.

Robert McCloskey’s wonderful Make Way for Ducklings was published in 1941. It was a book I adored as a child and my parents read it over and over to me. They may have tired of it but I never did. For a time, my family lived in Boston and all the locations in the book were a treasured part of my childhood. It was years later when the city commissioned a sculpture in 1987 to honor the famous book and by then I was an adult living far away. But on my visits back to Boston, I always checked in on the ducklings. And while I read articles about the wonderful contributions anonymous Bostonians made to the sculptures, it wasn’t until I chanced on a Goodreads listing that I learned about Ducks on Parade (Brandeis University Press, 2021) edited by Nancy Schön, the artist who created the famous sculpture in the Public Garden.

Schon’s introduction provides the history of the sculptures and relates that on their first birthday, in an official celebration the ducks were dressed in birthday hats and confetti. Shortly after that costumes began appearing on the ducks, mysteriously added during the nights. Schön marvels at the charm and skill of the costumes and writes of the special connection between the people of Boston and the duckling sculpture they have so clearly made their own. The book is a collection of photographs of the costumes that have adorned the ducklings over the years and a real celebration of public art.

Over the years the costumes have included seasonal and holiday themes like Easter bonnets, Pilgrim outfits, or Reading Day Dr. Seuss hats. They have also celebrated sports teams, and cultural events, or been symbols uniting the city like Boston Strong. Each photo made me smile and like the sculptor, marvel at how the people of Boston have made this sculpture their own.

For those of you still reading and loving Make Way for Ducklings, this wonderful little book will be a terrific pairing.