Two-time Coretta Scott King Award winning author, Sharon M. Draper, has written a stunning novel for upper-elementary school children that opens like this: “Words have always swirled around me like snowflakes–each one delicate and different, each one melting untouched in my hands. Deep within me, words pile up in huge drifts. Mountains of phrases and sentences and connected ideas. Clever expressions. Jokes. Love songs …. But only in my head. I have never spoken one single word. I am almost eleven years old.” So begins the story of fifth grader Melody Brooks who has cerebral palsy but doesn’t want to be defined by it. Although she can’t walk, talk, feed herself, or go to the bathroom without help, she can read, think, remember, and feel. She is a brilliant girl trapped in her own weak body and confined to a wheelchair. Melody learns of a computer with technology that will allow her to communicate to others and her world changes big time! But there are still ignorant doctors, thoughtless teachers, and cruel classmates to deal with. Fortunately, Melody has a fierce advocate in her mother, not unlike the author whose own daughter has cerebral palsy, thus providing great authenticity and accuracy in the writing. This book is a compelling read that will hopefully make all readers more compassionate and understanding toward those with disabilities and the misconceptions that go with them. I especially loved Melody’s sense of humor and fortitude despite her many challenges. This is one book you won’t be able to put down until you come to the final page.
Author Archive for Katherine Habley
Twelve-year-old Willow Chase has had trouble fitting in her whole life because she is a genius, a person of color, unusual, and adopted. Her parents provide much love and support despite Willow’s idiosyncrasies and mild obsessive compulsive disorder (she counts by sevens to help calm herself down and has a fixation about medical issues). Finding a friend has never been easy, but meeting Mai Nguyen who accompanies her brother to his counseling sessions, prior to Willow’s own hour with the inept Dell Duke, changes things and the girls build a unique friendship together. When the unthinkable happens, the car crash that kills Willow’s adoptive parents, Willow goes to stay in the garage behind the nail saloon that Mai’s mother owns. The social worker insists that this is just temporary until she can be moved to a facility that can deal with someone who has twice lost her parents and must fine another place to live. Finding a “new normal” amid a Vietnamese family living just barely above the poverty level creates an opportunity for Willow to change other people’s lives while finding stability and her own unique place in society. The strong characterizations, the different voices used in the storytelling, and the plot through which Willow finds meaning and acceptance again, create a special novel that will definitely hold the interest in 5th-8th grade readers.
Lois Ehlert has long been a favorite picture book author/illustrator of mine. Her books are perfect for storytimes with their large beautiful collage illustrations and short text. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this Milwaukee children’s book author a couple of times and she is just as colorful in her dress and lively in her conversation as you would expect from her artwork. She collects folk art from her travels and many of those items like fabric and toys from other countries are found in her picture books. Her latest book, The Scraps Book; Notes from a Colorful Life, is a delightful insight into her creative process when making picture books for children. The reader learns a little about her life and sees photos of her parents, the house she grew up in, early sketches of some of her books, tools she uses to create her artwork, and some of her actual collections– fishing decoys, folk art dolls, items from the natural world. The collage of photos on the end papers are inspirational for young artists as is her simple text with notes throughout that makes reading this book pure joy. The Scraps Book is a unique autobiographical picture book that will be enjoyed by young artists and readers, not to mention art teachers and parents. Hurray for creativity and inspiration for children to make their own art and learn about bookmaking in the process by a very gifted artist.
I wrote a Press Citizen article about new poetry books for children earlier this month in honor of National Poetry Month, but there is another title I want readers to know about on our New Book shelves in the Children’s Room. Little Poems for Tiny Ears is a collection of short poems for babies and toddlers written by Lin Oliver and illustrated by the one and only Tomi dePaola. This lovely book celebrates the everyday things that delight little ones and is the perfect introduction to the bouncy, playful sound of poetry. The beloved artwork of dePaola perfectly matches the short verses and depicts children of many races. Some of the topics covered in individual poems are toes, walking, in my stroller, my nose, dogs, my car seat, my high chair, peekaboo, diaper time, cats, bath, blankie, and my belly button. Of course, I also recommend any of the library’s books of Mother Goose rhymes for this age. Oliver’s book would make a great new baby gift, and in fact, I am going to buy a copy for my new grandson and take it with me when we visit him in Oregon next month! Enjoy the special bond of sharing this book snuggled up with your precious little one.
Celebrate National Poetry Month by reading lots of verse for children. A new book of poems all by Kate Coombs entitled Water Sings Blue: Ocean Poems will appeal to children who love the beach. The author grew up near the Pacific Ocean in California and she started collecting shells and writing poems as a child. This is her first book of poetry and she has included over twenty poems celebrating the ocean in all its mystery, power, depth and beauty. Jellyfish, coral, a sea turtle, a blue whale, old driftwood, seagulls and shells are all subjects of her verse. The illustrations are vivid and beautiful. Meilo So created the artwork for the text using pen and ink, brush drawing, gouache, and watercolors. Water Sings the Blues was an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book selection for 2013. Don’t wait to go to a sandy beach this summer–go to the shore now as you use your imagination sharing these rhyming poems with a young child.
Nicola Davies is a zoologist and an award-winning author who’s written many books for children. Of writing Outside Your Window, she says, “I cast off my grown-up self and found the me I was at five or six. From inside that younger self I could see the world as I saw it first–not just the sights and sounds of nature but also the feelings and the thoughts about it that ran through me, strong as the tide. This book comes to you from that little girl, who sat in a barley field at dusk and felt the world turning.” From the buzz of bees in summertime to the tracks of a bird in the winter snow, this lovely book of original poems by Davies captures the sights and sounds of a child’s experiences with nature, including planting an acorn, biting into a crisp apple, watching the birds overhead and stargazing. The volume is beautifully illustrated by Mark Hearld who uses collage, printmaking and painting techniques to capture the outside world whether in the city or in the country. Check out this handsome book from the library and read some poems to your favorite child. Or, buy Outside Your Window as a gift to give someone special in April and encourage that child to discover the beauty in nature through poetry during National Poetry Month.
Julie Andrews’ Treasury For All Seasons; Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year is a new compilation of children’s poems by many poets that have made a name for themselves. The poems are fairly short and would be good for elementary school children. It is a colorful book with watercolor illustrations by Marjorie Priceman, a two-time Caldecott Award Honoree. What I like about it is that teacher’s could use this volume easily because the poems are arranged by months of the year and include seasonal and holiday poems. This is also a perfect treasury for families to enjoy together. Featuring selections from poets and musicians including Myra Cohn Livingston, Bobbi Katz, Marchette Chute, Walt Whitman, Karla Kuskin, Langston Hughes, Walter de la Mare, Mary Ann Hoberman, e.e. cummings, Aileen Fisher, and Eleanor Farjeon, this collection offers a heartfelt glimpse into the moments Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, hold most dear. This keepsake book will encourage an early love of poetry and is bound to become a classic for families to revisit throughout the seasons. With the annual Children Poetry Workshop scheduled at the library for Saturday, April 6th, this is a book I will want to recommend. For more information about the program, please call the Iowa City Public Library and ask for the Children’s Room since registration is required for 3rd through 6th grade participants.
Edited by J. Patrick Lewis, U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, this new volume of children’s poetry about the animal world is a stand-out. 200 poems with beautiful color photographs of each animal comprise this collection produced by the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. The compilation includes poems by such noteworthy poets as Robert Frost, Jack Prelutsky, Emily Dickinson, Ogden Nash, Jane Yolen, Lilian Moore, Valerie Worth, David McCord, and J. Patrick Lewis. As with most books of poetry, the reader does not have to read it straight through, but can open it anywhere and start reading. The poems are more than just a description of various animals; many are a revelation. The poems in these pages resonate with wonder at the variety, beauty, and strangeness of the animal world around us. They are arranged by chapters that are described as the big ones, the little ones, the winged ones, the water ones, the strange ones, the noisy ones, and the quiet ones. There is an index by title, poet, first line, and subject. The photos are first-rate as would be expected. Book of Animal Poetry; 200 Poems With Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar! would make a wonderful birthday present for some lucky child who loves animals. Check it out and enjoy it during April which is National Poetry Month.
The author of Blue Highways, Roads to Quoz, and PrairyErth, William Least Heat-Moon, has written his newest book called Here, There, Elsewhere; Stories From the Road. This volume is a series of chapters, each one unique, about his lifetime of travels all over the world and here at home. There is something for everyone in this collection of articles, many never before published. Because my daughter was married in Yosemite National Park I especially loved that chapter and felt like I was right there with the wandering author. I felt the same about all the Missouri connections as well. What is really neat for me is that I knew the author, not by his pen name but as Bill Trogden, in my years at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He was a doctoral student in the English Department and I was an English major and then Library School graduate student. I knew he traveled, kept a journal, loved his beer, and was a thoughtful and introspective kind of guy–but who would have known that he’d become such a well-respected and famous author! I thought he’d end up as an English professor somewhere. He also grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, like me, so I was familiar with many of the places he mentioned in his writing. I can’t remember if it was Prairie Lights Bookstore or the Writers’ Workshop at Iowa that brought Bill to Iowa City a few years ago. He stopped in the Iowa City Public Library and I happened to see him; we enjoyed catching up with each others’ lives. Back to his new book… I don’t drink beer and yet even I enjoyed the chapter on micro-breweries in the United States and all the references made to the pubs in Ireland, England, and Wales. The chapter on his hiking in Oregon was also appealing because my daughter now lives in Corvallis and I’ve visited there as well as Portland and the Oregon coast. My husband and I are taking an Alaskan cruise in August and I enjoyed reading about the Tlingit people in another chapter. Throughout the book, the author who is part Osage Indian, makes many comments about the injustices done to our native people. Bill is brilliant and well-read, with a terrific grasp of history and literature, not to mention his enviable travels all over the globe. His vocabulary is astonishing. The selections contained in this latest work of travel writing are appealing to a readership who like a challenging book and yet can pick and choose the parts they want to read. Of course I read his book from cover to cover and was completely amazed at the fine writing. Check it out if you like intellectual quest books and introspective, articulate travel writing about journeys of the mind, body and soul.
Subtitled, The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, by Susanna Reich, this new picture book comes out just in time for the celebration of what would be the famous cook’s 100th birthday on August 15th. In a picture book biography for young children, the life in Paris of the culinary legend is told from third person but centers on the tortoiseshell cat’s perspective. When Julia and her husband, Paul, take in a stray cat and name her Minnette Mimosa McWilliams Child, the cat becomes the luckiest cat in Paris. Of course, her owners feel that “A house without a cat is like life without sunshine.” And so begins the story of the happy lives of all three as Julia hones her cooking skills and Minette and Paul enjoy her fine French meals—although the beloved cat still thinks mice are best! Bates’ pencil and watercolor illustrations are a perfect compliment to the author’s humorous text. An afterward, notes, sources, and a glossary and pronunciation guide, and author notes are all appended giving credence to the facts about the life of Julia Child during her Paris years. I’m thinking Caldecott award for this title! Join us as we celebrate the French Chef’s 100th Birthday with a screening of the 2009 film, “Julie & Julia,” starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep on August 15th at 7:00 p.m. in Meeting Room A of the Iowa City Public Library. Bon Appetit!
Katherine Habley at the Library