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Author Archive for Katherine Habley

Summer of the Gypsy Moths

by Katherine Habley on July 2nd, 2012
Summer of the Gypsy Moths Cover Image

Bestselling author of the Clementine chapter books, Sara Pennypacker has written a great new novel for kids (suggested for readers in grades 4-6).  This is the story of two adolescent girls who are thrown together on a temporary basis at a home on Cape Cod.  Stella loves living with her great-aunt Louise for the summer while her own mother tries to “find herself.”  However, Louise has taken in a foster child, Angel, who’s tough and prickly and the girls hardly speak to each other.  Angel has already been in six foster homes and is pretty angry and sarcastic.  On the inside Angel is a scared and lonely girl looking for family connections.  Stella is the one who always stays positive and admires Heloise for newspaper column of hints for good housekeeping and the fact that Heloise is always looking on the bright side no matter what life throws at you.  Well, tragedy strikes when Louise dies of a heart attack and the girls decide to run the Linger Longer Cottage Colony in her stead without telling anyone about the death.  The owner of the summer cottages is a wonderful man, George, who befriends the girls in many ways, but he does think something is fishy about Angel and Stella’s behavior and the fact that Louise never seems to be at the house when he stops by.  How the girls handle the responsibility of being property managers during the high tourist season and trying to cover up the death of Stella’s relative makes for interesting reading.  The best parts about Summer of the Gypsy Moths are the characterizations and a unique plot not commonly used in children’s books.  Happy summer reading!

The Shoemaker’s Wife

by Katherine Habley on June 29th, 2012
The Shoemaker’s Wife Cover Image

The Shoemaker’s Wife is the newest book written by New York Times bestselling author, Adriana Trigiani, and was inspired by her own family history.  This is the first novel I’ve read by the author but it definitely won’t be the last.  I absolutely loved this book of historical fiction for adults. Set during the early part of the 20th century beginning in the northern part of Italy, the setting changes to New York City, and then to Minnesota.  The first meeting of the handsome Ciro and the beautiful 15 year-old Enza is when he is hired to dig the grave for Enza’s beloved little sister, Stella. They later share a kiss and feel an instant connection and believe their lives are destined to be intertwined.  But Ciro, who is left to grow up in a convent, witnesses inappropriate behavior by the local Catholic priest, and is banished from his village on the mountain.  He escapes with the help of the loving convent sisters to live in Little Italy in New York City as an apprentice to a shoemaker.  Meanwhile, Enza’s family is destitute and she decides to go to America where she can hire herself as a dressmaker and send money home for her family’s welfare and their dream of building a home of their own in the Alps.  The two star-crossed sweethearts meet again, but the Great War has begun and Ciro has enlisted.  Enza lands a great job with the Metropolitan Opera House sewing costumes for the likes of Enrico Caruso and other famous singers.  When Ciro returns from the war he once again captures Enza’s heart and they ultimately move to Minnesota to begin their married life.  Every episode in this moving novel is engaging—from life with the nuns when Ciro’s mother drops him off with his brother, Eduardo, who wants  to become a priest, to the immigrant story of crossing the Atlantic in a ship where Enza nearly dies from sea-sickness, to her job with the opera and deep friendship with Laura, to Ciro’s time in France fighting in the war, to the family bonds each share, to life-long friendships made, to love, faith, and loss. This epic tale is totally enthralling and beautifully written.  I cried in several parts of the novel and dare others to read this book with a dry eye.  I would enthusiastically recommend The Shoemaker’s Wife to any women’s book group or individual readers who like this genre.  Bravo!

Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay

by Katherine Habley on June 29th, 2012
Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay Cover Image

If you remember Helen Cresswell’s Bagthorpe series, now sadly out of print, you will love Hilary McKay’s stories about the Casson family in England with its wonderfully quirky characters.  In this newest story which is a prequel to the other five books in the series, twelve-year-old Caddy’s world turns upside down when her father comes home from his London flat to be a “stay at home dad” for the summer.  His wife, Eve, has been taken to the hospital to deliver a new baby who is having serious heart problems.  Because Rose is born prematurely, she must stay in the hospital and things are crazy without Mum at home.  Bill is determined to simplify and organize the household since tidy was never one of his family’s attributes.  Best friends from kindergarten, Caddy wants everything with friends Ruby, Ali, and Beth, to remain the same.  But as the girls are moving into adolescence, each seems to be growing in different directions.  Ruby is clever.  Alison hates everyone.  Beth is perfect.  And Caddy is the bravest one of the circle of friends.  In addition to all the chaos, Caddy must deal with her boyfriend wanting to date all four girls at once!  Typical of McKay’s writing, her stories are tender and hilarious, poignant and realistic. The depiction of the British family is a delight to read and new and old readers will thoroughly enjoy them.

Juliette Gordon Low; The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts

by Katherine Habley on March 12th, 2012
Juliette Gordon Low; The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts Cover Image

I have been enjoying my annual supply of Girl Scout cookies while reading the brand new adult biography called, Juliette Gordon Low; The Remarkable Founder of the Girl Scouts, written by Stacy A. Cordery.  Today, March 12, 2012, marks the centenary of the Girl Scouts in America. This is a scholarly work written by an Illinois history professor who has written a couple of other biographies on Teddy Roosevelt and one on Alice Roosevelt Longworth.  Having been a Girl Scout myself, as well as a Girl Scout leader for my daughter’s troop for seven years, I was anxious to read more about the founder of Girl Scouting.  My interest was piqued by a tour of the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace in Savannah a couple of years ago while vacationing.  I found the adult biography detailing Daisy’s hearing loss, her childhood and family life, her marriage to an adulterous British fellow, her relationship to Sir Robert Baden-Powell (the founder of the Boy Scouts), and the establishment of the Girl Scout movement—the endeavor “Daisy” undertook to make a difference in the world—to be a fascinating read.  The old black and white photographs included in the book were neat to see.  History really came to life for me reading this book.  I have so many fond memories of my Girl Scouting years, both as a girl and as a leader, plus the visit to Savannah, and my continued support of the Girl Scouts through their annual cookie sales, that I was the perfect reader for Cordery’s new book.  The documentation and resources, notes, bibliography, and index included are impressive.  All the primary sources the author examined make for a truly accurate biography of the woman who began the largest and most beloved girls and women’s organization in the world.

Here Come the Girl Scouts!

by Katherine Habley on March 12th, 2012
Here Come the Girl Scouts! Cover Image

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts in the United States.  A couple of books have just been published to honor the occasion and celebrate the life of founder, Juliette Gordon Low.

One book is the picture book biography geared for K-3 children titled, Here Come the Girl Scouts!  The Amazing All-True Story of Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure. This book is written by Shana Corey who was inspired by her own mother who was a Girl Scout in Savannah, Georgia, where the movement began.  The author tells about Daisy, a girl with gumption, who wanted to do something meaningful with her life.  Although from a wealthy Savannah family, Daisy was not like other girls who wanted to be prim and proper; she wanted to have adventures, be outside in nature, and see the world.  As a young women she road elephants in India, visited the Great Pyramid in Egypt, and even flew in an early airplane.  Daisy liked to go fishing, boating, and camping.  After meeting Sir Robert Baden-Powell in England, founder of the Boy Scout movement, Daisy returned to Georgia to start the first Girl Scout troop in America and that is the beginning of the organization that now boasts over 3.2 million members.  More than 50 million American women enjoyed Girl Scouting during their childhoods.  Reading this picture book will remind young girls that Daisy believed girls could do anything and she lived a life that proved it.  The delightful illustrations by Hadley Hooper extend the story of the life of an early feminist.  Also included in the back material is further factual information about Daisy, the Girl Scout Promise, and the Girl Scout Law.


Mouse & Lion

by Katherine Habley on March 12th, 2012
Mouse & Lion Cover Image

Rand Burkert has created a new retelling of the famous Aesop fable, along with his mother, Nancy Ekholm Burkert, who contributed the exquisite artwork for this beautiful picture book set in Africa near the Botswana and Naminia borders.  Here lions, field mice and baobab trees may be found together under the hot African sun.  The author chose to give the tiny mouse the top billing rather than the king of the jungle, as he explains, “Mouse clearly performs the lion’s share of the work.”  As the familiar tale unfolds, the meticulous illustrations in watercolor extend the fable in scene after naturalistic scene with soft colors that capture each eventful moment.  A trip to Africa provided inspiration for the detailed artwork depicting the flora and fauna of the region.  The artist’s use of perspective creates some stunning images and turning the heavy cream-colored pages is a joy to anyone who appreciated fine book design.  This version of the mouse who saves a lion from the hunters’ net is a picture book that is perfect for storytime and lapsit with the 3-6 year-old crowd. The illustrator also created the artwork for her picture book of The Nightingale (1965) and Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs (1972) along with the original illustrations for Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (1961).  Welcome back to the world of children’s book illustration, Nancy Ekholm Burkert!

Me … Jane

by Katherine Habley on March 1st, 2012
Me … Jane Cover Image

In this picture book biography, Patrick McDonnell tells the story of a little girl, Jane Goodall, who loves to be outside in nature, playing with her stuffed chimpanzee, Jubilee.  She enjoys climbing trees, watching the miracle of chicken eggs hatching, reading Tarzan of the Apes, and dreaming of one day living in Africa and helping the jungle animals.  The picture book design is really something special.  The endpapers show a graphic African design in earth tones.  The cream-colored pages are made of quality paper and include sketches, childhood photos, McDonnell’s watercolor and ink whimsical illustrations, and vintage print and engraved images of the natural world.  This collage effect engages the reader and youngsters will pour over the charming pages to the conclusion where a color photograph shows the grown-up Jane Goodall extending her hand to a real baby chimpanzee in Tanzania.  Indeed, the message that dreams truly can come true will be a welcomed one for young dreamers.  In the back matter there is additional information about Jane Goodall, primatologist, environmentalist, humanitarian, and United Nations Messenger of Peace.  Websites are included for further information about the work Jane Goodall continues to do in the world.


Pocketful of Posies; A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes

by Katherine Habley on February 29th, 2012
Pocketful of Posies; A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes Cover Image

Salley Mavor has created a fabulous new collection of 65 Mother Goose rhymes with Pocketful of Posies. What makes this volume of nursery rhymes so special is the incredible fabric art creations made by Mavor and then photographed for the book.  Each rhyme has a scene that is stitched, embroidered, and hand-worked using lace, beads, colorful threads, buttons, shells, and other objects.  Every page is a true work of art.  The people have what look like wooden ball painted faces and as someone who also enjoys working with fabrics such as felt and embellishments, I simple can’t imagine how much time each scene took to create.  Clearly, her artwork is a labor of love.  At the Rhode Island School of Design, Mavor rediscovered the passion she had as a child for sewing and mixed media and was encouraged to communicate her designs and ideas in her own unique way.  To see what playing with a needle and thread can lead to, just pour over the pages of these familiar traditional rhymes with a young child.  A few nursery rhymes are less well-known, but all of them are short and conducive to reading aloud with a child in your lap.  It is so important for preliteracy skills to incorporate Mother Goose rhymes into early childhood education at home and in the schools; this collection is ideal to share and would make an excellent gift for families with children from babies to six-year-olds.  Reacquaint yourself with Simple Simon, Mary Mary Quite Contrary, Jack Sprat, Margery Daw, Little Miss Muffet, The Queen of Hearts, Little Boy Blue, Old King Cole, Humpty Dumpty, Old Mother Hubbard, Little Bo-Peep and others by enjoying them with a little boy or girl soon.  This is the collection of Mother Goose rhymes that I would recommend to check out at the Iowa City Public Library and then purchase a copy as a gift to be handed down through the generations.

Won Ton; A Cat Tale Told in Haiku

by Katherine Habley on February 27th, 2012
Won Ton; A Cat Tale Told in Haiku Cover Image

One of my favorite books published in 2011 is this picture book written in senryu (a form of Japanese poetry with seventeen syllables focusing on the foibles of human nature–or in this case, cat nature) by Lee Wardlaw.  The story of a shelter house cat whose cynical veneer hides his own true vulnerability, is taken home by a boy who calls him Won Ton.  “Won Ton?  How can I/ be soup?  Some day I’ll tell you/My real name.  Maybe.”  As the cat and boy grow to trust each other, Won Ton reveals his real name:  “Boy, it’s time you knew:/My name is Haiku.”  The illustrator, Eugene Yelchin, uses graphite and gouache to depict the angular blue-point Siamese cat and elements of Japanese woodblock prints are incorporated into the artwork for a seamless whole.  As the new pet explores his environment, his bowl of food, the backyard, his new toy, the owner’s toes, he lets the boy know he’s ultimately happy to have found a home, but he’s still the boss!  For all cat lovers and poetry lovers, this delightful picture book will be enjoyed for its wonderful humor by all ages.



A Ball for Daisy

by Katherine Habley on February 22nd, 2012
A Ball for Daisy Cover Image

The 2012 Caldecott Medal winner is A Ball for Daisy illustrated by Chris Raschka who won this prestigious award back in 2006 for The Hello, Goodbye Window written by Norton Juster.  The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the illustrator of the best children’s book honored for its artwork and published in the United States in the preceding year by a committee selected by the American Library Association.  This year’s winner is a wordless book and will appeal to toddlers and preschoolers for its deceptively simple story line and watercolor, gouache and ink illustrations.  The picture book opens with a small dog playing with his red ball, sleeping on the couch with his ball, and then going to the park with his owner who is revealed later as a little girl in a yellow polka dot dress.  The ball is taken away by a brown poodle who bites the ball and destroys it.  Daisy is of course devastated and Rashcka’s illustrations depict all the emotions associated with losing something of value–anger, sadness, frustration, and disappointment.  The image of the little girl petting her dog on the bright green striped couch to comfort Daisy is very tender.  The story ends with the owner of the poodle, a little girl in a green and turquoise striped dress, bringing a blue ball to the park and watching Daisy and her dog in play. The two girls later wave a friendly goodbye as Daisy is seen going back home with the new ball and cuddling up with it on her sofa. This is a delightful story to lapsit with your young child and one that can be “read” again and again.  Congratulations, Chris Raschka!