Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fireman Small by Wong Herbert Yee

Copyright ©1994 by Wong Herbert Yee

Fireman Small is dedicated to his job, but unfortunately, as the sole firefighter on his side of the Bay, his job seems never-ending.  After each rescue mission, the weary fireman, “... pulls back into station number nine, walks upstairs one step at a time, closes the curtains, gets in bed and pulls the covers over his head.”    

Fireman Small, however, can never remain under the covers for long,  since his slumber is always interrupted by  the ring of an alarm,  bell  or telephone, signaling yet another emergency.  Despite working day and night, he is always ready for action:  “Quickly out of bed he scoots, jumps into his pants and boots. Ready to go, he slides down the pole puts on his helmet and coat below.”
Thankfully,  Fireman Small’s dedication does not go unappreciated. After one final attempt to get some shuteye, the doorbell rings at the fire station.  This time, however, it is not an emergency. It is simply the people who Fireman Small has assisted, stopping by to express their gratitude.  Such a simple and endearing story.
Fireman Small is told in a repetitive rhyme which is very catchy. The book contains fun words like “ring-a-ling-ding”, cling-a-cling-clang”,  “jing-a-ling-jing” and “ding-a-dong-ding” which invite a young child  to eagerly participate in the reading.  I read Fireman Small to my boys when they were younger and now I am reading it to my little daughter. She loves to run to me, book clasped in her hand, chanting,  “Fireman Small, Fireman Small.” She has the entire book memorized.  Once your kids fall in love with the diminutive fireman with the prominent nose, they will be thrilled to learn that there are 2 other very good books featuring Fireman Small:  A Small Christmas and Fireman Small- Fire Down Below. Yee has even written a book in which the titular character Small is a detective rather than a fireman:  Detective Small in the Amazing Banana Caper.   I hope to feature Detective Small  in another week or so. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bashi, Elephant Baby by Theresa Radcliffe illustrated by John Butler

Text copyright © Theresa Radcliffe, 1997; Illustrations copyright © John Butler, 1997

This story relates the harrowing first day of life of an elephant calf on the African Plains.  Bashi is under the protection of his mother and the herd, comprising his aunts and his grandmother Lorato.  The herd heads to the waterhole where newborn Bashi, unsteady on his feet, becomes stuck in mud. As he begins to sink, Bashi starts to panic causing him to topple over. His mother tries to lift him out using her trunk, with no success.  Lorato, the matriarch of the herd, has been standing guard. She notices  three hungry lionesses, crouched and ready to pounce and seize the vulnerable prey. Lorato sends a rumble of caution to her daughter, who is now desperately trying to free Bashi . 
 This story is brief, but  not short on poignancy and drama; the boys were on the edge of their seats. The story concludes with Bashi lying peacefully next to his mother on the grass. Even after a year of frequent readings, the boys  still heave a sigh of relief  when little Bashi does in fact survive his first day of life.   As a strong adult, I was not af...<voice begins to quiver> affect...<lip begins to tremble> affected<loses it and begins to wail repeatedly, “BASHI, I WAS SO FRIGHTENED YOU WOULDN'T MAKE IT!”; regains composure and clears throat>affected by the story as much as my children. <looks around sheepishly>

John Butler’s illustrations are so beautiful and realistic, it is difficult to believe they are not photographs. As the reader, you feel as if you are right in the sweltering heat of the African plains observing the drama as it unfolds.  I am not familiar with Butler’s background, but he obviously has devoted a significant amount of time to studying wildlife to be able to draw such life-like animals and to recreate the elephants’ habitat with such precision. Check out the attention to detail in Butler’s illustration of the warthog at the waterhole.  
 I am simply awed by Butler's talent. I wish I could be an illustrator, but alas, I can only draw stick figures and even those stink.

Theresa Radcliffe and John Butler partnered for a  total of  5 other books in the series about the first days of  life of various animals: Shadow the Deer; The Snow Leopard;  Cimru the Seal;  Maya, Tiger Cub; Nanu, Penguin Chick.  We own every one of them and they are all equally as superb as Bashi, Elephant Baby and educational to boot. Kids will learn just how difficult it is for animals to survive the first days of life in the wild. Unfortunately, the books are out of print but you can purchase used copies online, as I did. Also, the wonderful Chicago Public library, my second home, has a copy of a few of the books. If you are a resident of Chicago you can go online to place a copy on hold and request that it be sent to your local branch for you to pick up.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Salt in His Shoes – Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordan with Roslyn M. Jordan illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Material from Salt in His Shoes - Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream by Deloris Jordan and Roslyn M. Jordan copyright © 2000, Illustrations copyright © 2000 by Kadir Nelson  Used by permission of Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division

Michael Jordan is an international star, but here in Chicago,  understandably, he has reached super hero status. My kids are too young to have ever seen Michael Jordan play, but you don’t have to know of him, in order to  love this story. It is inspirational and just heart-warming. The book, written by  Jordan’s mother and sister, relates the story of a young, short Michael who loves to play basketball. He, however, becomes frustrated  while on the court because of being taunted by one of the bigger kids. 
Michael desires to grow taller because he believes height is what is necessary to be a great player and to win. His mother teasingly tells him that putting salt in his shoes will make him taller; she adds that prayer is also important. Michael is skeptical but follows his mother’s advice.  He refrains from going to the court as he awaits this growth spurt but diligently practices at home.  After four months elapse, and he has grow not even an inch taller,  he becomes very discouraged .  His father talks to him and explains to him that while height is not irrelevant, what is most critical in becoming a great basketball player is “practice, determination and giving your best.”   Michael realizes the wisdom in his father’s words and dashes off to the court to play. He of course scores the winning shot in that game, despite the taunts of the bully!  The last illustration of the book is  6’ 6’’ Air Jordan #23, in all his glory, dunking the ball. 

I love how the family is portrayed here. Mama and Daddy are strong and wise; they do not dismiss Michael’s worries but rather  take the time to listen to him and provide guidance and encouragement.   Salt In His Shoes has been a hit with the boys because what kid does not love to see an underdog prevail. When my 4 yr. old saw the last illustration of Air Jordan he said, “I bet that kid doesn’t pick on him anymore.” Kadir Nelson is one of my favorite illustrators and also an excellent author.  He always illustrates such beautiful African American characters. His illustrations exude such warmth and when I see his name on a book, I purchase it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Meanwhile… by Jules Feiffer

Text and pictures copyright ©1997 by Jules Feiffer

Written in comic book format, the story begins with young Raymond engrossed in a comic book. Raymond’s mother begins to call him; he ignores her; she becomes more  insistent  and exasperated. Raymond notices that in the comic book he is reading, the word “MEANWHILE” followed by three dots …. is used  to cause a  scene change.  Curious as to  whether it will work in real life, Raymond scrawls the word on his bedroom wall. To his initial delight,  it does indeed precipitate a scene change. He finds himself transported  into a swashbuckling scene on a pirate ship where he eventually is forced to walk the plank.  Under the guise of writing a letter to his mother,  Raymond asks for a pen and paper as his one last request.

Instead, he writes “MEANWHILE…” and is transported to another scene where he finds himself in the Wild West being pursued by a posse on horseback.  He gives the posse the slip  but to his horror he encounters a  mountain lion . Raymond searches for a weapon but all he discovers is an old rusty bullet in his holster.  Without a moment to spare, he uses it to scratch “MEANWHILE…”  on a rock.
He is  instantly  transported to a space ship in outer space where he is under attack by aliens.  When his ship is destroyed, the ever resourceful Raymond uses his “backpack-autopower-vaporwriter”  to write “MEANWHILE…”   

Unfortunately,  Raymond is now transported back to the first scene where he is walking  the plank, then he is back to facing the mountain lion, then back to falling through outerspace;   the “MEANWHILES…”  are extricating  Raymond from one dangerous  scene  only to place him into another equally perilous one.  Raymond finds himself plummeting  toward earth as he repeatedly yells “MEANWHILE…”  but to no avail for he has run out of “MEANWHILES…”   You will just have to read the book to learn of Raymond's ultimate fate.
This book is a fun filled adventure that is perfect for  boys. It has a frantic pace that leaves you  and the kids feeling wonderfully breathless. My son compared it to a roller coaster ride. Because of the frequent scene changes, Meanwhile... is slightly more complicated than the typical picture book and that adds to the appeal for my boys. They  have wanted Meanwhile...  read to them over and over in the last year, examining the hilarious illustrations, laughing out loud, and each time better comprehending all that transpires.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen

Copyright  ©2005 by Chris Van Dusen
The story opens with young Jack sitting in the back seat of his father’s station wagon.  Jack makes it clear that he is underwhelmed by his father’ s vehicle:  “This car is OK. This car is not bad. But it’s just a car. Nothing great.  Nothing grand. It’s nothing at all like the car I have planned.”  Jack then begins to describe in detail the features of said planned car: the exterior is made of a polymer gel so that the car can’t be dented in a collision; there are fender skirts, retractable wings, giant fins like the Cadillacs of old. This car is a kid’s dream, heck it’s my dream. It has a fireplace, fish tank, pool and an instant snack bar.

And that’s not all. It floats; it dives under water by pushing a “submerge”  button; it flies.  The best feature is a robot chauffeur for when you become too exhausted to drive.

If I Built a Car is incredibly fun and engaging. I purchased it over 2 years ago for my boys who were then 4 and 2 and it still remains in their  top 10 list of favorite books and read at least once a week. The story is told in  rhyme which makes it quite enjoyable to read aloud.  The illustrations are  vivid and cartoon like straight from the 1950’s.  Van Dusen put an astounding amount of detail in this book. The front end papers indicate some of the early design ideas for the car that were rejected by Jack. The back end papers show the blueprint for the final car.   Kids will pour over the illustrations because there is so much to uncover. Pay special attention to the page of Jack in his room and you will discover  the inspirations for  some of his ideas. This book  will unleash your child’s imagination, especially if after a reading you pose the question, "so what kind of car would you build?" Chris Van Dusen is a very talented author and illustrator and we own all of his books. I will showcase more of his titles  in the future because they are all  thoroughly enjoyed in our home.