Summer 2004  ShoppeTALK

    San Marino Toy and Book Shoppe

Writing is an essential component of reading but there are few opportunities or reasons for kids to write during school breaks — unless it’s something rewarding like a “shopping list”. However a journal/diary can be a painless and even tempting way to do some writing over the school holidays. Here are a few of our favorites along with some great reading suggestions for a relaxing and enjoyable summer.

Reading & Writing Our Way Through Summer

Imaginative Journals & Diaries

Klutz Press understands girls well enough to know that writing with a friend is an engaging activity. Even the front cover of ME AND MY FRIENDS: The Book of Us says “do not write in this book by yourself.” It goes on to say it is a “friendship journal”. The book’s creators are pretty savvy about what appeals to girls ages 8–12. There are opportunities to design outfits and hairdos for friends (including a place to tape in “teeny” hair samples), quizzes to take together on likes and dislikes, envelopes to tuck in “messages to a future self” and one to hold small memorabilia. One of the guided writing pages in the journal is headed “My friends and I don’t always see eye to eye. Some things we disagree on are…” This gives an opening for some reflection on friendship. Most of the pages require less writing but quite a bit of (pretty sneaky) reading practice. (Ages 8–12, $14.95)

While SCRIBBLES AND SECRETS by Laura Dower and Pablo Torrecilla also offers guided activities like the Klutz journal, there are more creative writing opportunities including pages to practice handwriting, record a poem and write a letter. Two pens come with  the package. (Ages 7–11, $9.99)

Activities are more the bag for SPY’S SURVIVAL HANDBOOK but there are places set aside for bits of creative writing. Laban Carrick Hill includes a heap of information in this little “backpack friendly” book including a template for writing Braille and Morse Code. Attached to the spiral binding is a metal “code machine” that can be removed and fastened on to a belt or key chain. (Ages 7–12, $9.99)
Codemaking, codebreaking, and clever concealment are revealed in a fact-filled exposé by Paul B. Janeczko. TOP SECRET: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Writing is a fascinating look at the varieties of ways kids can develop their own brand of secret communications. Janeczko’s conversational approach stimulates creative and logical thinking and encourages writing. His suggestions offer opportunities for kids to work together on cooperative projects. Another bonus of the book is the chapter on “Codemakers and Codebreakers Hall of Fame” revealing some intriguing bits of history. This is the kind of non-fiction writing that is welcome to youngsters who prefer to read about “real stuff.”  (Ages 9–14, $16.99)

MY SECRET BOOK ABOUT ME: Denim Diary is also a handy carry-along sized spiral bound book, and like the “survival handbook” is designed to be no-frills friendly for both boys and girls. Its piece de resistance is the lock and key. Fifty-pages of guided writing include “places I have been” and “places I want to go.”  (Ages 7–13, $7.99) [ed: this is printed by Antioch Publishing (]

Now for anyone who needs no prompts for writing, take a good look at Loreen Leedy’s LOOK AT MY BOOK: How Kids Can Write & Illustrate Terrific Books. In a step by step approach, she outlines the way to approach and accomplish a writing project. She says the book begins with the “idea.” She shows how to brainstorm to link up ideas, explains genre, research, characters and setting. She introduces the concepts of revision and editing, format and layout. And she demonstrates the kinds of illustrations that can be used. There are other books on the subject but this one is so straightforward that for any child who is motivated, this is a great gift. And for any teacher who is about to embark on book writing projects in the classroom, Leedy leads the way. (Ages 6–9, $16.95)

Kristine O’Connell George’s HUMMINGBIRD NEST will inspire a flight of creativity. Her poetry paired with Barry Moser’s delicate watercolors is “a journal of poems” chronicling one hummingbird’s maternal enterprise in the safety of George’s patio. From the day the “feathered missile” arrived until the “babies … fledged” she offers a delightful ringside seat at the life-cycle event. While we can hardly begin to aspire to George’s exquisite descriptions, her diary serves as a model for observing and recording the wonders of life, both big and small.  (Ages 5–adult, $16.00) 
At the conclusion of award winning author Richard Peck’s story selections he gives “Five Helpful Hints” on how to write a short story. But first read his PAST PERFECT, PRESENT TENSE: New and Collected Stories as inspiration and great entertainment. Included in the collection is his very first story, “Priscilla and the Wimps,” which Peck says may be the most read of anything he has ever written. From this first gem follow stories scary, humorous, historical and romantic. To rephrase Peck’s title just a wee bit, this collection would make a “perfect present” for just about anyone who loves to write, from middle-schoolers to adults. (Ages 13+++, $16.99)

Fiction for Ages 8 & Up

Summer is not only a time to write, but also a time to read and there are some super and unique new titles that will take readers into unexplored destinations.

Noi and Ting are apprentices to their artisan grandmother, a painter of SILK UMBRELLAS. The beautiful umbrellas are sold at the local crafts markets in their village in Northern Thailand. The money they bring helps the family survive now that the rented land on which their father grows rice is to be turned into a tourist resort. Noi shows promise as an artist but her older sister must begin work in a factory assembling transistor radios. Carolyn Marsden’s novel provides a wealth of information about the lives, customs and challenges of a modern day Thai family. (Ages 8–12, $15.99) 
Camels were brought from the sands of the Arabian deserts in the mid-nineteenth century to work in the deserts of the American West. Kathleen Karr recreates an obscure event that began in 1856, when Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and the U.S. Army tried an experiment that ultimately failed. Karr’s creative narrative, based on real events and people, is told through the words of one of the camels. Ali, a noble Egyptian ship of the desert is determined to never fully submit to the two-legged men-beasts responsible for his captivity and relocation first to Texas and then to a ranch near Fort Tejon in California from where he plans his escape to the Mojave Desert. Reading Ali’s tale, EXILED: Memoirs of a Camel we discovered a great deal we didn’t know about the habits of camels nor their short-lived employment in Western States. Karr, in an afterword, says her research included observing the camels at the National Zoo, and riding them in both Egypt and Morocco. Her own fascination with these creatures is bound to stir the curiosity of young readers.  (Ages 10 +, $15.95)

Although the setting is not named in L. S. MatthewsFISH it is a third world country in the throes of a civil war. The wet season is over, food supplies have disappeared. The villagers have fled and it’s time for Tiger’s missionary parents to leave. Just before they set out with a guide and his donkey, Tiger rescues a FISH from a mud puddle. He plans to carry it across the border and when he finds water, to release it. What might have been a difficult, but not impossible, expedition becomes a trek requiring stamina and endurance of heroic proportions. Matthews’ novel of survival is stark and gritty and a compelling read. (Ages 10–14+, $14.95) 
To quote Calder Pillay, “…  we’re pretty smart kids, you know.” He and Petra Andalee are classmates at the University of Chicago’s Laboratory School and they also happen to be neighbors. Both kids are loners, dreamy and imaginative and both are fascinated with reoccurring patterns and chains of coincidences. (Calder carries around a set of pentominoes and if you don’t know what that is, you will learn about them in the book.) Unbeknownst to them, three of their neighbors have received the same mysterious letter concerning the authenticity of Vermeer’s paintings. And then one of Vermeer’s masterpieces is stolen and a letter from the thief is published in major newspapers demanding that the art world identify which paintings attributed to Vermeer were in fact painted by others connected with him. Calder and Petra become involved in tracking down the stolen artwork. Blue Balliett’s CHASING VERMEER, an entertaining tour de force, is accompanied by Brett Helquist’s chapter illustrations containing clues for a hidden message. This is a book for kids who enjoy getting involved in the minute details of a story. CHASING VERMEER reminded us of some of our favorite mystery/adventures including the late Ellen Raskin’s award winning The Westing Game and E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. And like those two classics, it is a book that will be read more than once by discerning young readers and grown-ups as well.  (Ages 9–13, $16.95)

Thirteen year old Aggie, the engaging narrator of WELCOME HOME OR SOMEPLACE LIKE IT, and her older brother Thorne have lived with their mother in many places but they have never been to mom’s hometown, Ludwig, Maine (population 159). But one summer Mom practically dumps them off and disappears to write yet another romance novel. They are left with an eccentric grandfather whose house has seen better days. Aggie makes friends pretty easily and begins to uncover some of the family secrets and town history that explains why her mother has been uncommunicative about her childhood years in Ludwig. The more Aggie learns about why her mother wanted to leave, the more she wants to stay. Charlotte Agell’s novel of a teenager’s summer in Maine is an entertaining read. (Ages 9–15, $16.95) 

A mother whose vocabulary consists of a mere 23 words (each of which serves as a chapter heading in Sarah Weeks’ compelling novel, SO B. IT) is not much for Heidi to go on when she decides to uncover the mysteries of her life. Heidi’s neighbor, Bernadette, is the reason why Heidi and her mother have managed to survive. Thirteen years earlier, Mama and Heidi had appeared at her door. Bernie, although she couldn’t figure out where they had come from, began to take charge of their lives, teaching Mama a few life skills and raising Heidi. That their rent was always paid and no bills ever arrived for them was part of the mystery but Bernie figured that some people just slip through the cracks and obviously Heidi had some kind of lucky streak. Sarah Weeks has crafted such an intriguing novel, it’s an irresistible temptation to read SO B. IT in one sitting. And then begin again. (Ages 8–14, $15.99)

Perhaps the most original title of the year goes to Sonya Sones. ONE OF THESE HIDEOUS BOOKS WHERE THE MOTHER DIES, a narrative in free verse, is going to be one of those books teenage girls will adore and pass among themselves. The story begins with an angry Ruby aboard an airplane heading to L.A. to go live with her famous movie star father whom she has never met. She writes about missing her mother, her friends, the strangeness of Los Angeles, her new school, and her hostility towards her father. The most telling page, and perhaps the turning point of the book, is Thanksgiving. On a page titled “Things I am Thankful For,” the remainder of the page is blank. Here’s an admission. We haven’t been teenagers for over four decades and we couldn’t put this book down either. (Ages 13++, $15.95) 
Irish novelist Eoin Colfer, author of the popular Artemis Fowl series, can add another book to his growing stack of successes with the publication of an inventive, swashbuckling science fiction adventure, THE SUPERNATURALIST. In a future world, polluted and controlled by major competing corporations, life is pretty grim, particularly for an abandoned child. Cosmos Hill is determined to escape from an infamous dead-end orphanage while he still has a chance to survive. A freak accident provides a rare opportunity and Cosmos takes it, nearly dying in the attempt. He’s rescued by a renegade band of young adults who are on a mission to exterminate what they believe to be alien life-sucking parasites. The problem is that not everything is what it appears to be, and the idealistic group finds itself being manipulated by forces far more powerful than it imagines. Readers who love non-stop action will also find sympathetic characters and a tangible plot line that offers some surprising twists. (Ages 10+, $16.95)

Imagine a child so bright she learns how to conceal it when she is a toddler. Nora Rowley knew in kindergarten she was way ahead of her classmates and she also saw how hard it was on them when they didn’t do well on their tests. In fifth grade she finally makes a move to call attention to the problem of test pressures on her classmates. First she deliberately gets zeroes on her tests and then her classmates follow her lead. The plan is to organize a student “strike against grades and tests and pressure and bad competition.” With THE REPORT CARD, author Andrew Clements throws out a challenge to the educational community to consider the purpose and goals of testing and its impact on students. Like his best selling novel, Frindle, this novel is thought-provoking and should be a catalyst for some lively discussion. (Ages 8–12 and parents, teachers, and administrators, $15.95) (Frindle and other titles available in paperback.) 

Literate Hamsters Star in Two New Titles

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY is one viewed through the eyes of a small hamster who makes a big difference in many people’s lives. The substitute, Ms. Mac bought him for the classroom. When she leaves for adventuring in Brazil and the regular teacher returns, Humphrey is worried. Mrs. Brisbane thinks he is more work than she is willing to put up with. Her room mothers convince her to let him stay and make the rounds of the students’ homes on the weekends. Betty G. Birney’s novel offers some nice insights into classroom and family dynamics and would be an appropriate read-aloud in either setting.

(Ages 8–11, $14.99)

The second is FREDDY IN PERIL. We were introduced to this brilliant computer literate rodent last year in Dietlof Reiche’s I, Freddy which chronicled a golden hamster’s own story of his rise from his pet store origins to a remarkable existence as a “civilized hamster free to roam wherever he wants.” His idyll as a little girl’s pet was cut short by her allergic mother and he was moved to a friend’s house — a bachelor already caring for two dramatic guinea pigs and a neutered tom cat. There he gains access to a Mac and begins his career as a writer. In this second installment, an immoral scientist discovers Freddy and is determined to examine his brain. Much of the story involves evading his pursuer with the help of his friends and a delightful streetwise rat. The books were originally published in German and have been nicely translated by John Brownjohn and illustrated by Joe Cepeda. (Both titles Ages 8–12, $16.95 each) 

Sherwood Forest remains a fertile setting for adventure stories. WILD BOY: A Tale of Rowan Hood by Nancy Springer continues the saga of the children who dwell within the protection of Robin Hood. Wild Boy lives on the fringe of Rowan Hood’s community. Bitter at the death of his father, a pig man who died as a result of being cruelly injured by one of Sheriff of Nottingham’s treacherous man traps, he is given the rare opportunity for revenge. The Sheriff’s own son, captured in one of his father’s traps has been rescued by Robin Hood and turned over to his daughter Rowan for healing. Springer presents an interesting moral dilemma for young readers to consider within the guise of a satisfying adventure.  (Ages 8–12, $16.99. Earlier titles beginning with Rowan Hood, Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest are now available in paperback, $5.99)

For Beginning Readers

YOU READ TO ME, I’LL READ TO YOU: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together is a welcome companion to Mary Ann Hoberman and Ed Emberley’s excellent first book for beginning readers published in 2001. With the same successful concept of a scripted two voice format, the colorfully illustrated book is designed to be read by a new reader and an adult. This collection of alternating dialogue is based on eight separate nursery tales. This is not an actual retellings of the tales, but is written as commentary and extension of the classic tales. For example, “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” is a conversation between the biggest billy goat and the troll and explains why the troll wants a toll. (Ages 5–8, $16.95)

To make reading Hoberman’s book a richer experience, begin by reading aloud from a collection of traditional nursery tales like THE KINGFISHER BOOK OF NURSERY TALES by Vivian French and Stephen Lambert. — Ages 4–8, $15.00

Picture Books
It may seem hard to believe, but sometimes the simplest picture books are the hardest to write. The sparest text gives the artist freedom to create illustrations in a balanced partnership. Some picture book creators like Kevin Henkes and Elisha Cooper are both writer and illustrator. Their mastery produces the perfect combination that prompts young children to ask… “please read it again.”

Add Kevin Henkes’s KITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON to your child’s bookshelf to bring out on the nights when the moon is so bright you won’t need the nightlight to read by. You will laugh together as kitten tries to reach a full bowl of milk he sees up in the sky. Henkes’s art, mostly black gouache and pencil on white, is soft and bright. We follow kitten’s antics as he climbs through grass and up a tree, and ends up “wet and sad and tired and hungry.” But lucky kitten finds a bowl of milk back on the porch where his adventure first began. (If the last lines are reminiscent of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, well that’s all to the good since it will remind you to not let that classic out of your reading life either.) (Ages 18 months to 5, $15.99) 
And share a snuggle of cozy “what ifs” with Elisha Cooper’s MAGIC THINKS BIG. Magic is a cat whose imagination is even bigger than he is, and far more active. He sits at the open doorway looking out at a peaceful lakefront and “contemplates”. “Should he go in? Or out?” Cooper paints us his options in lovely fat watercolors that take us on the journey of possibilities. (Ages 2–6, $14.99)

Eric Carle’s color-drenched tissue paper collages lead us on a different journey as we travel underwater with MISTER SEAHORSE who awaits the hatching of his progeny safely guarded in a pouch on his belly. As he drifts along, he encounters other fathers who are taking good care of their eggs as well. Besides recognizing examples of responsible fatherhood, Carle’s handsome book may nurture a youngster’s fascination with marine biology. (Ages 2–7, $16.99) 
And for youngsters pondering the wonders of “big and little”, Steve Jenkins presents an intriguing look at ACTUAL SIZE. His cut and torn paper collages illustrate such amazing creatures as the Goliath frog whose length barely fits on a three-paged spread. The four-inch long teeth of the great white shark zigzag across two pages and another spread cannot contain the entire head of the Siberian tiger, “the biggest of the big cats.” In contrast, the dwarf goby, smallest of all fish, could ride on the tip of a thumbnail. Like his Caldecott Honor book of last year, What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, additional facts are provided in an afterword. (Ages 3–8, $16.00)

Mem Fox asks, “WHERE IS THE GREEN SHEEP?”. Judy Horacek’s illustrations reveal all sorts of other sheep; balancing, bathing, swinging and sliding. The title question is repeated periodically throughout the book until the very end where green sheep is discovered, fast asleep. This deceptively simple picture book is fun to read aloud to one child or a whole group who will delight in helping the reader ask “but WHERE IS THE GREEN SHEEP?” (Ages 1–5, $15.00) 
Even if you have no major travel plans for the summer, two fine picture books will transport you to beautiful (oh so romanticized) Paris. Catherine Stock’s fetching tale begins in the countryside, far from the bustle of big city life. Farmer Monsieur Monmouton looks after his “eleven silly sheep, five curious geese, three greedy goats, four ruminating cows, a flock of fluttering pigeons, two enormous pigs, nine noisy chickens, a rather pompous rooster, and one extremely hardworking dog.” In the summer, tourists, escaping from Paris, visit to get a taste of country life and they bring tales of life in the city. Monsieur Monmouton wishes for a holiday but worries about who would look after his animals. But not to worry! The animals decide to tag along and the entire entourage spends a busy time visiting all the major attractions of lovely Paris. With its droll, lovely watercolor paintings, A SPREE IN PAREE is esprit-filled and absolutely irresistible. (Ages 4–8++, $16.95)

Linger a bit longer in lovely Paris to taste CREPES BY SUZETTE concocted by Monica Wellington. Before we begin a tour of the city we watch Suzette prepare a batch of batter for her famous pancakes and then shop at a local market to procure the best fresh fruits to fill them. Her customers are as varied as her choices of fillings and by the time she has traveled the city she’s visited Luxembourg Gardens, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, The Louvre Museum, the Tuileries, and the gardens surrounding the Eiffel Tower. Wellington’s detailed collages offer glimpses of street life and snapshots of people, several of whom reappear in different poses throughout the book. She also pays homage to some of the famous art works the city inspired. At the back of the book are a glossary of French words used in the text, notes on the illustrations and artworks referenced and her piece de resistance, the thoughtfully provided crepe recipe. (Ages 4–9, $15.99) 

Good Sportsmanship and Good Manners

In a tribute to déjà vu, the children of Munro Leaf have reissued MANNERS CAN BE FUN. First published in 1936, those of us who grew up in the 40’s and 50’s read and re-read this straight forward approach to good manners. The artwork, naïve stick figures, felt appropriate and intimate — after all, most of us begin our own artistic lives drawing very much the same way. Because we think books are an amazing catalyst for discussion of life’s basic skills, we welcome the reappearance of this classic. (Ages 4–10 and anyone older who has somehow missed out on rudiments of polite behavior, $14.95)  (And a reminder that Aliki’s book entitled Manners is still in print as well: Ages 4–9, $5.99)

Chip O’Hare is mad about world famous martial arts champion Striper Mee. He tries to imitate all of his idol’s tough guy kicks and chops, punches and leaps. When a karate school opens in town, he is the first to enroll. Mr. Leo, his sensei is something of a disappointment because he’s nothing like Chip’s TV hero, Striper. Chip wants action, and Mr. Leo emphasizes showing respect. Anne Rockwell’s extended picture book story, CHIP AND THE KARATE KICK, is not only an entertaining story, but also offers a wonderful introduction to karate and the philosophy of martial arts. Illustrator Paul Meisel’s paintings are a lively addition. (Ages 4–7, $14.99) 

A Thoughtful Way to Celebrate the Fourth of July

Before the picnic and the fireworks, sit down with your family and share Chris Gall’s stunningly illustrated presentation of AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL. Gall says that as the great-great-grandnephew of Katherine Lee Bates, he grew up with his ancestor’s poem, written in her own hand, framed and hanging on the wall of his home. As an artist as he has traveled he says, “I saw the country through the lens of the poem — not just its mountains’ majesty and fruited plain, but its people, its industry, its inventive spirit.” He goes on to say, in his introduction to the book, that the poem endures because “it is a reminder of all we have, and of all that we need to preserve.” As you look together through the pages, talk with your children about the illustrations (hand engraving clay-coated board, then digitizing with Adobe Illustrator… ) and what the words mean and then sing together the song that many people think should have been the National Anthem.  (Ages 3++, $16.95)

Newsletter text Copyright 2004 © by Jody Shapiro.  All Rights Reserved.