Friday, March 23, 2012
Delacorte Press has earned its reputation as a publisher of high-quality adolescent literature, particularly their translations. While Annika Thor’s The Lily Pond didn’t blow me away with quite the same force as Anne-Laure Bondaux’s A Time of Miracles (2009), it lives up to the high standard set by Delacorte.
Stephie Steiner is a Jewish refugee in Sweden during WWII. While historically Sweden was one of the few safe havens for these refugees, not all Swedes felt pleased about the influx of “visitors” to their cities, schools, and culture. Stephie faces an anti-Semitic teacher, who attempts to frame her for cheating, a chilly host family,who treats her like a servant, and even a prejudiced fellow Jewish friend, a long-time resident of the city who blames new refugees like Stephie for the recent growth of anti-Semitism.
In addition to anti-Semitic/anti-immigrant prejudice, Thor explores class identity. While Stephie’s parents were rich in Vienna, the Anti-Semitic legislation had taken all of their assets. Her meager stipend doesn’t compare to that of her peers. Her “fancy address” hides the fact that she’s simply a lodger. In addition, she befriends another girl, even poorer than she, who lives in a very small apartment with her six siblings and parents. These two factors set her at odds with many of the social butterflies at her school.
Along with these weightier issues, Thor addresses the familiar young adult problems of self-identity, first love, and friendship. Stephie’s unrequited crush (and complete misreading of this fellow’s actions) is innocuous and entirely age-appropriate.
Through these challenges, Stephie grows in self-assurance, finding her own way in a new land, largely on her own, without the help of a parent-figure.
The prose translation reads smoothly, and one scarcely notices that it is a translation at all. Stephie’s character and emotions are well-developed; I identify easily with her indecisive moments and her guilt, and her anger resonate with me as a reader. A lovely exploration of a unique episode in European history, I’d be proud to put this book on the shelves in my classroom.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Set deep in the jungles of Colombia, Biblio Burro by Jeanette Winter tells the story of a man who takes his love for books to young children. Luis and his wife Diana live in a small house, and once Luis fills it with books they realize they need to do something with them. "After all," Diana tells Luis, “we can’t eat books with our rice.” Luis thinks and comes up with a perfect plan. With the purchase of two mules, he turns his books into a mobile Biblio Burro (Donkey Library) and sets off through Colombia. Luis, Alfa, and Beto’s journey isn’t always easy: It’s hot, sometimes Beto doesn’t want to keep going, and they are even held up by a bandit looking for money. There are also, though, the children and people at the villages who get to see books for the very first time. They sit and listen in wonder to Luis as he reads the story of The Three Little Pigs. At the end of the story, they happily get to pick out their own books from the library, and, as they head home, Luis, Alfa and Beto set off for the next group of children in the next village.
Biblio Burro is a well-crafted and engaging story about Luis Soriana, the real-life Biblio Burro man. Luis’s mission continues today. As a result of donations, his library has expanded from 70 books to more than 4,800. When it comes to the book itself, I found Biblio Burro both enjoyable and useful. As a tutor for early readers, as well as baby-sitter for my niece, I am always on the look-out for interesting books that cultivate intelligence and imagination. Early elementary students are entertained by Alpha and Beto’s names and might notice that if you “squish them together you get “Alphabet-o!” Similarly, a donkey library will draw chuckles. The reference to The Three Little Pigs provides another opportunity for teachers and parents. Not only is it an excellent time to read the fairy tale, students can create their own little pig masks to wear during story-time.
While the plot-line and word play were too advanced for my three-year-old niece to notice all the subtleties, the illustrations were interesting enough to distract her and lessen tears as she realized Mommy wasn’t going to be back for a while. Rendered in acrylic paint, pen, and ink the illustrations resemble appliqué quilt pieces and are useful to practice picking out colors. Additionally, each scene has at least two butterflies as well as a variety of jungle birds and animals which are excellent for a child to hone his or her counting skills. Beyond all of this, Biblio Burro cultivates an appreciation for books, social consciousness, and initiative worth re-enforcing.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Errol the Elephant goes to Acacia Tree School with a menagerie of highly talented friends: Abraham the Anaconda can "swallow almost anything," Zachary the Zebra can disappear, and the Chameleon Brothers can change into anything they want. Errol the Elephant, though, doesn't seem to have a special talent. Errol's embarrassment at his lack of talent is made even worse when Mr. Geoffreys, the Giant Tortoise, announces that there will be a talent show. In desperation, Errol decides he is going to find something he is really good at. Unfortunately, his trunk gets in the way of juggling, playing the sousaphone is a failure, and whenever Errol tries to dance, he falls over.
At the end of the day when it's time to go to bed, Errol is in tears. Errol's dad asks what's wrong, and Errol tells him everything. After comforting his son and assuring him that everything will be okay and that he is actually quite talented, Errol's dad gives him a book to read about elephants. As Errol reads the book, he finds out all sorts of things that make elephants, and him, very special. The most exciting thing that Errol finds out is that he is the "owner of quite an extraordinary nose." In fact, Errol's nose is "unlike any other in the animal kingdom." After getting ideas for his talent show presentation, Errol goes to sleep. The day of the talent show arrives: The African Finches sing, Morris the Meerkat conducts the orchestra, Abraham the Anaconda eats two hundred pancakes, Zachary the Zebra hides in the backdrop, and finally it's Errol's turn. Errol proceeds to show the audience what his extraordinary nose can do. He uses it to pick up objects, he "astound[s] everyone as he dance[s] in a tank of water while using his nose as a snorkel," and he finishes by putting on a spectacular water and lights show. Not only does Errol win the talent show, he and his friends go on to find they "share the best talent of all...making friends."
Daniel Conway's text along with Roberta Angaramo's illustrations create a delightful read. Conway's choice of names and the accompanying consonance and assonance allow the words to playfully dance on your tongue. Similarly, there are several fun and most likely unknown words for early readers like: "astounded" and "flabbergasted." While it does feel like the final page where Errol and his friends find out their most important talents are making friends is a last minute tag-on, Conway does well in providing a positive atmosphere. I especially appreciated how Errol's dad not only listens to Errol's feeling and concerns, but also offers a book for Errol to read for himself. I heartily approve of this quiet, and early message about how books can be used.
When it comes to illustrations, one of the most memorable images is Errol—decked out in a swim cap, goggles, and fins—dancing in a tank of water. The drawings of Errol's attempts to find his talents are also engaging, and Errol's enthusiasm as he completes his final performance of singing and dancing in his own created water and lights show made me smile. Errol and His Extraordinary Nose is a solid children's book that reminds readers to not underestimate themselves and others
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Publishing, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-936608-87-4. $29.95.
The SDSU Center for the Study of Children’s Literature doesn’t often review cookbooks, but when I saw the pre-release notice of this one, I simply couldn’t wait to review it. “Paleo” (ironically) is a fairly new movement, and while there are excellent primer-like books for adults such as Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint, Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution, and Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet, and excellent adult cookbooks such as Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed, Haley Mason & Bill Staley’s Make It Paleo, and Julie & Charles Mayfield’s Paleo Comfort Foods, nothing yet written speaks to the specific needs of children. Sarah Fragoso’s Everyday Paleo addresses the challenges of raising a Paleo family, but in a literary manner aimed exclusively at adults.
Finally, the need is met; Paleo kids have a book written with them in mind!
Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry (“The Paleo Parents”) aim their work at “neither a culinary savant nor a mega-athlete,” but rather at ordinary families trying to eat unprocessed, real food. The subtitle “Recipe & guidebook for gluten-free kids” broadens their audience beyond the Paleosphere to the growing gluten-free world. But make no bones about it, the book follows a strict Paleo regimen: none of the recipes contains any grains, dairy, hydrogenated oils, or legumes - only meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and tubers.
The first thirty pages, “The Boring Chapter for Parents,” give an easy-to-understand explanation of the Paleo diet, but the authors intentionally do not delve into the science. They make very clear that this is not a book about diet. It’s just about “having fun with your kids in the kitchen” while simultaneously eating a healthier diet consistent with our human evolution.
Their explanation stays above the fray of heated Paleo debates with recipes representing their own version of Paleo, but it’s not presented as dogma nor does the reader feel “judged” for his or her own variations on the lifestyle.
The introductory chapter also addresses the challenge of kids who feel “different” because of their family’s food choices, or who are reluctant to change their eating habits at all. The authors’ strategy is to convert kids into wanting this diet for themselves. Toth and McCarry include specific ideas to help with the transition, such as replacing lost favorites with NEW treats and traditions (Pizza Friday becomes “International Food Night” or “Breakfast for Dinner Night”), or giving kids greater ownership of their food by having them help with grocery shopping, preparation, and meal planning. Throughout the book, in fact, small green hand icons indicate steps that children can help with.
I appreciated that the introductory materials established the link between diet and behavior, especially in children. This under-discussed issue strikes a particular chord with me, as I myself struggled with behavior and focus issues in school until the elimination of all cane sugar byproducts gave me a new lease on life and a new shot at school and friendships. Like the authors’ sons, who struggled with ADHD, asthma, eczema, and allergies before switching their diet, the positive changes in my life made me want to never go back to the way I ate before. As a fifth grader, I said with complete honesty that I no longer wanted the treats my friends ate because I never wanted to go back to my life “on sugar.”
After the introduction chapter comes the meat of the book (pun intended), including an illustrated children’s story. Told in the voice of their oldest son Cole, it is a touching retelling of the family’s journey to health and their transition process, both the challenges as well as the fun. They ate like dinosaurs (some ate meat, some ate plants, but none ate pasta or drank juice boxes), visited farms, concocted new foods, and tried foods no one else has heard of! The story puts a positive spin on the process, aided by playful illustrations depicting cartoonish people and dinosaurs reminiscent of 1990s television…the golden era of Barney and animated series like Blue’s Clues, Hey Arnold!, Rugrats, and Rocko’s Modern Life.
Reading through their recipes, I wanted to grocery shop and cook immediately. The instructions are straightforward, and, with the exception of some of the baking recipes, the meals consistently include a reasonable-length ingredient list. The dishes are unique, yet without too many bizarre or “foodie” ingredients. I like their use of spices, such as putting nutmeg on carrots or cumin on asparagus. The text accompanying each recipe is enjoyable, often explaining the dish’s name (such as “Rat on a Stick” or “Roast Beast”) and/or how they came up with the recipe. In addition to creative takes on staple dishes, the recipes include key basics such as bone broth, mayonnaise, applesauce, ketchup, and bbq sauce - all of which are difficult to find in stores without chemicals or unnecessary sugar.
A frank discussion of cost would have been useful: eating a Paleo diet without fillers such as bread, pasta, and rice can be much more expensive than eating the standard American diet, particularly if one tries to replicate “gluten-free alternatives” to baked foods. The authors briefly mention the cost of alternative flours, and the back matter discusses farmers markets and u-pick farms, but the book could use a short section about budgeting.
Despite that, I call this book a triumph. Although I’m not yet a parent myself and can’t speak to its usefulness first-hand, I was a kid who ate “differently.” And I hope to raise my own family with an evolutionarily healthy diet. Kudos to Victory Belt Publishing for fulfilling the need for just such a book. I hope the book sees tremendous success, not only within the Paleo community, but with any family trying to eat more healthfully.
Reviewed by Marisa Behan