Thursday, February 26, 2015

It's a Book

Plot Summary
The monkey is reading a book when the jackass (no, really!) comes up and starts asking endless questions about what the monkey’s doing and what the book can do. The jackass seems to only have experience with electronics and technology - will he understand what a book can do, and will he be interested enough to read one?

Critical Analysis
This book is a book. A book about how books are just… books. There’s no power button, no need to charge it up, nothing to press or swipe or tweet. The jackass seems clueless about books, but the monkey very patiently explains what a book is and how it can entertain you. This is a great lesson for kids - both for those who need to know what a book is and how to enjoy it, as well as a lesson in patience for all kids. The monkey shows them how they can be kind and patient and help those around them become interested in new and different things.

Personal Response
Be still my somewhat-anti-technology heart! I’ve gone from being something of a computer nerd to not really wanting to be on the computer at all. I held out on getting a smartphone until just over a year ago, and now I try to not be on it all the time. I wrote an article about keeping kids from technology when they’re really young, and am trying to keep it that way. I want my son to love physical books (and thankfully, at 8 months, he already does!) and use his hands and imagination to play with things, instead of sitting on his butt playing games on a screen. This book is so matter-of-fact, with the sly character of the jackass making me smile. It’s simple and silly enough to appeal to kids, and there’s a smirk shared with the parents reading it.

Reviews & Awards
Booklist says “Although it is adults, not children, who will best appreciate the subject and satire here, the basic drama created by the characters’ arguments may help this find an audience among kids, especially tech-savvy ones.” USA Today’s “Pop Candy” blog sums it up best, saying “Although it is adults, not children, who will best appreciate the subject and satire here, the basic drama created by the characters’ arguments may help this find an audience among kids, especially tech-savvy ones.”

Connections & Activities
You can’t go wrong with Lane Smith! He has been writing and illustrating books since 1987 on a variety of subjects - fiction and nonfiction both! Check them out on his webpage, or better yet - go find them on your local library’s shelf!

Read it for yourself!
Smith, Lane. 2010. It’s a Book. New York: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN 9781596436060

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Made By Raffi

Made By Raffi is a gorgeous book, both in message and illustration! Raffi is a young boy who knows what he likes: colors, peace and quiet, and knitting. But all of these traits make him different from the rough and tumble boys in his class. Raffi is teased by his classmates, which leads him to ask his parents if it's ok to be different. Will Raffi stay strong in who he is, or will he give in to peer pressure?
     From the inviting cover and colorful endpapers to the simple yet powerful message in the text, this book is a joy for readers of all ages. It was just published in 2014, and is already out in multiple languages! It’s such a great message to spread - I love that my stepson and son will be able to grow up with this book.

I had a chance to interview the author, Craig Pomranz, who is an award-winning actor and singer.

HowIFeelAboutBooks: The book is dedicated to "the real Raffi" - how did you get to know him, and why did he inspire you to write?
Craig Pomranz: Raffi is my godson.  The book is based on an actual incident.  He was having trouble getting to sleep one night, he asked a question and coined the word TomGirl -- that immediately hit me as a story to tell.

HIFAB: You've been an actor and a singer - what made you decide to write a book?
CP: I have always dabbled in writing.  I consider myself an idea person.  I'm always taking notes and writing dialogue, working on scripts and film treatments.  When the real Raffi asked the question and used the word TomGirl, in the context of the recent attention to bullying and teasing I put it down and thought the story could be important and help kids and parents.

HIFAB: Did the story come easily?
CP: It did come easily, although the first draft was a longer version for older kids.  It was surprisingly easy to boil it down and simplify it without losing any of the message.

HIFAB: Was the publication process easier since you're already well-known?
CP: I am certainly not well-known in the publishing world.  I am very lucky.  At a dinner party at a friend's place in London my book came up in the conversation.  One of the other guests was in the publishing industry.  My dinner companion asked me to send it and, amazingly, the next week they offered me a contract.  Frances Lincoln was terrific during the editing process, and the book is currently published in eight languages so far!

HIFAB: Why do you think your book has been translated into so many languages? What accounts for its success?
CP: It is overwhelming for me to think about it.  I hoped to help kids, parents, caretakers and even educators talk about respecting differences -- to discover that the message crosses cultures and to hear from people all over the world who want to tell their experience is so rewarding.  I have concluded that all of us encounter difficulties growing up, feeling misunderstood, different from everybody else.  Basically we are all human beings with the same growing pains who can identify with a little boy wondering why he is different.  Maybe all of us seek to be like Raffi's calm, accepting family.

HIFAB: How do you feel knowing so many people - children and adults alike - are relating to your book?
CP: Reaching a wide range of people and having any kind of influence is the most rewarding experience of my life.  It also gives me great hope for better understanding in the world. I am fortunate indeed.

HIFAB: Are you going to write more books? For children? Adults?
CP: I am working on several more children's books.  They are also based on true incidents and have powerful messages of acceptance.  I am also working on a book of interviews with celebrities and movie stars that I am very excited about.

Visit Craig Pomranz on his website and as @MadeByRaffi on Twitter. Grab your own copy of Made By Raffi on Amazon!

Read it for yourself!
Pomranz, Craig. 2014. Made By Raffi. Ill. by Margaret Chamberlain. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books. ISBN 9781847804334

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Pout-Pout Fish

This book grabbed our attention at the library because some of us are a little grumpy
in the morning. (It may or may not be me.) Therefore, anything portraying that
crankiness in a different light is something we gravitate towards!

Plot Summary
Pout-Pout Fish is always frowning as he swims around the ocean. He frowns when he encounters his fellow ocean-dwellers, who all try to cheer him up to no avail. Will Pout-Pout Fish ever learn to smile?

Critical Analysis
This book is a great read-aloud choice! Kids will love the refrain “I’m a pout-pout fish / With a pout-pout face, / So I spread the dreary-wearies / All over the place.” This creates a call and response for storytime, with “Blub, Bluuub, Bluuuuuuub” following right behind the catchy verse. My seven-month-old even learned the rhythm of the words and would lean back to watch me blue along with Pout-Pout Fish!
     The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous; the jellyfish page took my breath away! The images are bright and vividly colored, sure to draw in young readers. One ocean friend is introduced per page spread, but there’s an added game of looking for and identifying all of the other critters that inhabit the pages.

Personal Response
This book is already a favorite at our house! My fiancĂ© read it for the first time to his five-year-old son and our seven-month-old son, and both boys loved it. The five-year-old loved the rhyming stanzas (as did I!) and the seven-month-old loved the pictures. His room is decorated in an ocean theme, so I like to think he felt right at home underwater with Pout-Pout Fish and friends! When I re-read it to the baby, as I mentioned above, he learned to recognize certain sections of the text and look at me as I read them. He loved grabbing at the fish in the pictures as well. He smiles any time he sees Pout-Pout Fish now, so we’re eager to add these books to our library… and we’ve caught (pun intended!) word that there is a plush Pout-Pout Fish out there too…

Reviews & Awards
Pout-Pout Fish is a New York Times Bestseller and the 2009 Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year. Times Record News says "Diesen's clever rhymes are playful and fun and are sure to keep children's imaginations swimming from page to page.”

Connections & Activities
There is a whole series of Pout-Pout Fish books - with more still coming out! This first one is so enjoyable, I know we’re going to read and love them all.

Read it for yourself!
Diesen, Deborah. 2008. The Pout-Pout Fish. Ill. by Dan Hanna. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374360962