The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr.Morris Lessmore

Wow! Although this is a blog about books and how we love to smell them I can’t not share this short movie. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr.Morris Lessmore was written by William Joyce. Joyce also co-directed the film with Brandon Oldenburg.

It warms my heart that this film has been nominated for an Oscar. The short film highlights the transformative and affirming power of books through the love Mr.Lessmore has of the books he cares for, and the love they have for him. Mr.Lessmore’s city is destroyed in a disaster. Afterwards, his books give his life purpose and meaning. In a time when so many things seems bleak it is a gentle reminder that books are a sweet escape from the trials of everyday life.

The film reminds me that in an age of electronic readers there is still nothing quite like the smell and heft of a ‘real’ book in your hand.

Check the film out for free here. Enjoy! This film is appropriate for children of all ages!

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The Old Woman Who Named Things

If relationships with dogs often lead you to get a bit weepy grab some kleenex and enjoy this heart tugging gem by Cynthia Rylant. My copy smells like school library, an impossible combination of fresh and musty.

The Old Woman Who Named Things is the story of an elderly woman who is alone because she has outlived all of her friends. To avoid the pain of more loss the old woman decides to only care about things that she can’t outlive. To avoid being lonely she gives  her favorite inanimate objects charming names. For example her car is “Betsy” and her house is “Franklin.”

The old woman is happy until the day a small brown puppy appears at her gate wagging it’s tail and ‘looking a little hungry.”The old woman feeds the dog every day but always tell shim to go home after she feeds him. She does not want to risk losing anymore friends. 

The dog always returns each day …until the day he doesn’t. After several days the old woman realizes how much she has come to care about the dog.  The old woman goes in search of her shaggy companion. In the end the old woman has to decide if she will name her friend and claim the love she feels for him. 

The book  illustrates the lesson that trying to skip and avoid friendships can cause more pain than a friendship coming to an end. Cynthia Rylant has done a masterful job of sharing this profound truth in a way that younger audiences can appreciate. Kathryn Brown’s colorful illustrations serve to give the book a joyful and hopeful tone.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

I first  saw this Caldecott Medal winner in the floor display at my school’s library. My first reaction was: ADORABLE ELEPHANT! ME WANT!

Upon closer inspection I saw that the adorable cover illustration was one of many things to love about this book. A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip Stead, is the story of the responsible,prompt, and caring zoo keeper Amos McGee. We follow him on his work day from beginning to end where we  see how valuable Amos is to his various animal charges.  From a shy penguin to an owl who is afraid of the dark Amos finds ways to make all of the animals feel valued and appreciated. 

Amos is more than a zoo keeper, he is a wonderful friend.  When Amos wakes up too sick to go into work the animals decide to go and see him. All the care that Amos has lavished on them is returned as the animals spend the day nursing Amos back to health.


Phillip and Erin Stead have combined their talents to create a new classic tale that perfectly illustrates the values of ‘friendship’ for young children and any adults who may need some reminders. The heart of this story is the value of friends who understand us and our quirks.  Prepare to be enchanted.

THE DINOSAURS OF WATERHOUSE HAWKINS

Want to look at brilliantly colorful illustrations? Sure! Want to impress people at dinner parties with how much you know about the history of modeling dinosaur bodies from skeletal remnants? You bet!  

This Caldecott Honor Book was written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by our favorite, Brian Selznick. The book is the true story of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins.

Hawkins was a model maker in the latter 1800’s whose passion was collaborating with the leading scientists of the day to create models of dinosaurs. Hawkins wanted  the general public to get a glimpse of the spectacular creatures. Hawkin’s story  takes the reader from England to North America and back. It includes a meeting with the king and queen, an important dinner party held inside a model of dinosaur, and a run in with a teamster whose name is still well known today.

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins   is such a vividly illustrated and quick paced story that I did not realize it was a true one until I was half way through the book. Note to self: real life is often more interesting than fiction.

The book ends with informative illustrations that show how Hawkin’s models have been improved upon in the time since his work laid the foundation for dinosaur skeletal remodeling.

I recommend the story to anyone who enjoys a good story and  specifically to dinosaur and history buffs. Though I suppose dinosaur buffs are inherently history buffs (Ba-dum-ba!).

       

The Man in The Moon

The Man in the Moon by William Joyce is the debut book in his series: The Guardians of Childhood. Joyce has several other children’s books (Santa Calls and George Shrinks) in print. He also worked on the Toy Story films.

I was so thrilled when I saw the scholastic box arrive in the office this afternoon I think I scared the UPS man. It took all I had not to tear the box from his hands. I have been eagerly awaiting Joyce’s book for a week and half- the smell and the story did not disappoint.

My copy of the book smells like a chain bookstore-clean, freshly inked pages.

The Man in the Moon is a thrilling story that tells the tale of the, you guessed it, Man in the Moon. MiM (Man in Moon), as he is nicknamed by his childhood guardian Nightlight, is a happy baby when the story begins. He sails through galaxies with his parents on a ship called the Moon Clipper. The Moon Clipper is designed to transform into a moon each evening and Joyce’s illustrations of the transformation are a delight.

Nightlight never sleeps and watches over MiM each evening. Nightlight sprinkles Dreamsand over MiM so he never has  nightmares. When Pitch, the King of Nightmares, hears about this he sets out on a planet and star destroying mission to find MiM,capture him, and make him a prince of nightmares. MiM’s family flees for a small green and blue planet (sound familiar?) in a far galaxy. The planet has no moon and so it seems like the perfect place for the Moon Clipper to transform and hide.

When Pitch and his ship, The Nightmare Galleon, catches up with MiM’s family an epic battle ensues. Children and adults alike will be swept up in the valiant efforts made by the good characters aboard the Moon Clipper.

When the dust settles MiM is alone except for a few surviving Moonbots, Moonmice,and Glowworms. Though his parents and Nightlight are gone his childhood on the moon is a fantasy brought to life by Joyce’s sweet,quick prose and decadent illustrations. ( You will fall in LOVE with his Glowworms and Lunar Moths)

When MiM grows into a man he finds way to help the children of earth. He assembles a familiar cast of beloved characters from the far corners of earth to become the guardians of childhood. I won’t give away more but I will say that the end of the book is lovely and simply magical.

I am EAGERLY awaiting more books from the series. A wonderful gift for a friend with a child who is young enough to still believe in magic all around.

          

The DJANGO

My copy of this book smells so delicious, akin to thick wrapping paper.

So no one just sets down to write and illustrate a book for the first time and creates a perfect gem, right? Wrong! Levi Pinfold has done just that with his first picture book, DJANGO.

This picture book is a delightful trickster tale inspired by the life of jazz legend Jean “Django” Reinhardt. The story features a young gypsy boy named Jean. One day Jean comes across the DJANGO in his family’s caravan. In the book the DJANGO is described thusly:

“It’s like a thing. A sort of it. A kind of cozzler that always seems to find trouble.”

The Django is a charmingly illustrated creature who looks something like a little boy, and insect, and a pile of laundry crossed together and come to life. The Django loves playing tricks and pranks but poor Jean is the one who gets in trouble.

The Django starts by breaking Jean’s father’s precious banjo, an instrument Jean has longed to play for himself for as long as he can remember.  Jean’s papa is furious and things only get worse as the Django follows Jean around for the week causing him trouble at every turn. Finally Jean has had enough and casts the Django out in a fit of temper. The Django stays away and Jean is surprised to find he actually misses him. Jean’s papa has a perfect and surprising solution for Jean’s case of the blues.

Children will delight in the tricks the Django plays. Beware of little ones blaming the Django for the bad behavior after reading this one! People of all ages will appreciate the vivid and colorful illustrations.

Also be sure to read and share  the final page that gives information about the life of the real Jean “Django” Reinhardt. His life story is an inspiring and exciting one for anyone who appreciates music and the art of creating it.

    

Wonder Struck

Written and Illustrated by Brian Selznick. (GENIUS) Brian Selznick is a renowned illustrator and author. His book The Invention of Hugo Cabret,  won the Caldecott honor medal and  was turned into a film that was released in November 2011.

My copy of the  book smells of new, heavy, high quality paper. The ink smell is strong  because most of the pages of the book are detailed black and white illustrations.

I am not saying anything revolutionary by giving my opinion that Selznick has created another magical literary work in his newest work Wonderstruck.The story is brilliantly and movingly illustrated.

The illustrations tell a separate story than the words for the first part of the book. The illustrations detail a past series of events involving a character named Rose. The words tell the present tense  story of the life of a boy named Ben. Ben and Rose have one thing in common. They are both searching for a place where they belong.The two narratives are separated by 50 years but the lives of Ben and Rose meld together surprisingly and flawlessly throughout the course of the story. The melding of those two lives will astound you.

The story is full of surprises, and, as the title alludes to, wonder.  I feel strongly that it is an asset to any school or home library. The story will best be appreciated by people over the age of ten. The  beauty of the complications of love and loss might be missed by anyone younger. Still, the illustrations and overall design of the book fill the reader with the sense that they are holding something magical in their hands and this  can be appreciated by younger children. That feeling is one that builds life long readers.

Selznick is a rare talent with a gift for telling stories with settings of  great breadth  and scope that  do not overshadow the detailed and complicated lives of the characters living within them. The settings themselves act as characters in the story, illuminating the lives of the living characters that move around, in, and between them.

I read this book in one sitting and finished it moments ago. I was so desperate to read it this weekend that I ‘bought’ it off of a student who had checked it out of the school library before I could. I bribed him with our school’s good behavior currency- Tiger Paws. You read that correctly. I bribed a child so I could take their book. Judge me if you will, but this story was well worth it. I hope you find your own copy by less illicit means. Also note- I read the entire novel with a throbbing sinus headache that would usually have had me laying in the dark with my eyes closed. I found the story  that moving and enthralling.

In this tale Selznick gives  me the feeling that all of us are caught up in our own magnificent narrative.

      

The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes

My copy of the book smells like old library.

In this little Vintage Easter tale we get a taste of women’s liberation bunny style, made more interesting by the fact that the book was published in 1939.  Du Bose Heyward created a valiant and lovable heroine, whose strength of character is timeless.

The book casts aside the myth that one Easter bunny delivers all the lovely Easter eggs. There are five bunnies to do the work. The five live and work with wise old Grandfather bunny. When an Easter bunny becomes too slow and old they retire and another candidate takes his place.

The book begins with The Country Bunny, a.k.a Cottontail, as a young brown bunny dreaming dreams of being one of the five Easter bunnies. She grows up, marries, and suddenly has 21 little bunnies to take care of, with no husband in evidence on any of the pages.

As Cottontail’s children grow she teachers each of them how to be a good productive bunny citizen. Each bunny has a job to do to keep the house running smoothly. Now,one day word spreads through the forrest that one of the Easter Bunnies is retiring. Momma Cottontail gathers her whole brood and heads off to the grand Palace of the Easter Eggs. Cottontail’s confidence is low at first, compared to the other competitors she feels like a ‘old mother bunny.’ However,  Cottontail is chosen as the fifth Easter Bunny, and the first LADY Easter Bunny in history.

Right off Cottontail is given a special job: To deliver the most beautiful and delicate of all the eggs to a boy who has “been ill for an entire year, but has never once cried or complained.” Of course the boy also lives in a dangerous and remote location. Our girl Cottontail takes her mission and heads off into the night.

She hops, and hops, and hops, and hops. Then she reaches the mountains and hops some more. She attempts to make the final ascent to a small, snow covered cabin.Just as she is about to reach the top Cottontail slips and tumbles to the bottom of the mountain. She sits at the base of a tree, dejected, hurt,almost out of time, and feeling heartbroken at the idea that she has failed a small and ailing child.

***It is at this point you realize you are starting to tear up over a fictional Easter Bunny, but you won’t care. ***

Grandfather Bunny appears and acknowledges how BRAVE Cottontail is. He tells Cottontail he is making her his very own Gold Shoe Easter Bunny, and he kneels and puts a pair of fine gold shoes on Cottontail’s feet.

I won’t spoil anymore of the ending of book for but I will say that the gold shoes provide MEGA HOPS and you will not be disappointed with the ending!

I recommend this book for any little girl or boy who is doubtful about their ability to make their dreams come true and for any mom who feels like she is ‘just an old mother bunny.” Give the gift of inspiration with this gem of a book!

Fall in LOVE with the illustrations of Majorie Hack!!! SQUEE! She makes the pain and disappointment on the bunny faces real enough to make you empathize and cute enough to make you want to squeeze each cartoon bunny you see.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

My copy of the book smells like the thrift shop it came from. Musty, but in a nice way. It calls to mind images of warm and rainy summer days, stolen away with a good book in a quiet corner of an attic room.

You will soon learn that I am a crier, happy tears, sad tears, and all the sorts of tears in between and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane gets me every time. I have to warn my second graders that I am going to cry at certain parts I read and that this is ‘ok’ and it means the writer does an excellent job of making me care about the characters. One of the  little darlings almost always quietly stands up and grabs me a tissue so I don’t have to stop reading. Although the end of the story is triumphant in its message of redemption I will never forget one of my students reactions after I finished the final page. Tears filmed his large brown eyes as he looked up and me and sighed, “That story was heart breaking… but it was SO good” This is a book that imparts the magic of reading and it is therefore invaluable in a teacher’s arsenal of read alouds.

Popular author Kate DiCamillo created something truly magical in this tale of a hard hearted, egotistical toy rabbit whose life takes an unexpected turn that leads him on a beautiful,scary, and painful  journey of self discovery.  In the beginning of the story Edward Tulane is not capable of caring for anyone other than himself and he does not have an understanding that there is any other way of looking at the world.Although the main character is a toy, Edward’s personal realizations throughout the course of the story  ring true. Adults and children alike can sympathize with Edward’s heartaches and his loss of faith in humanity as his journeys intersect his life with both truly good and realistically wicked characters.  So to can the readers share in Edward’s joy at discovering the value of loving.

This is not just a children’s book but it should be read to children as often as possible. I also recommend it to any adult who asks what they should read next.

The characters and their trials ad triumphs are beautifully imagined and interconnected. The book seeks to impart the importance of love, even when love hurts.

If you don’t believe my personal review or it  seems to syrupy sweet- check it out of the library first. Just promise to let me know if you fall in love as I did and decide to purchase your own copy to read and reread again and again.

I have included some images of the beautifully painted and sketched  illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline below.

                                       

Catkin

I fell absolutely in love with Catkin the first time I read it out loud to my second grade class. The tale  by Antonia Barber is about a peculiarly small ginger cat named Catkin. The wise woman who owns Catkin’s mother gives Catkin as a gift to a good farmer and his wife. The wise woman tells Catkin that his job is to guard the good farmer’s daughter Carrie. Catkin and Carrie become fast friends and all is well until one sunny day Catkin is distracted by a butterfly and  leaves  Carrie sleeping unattended in the forrest. The magical Little People are wandering about on that lovely spring day and they come across the slumbering girl and take her with them back to their home under the green hill. Catkin finds a slightly changed Carrie where he left her and does not realize what has happened until the wise woman declares that it is not Carrie at all but a ‘changeling’ that will eventually disappear, leaving the farmer and his wife childless.

Catkin is a valiant main character whose true  loyalty, goodness, and wit unfold as he goes on a journey to save Carrie and fulfill his obligation to protect her.

Children are enthralled by  this tale of kidnapping, magic, riddles, and love. The story is long and I had to read it over several days but it was worth it each time the class collectively gasped or fist pumped in response to Catkin’s trials and triumphs. The gorgeous illustrations by P.J. Lynch add to the magic of the reading experience.

The Search for WondLa

The first thing that attracted me  to The Search for WondLa was the beautifully and imaginatively illustrated cover. My initial impression was that it looked like a modern take on The Wizard of Oz.  I was closer than I realized as the description on the back of the book explains that this book is popular author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi’s nod to folk and fairytale masters such as the Brothers Grimm and Frank L. Baum.

The back of the book jacket describes The Search for WondLa as a ‘new fairytale for the twenty first century’ and it does not disappoint. The story follows Eva Nine, a girl living in a futuristic time and place. Eva Nine has lived her entire life underground with a robot care giver known as Muthr. Eva has never seen another human being.

Eva’s sheltered life changes dramatically when her underground home is attacked by a hunstman.Her home is left in ruins and Eva barely escapes with her life to the surface of the planet. Eva has to flee the wreckage of her home with just a few tools for her survival and a mysterious photograph that depicts a ‘girl, an adult, a robot, and the word WondLa.’

Though Muthr spent Eva’s entire life preparing her to survive on ‘the surface’ Eva finds with each passing day that  things are not what they were expected to be.  Eva makes several interesting friends along the way who help her navigate the strange world and help her evade the huntsman on more than one occasion.

Eva is a brave, bright, intelligent , and a wonderfully modern heroine. The characters she meets along the way are all creatively imagined, new and familiar at the same time. The parts for a great story are all here: friendship, loyalty, adventure,mystery, danger, and a wicked cast of villans.

I can’t say more for fear of ruining the fun of unraveling the mystery of this book, the first in a trilogy. In my opinion DiTerlizzi has written and illustrated a new classic and an asset to any adventure loving child’s bookshelf. I would also recommend this as a smashing read aloud for classrooms and living rooms alike!

The quote on the page opposite the title page of the book says it quite well:

“If you want your children to be intelligent, READ THEM FAIRYTALES. If you want your children to be more intelligent, READ THEM MORE FAIRYTALES.”- Albert Einstein

                              

My Father’s Dragon

My copy of the book smells like library. You know the smell- that old library scent is unmistakeable!

Published in 1948, My Father’s Dragon is the first in a series of three books written by Ruth Stiles Gannet about Elmer Elevator and his dragon pal.

The story begins when Elmer befriends and old stray cat. The friendship gets Elmer in a bit of trouble at home (his mother has no love for strays) but gives him the reward of a fantastic adventure. When Elmer expresses his wish that he could fly to his cat friend the cat tells him a magnificent tale about a baby dragon kept prisoner in a faraway place called Wild Island. The cat feels sure that if Elmer can make the perilous journey and free the baby dragon that the baby dragon would  surely repay him by allowing him to ride on his back as he flies. The adventure that follows is sweet and comical. The animal characters of Wild Island and their odd habits are slightly reminiscent of the cast of Wonderland. They take themselves a bit to seriously and are therefore all the more amusing.

This book is an ideal bed time read aloud- with a chapter or two  read each night. It would also be loved by children who are confident readers and  enjoy silly adventure tales. Adults who love the appeal of a simple, sweet tale will also want to add this to their bookshelves.

The illustrations by Ruth Chrisman Gannett (step mother of the author) are another huge asset to the appeal of the book. Gannett’s illustrations are whimsical, comical, and sweet. They perfectly capture the tone of the book and enhance it for the reader’s delight.

I am OBSESSED with the illustrations. Gannett’s illustrations make me feel young and safe. They make me want to go back to a simpler time when I wore footy  pajamas and someone else had to pack my lunch at night. Cheesey? Yes. True? Also yes.

The combination of text and illustrations are what has kept these books in continuos print since 1948.

Love! Adore!

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog

My copy of the book has lost it’s new book scent. It is now a charming combination of pencils, crayons, and general classroom odors.

The much loved “Pigeon” series by Mo Willems is a classic in its own time,at least on the elememtary school circuit. If you have not seen or read one of these books do so at your earliest convenience!!! And I say, “you’re welcome” in advance.

In The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog we learn a  bit more about pigeon’s personality and his problem with sharing, specifically a hot dog he has found on the ground. We are also treated to the manipulative abilities of a small, yellow, deceptively cute little duckling.

Willems has the ability to squeeze adult personalities into childlike, illustrated characters. Adults will find something disturbingly familiar in the frustrated rantings of the pigeon and the comically cloying manipulations of the duckling. Children will delight in being ‘in’ on the joke of pigeon’s large overreactions.Willem’s deftly illustrates his simple stories to provide maximum laughs.

The book is ideal for children in the primary grades and adults who read books repeatedly to them. I will personally use this blog as an excuse to reread all of the books in the series to my class. I think they enjoy it almost as much as I do!

Cheap in paperback but you will reread them until they fray at the edges!

What Will Fat Cat Sit On?

My copy of the book smells like brand new glossy pages. It is the smell of the unopened boxes of the Scholastic book fair when it comes to your school.

The title of this gem by Jan Thomas says it all. The entire book is an attempt to discover what fat cat will sit on. An Agatha Christie mystery, it is not, but it is more than entertaining. Through a series of questions the reader attempts to ascertain whether or not this plump feline will sit on any number of other animal characters in the book. Mouse,cow, chicken, pig, and dog all eventually have their worries of being crushed assuaged. But they are left to determine exactly what that fat, fat cat will sit on.  This book is great for smaller children who will revel in the repetition of   the “Will fat cat sit on…”? phrase. Everyone can enjoy the comically panicked expressions of the animals vividly illustrated by Jan Thomas. This is a great gift book for a small child and the person who will spend hours reading and rereading it to them. This book is also a treat for adults who enjoy silly cartoon illustrations, people with jobs that keep them up late and sleepless and therefore more easily amused. (though I suppose that is repetitive since I already said parents would enjoy reading the book and parents are the most sleepless set of people I know.)

Cheap. Funny. Snag it!