Thursday, November 13, 2014

November is Picture Book Month

November is Picture Book Month ,which  libraries, book stores, authors and illustrators happily celebrate.  Amidst the eBook revolution, picture books have been about the last to participate.  However, publishers are providing more and more app versions of preschool favorites.  Controversy over electronic vs paper has inevitably ensued.  In addition to the social and tactile aspects, the educational quality of learning language and how to read on a tablet is also being challenged.  The New York Times published an article last month entitled Is E-Reading Story Time? questioning the value of using a tablet for a preschooler’s reading adventures. 
Regardless of how you approach using eBooks with young children, the following books definitely come off better in paper: large pictures that showcase the illustrator's artistic technique without any distracting sound effects.  All are new offerings from favorite award winners.

 Misadventures of Sweetie Pie
  Misadventuresof Sweetie Pie (Chris Van Allsburg).  Poor hamster Sweetie Pie goes from one irresponsible owner to the next before she is finally freed by an unexpected ally.  Van Allsburg, best known for the Christmas classic The Polar Express, uses his precise drawings and ground level perspective  to sympathize with the hamster. The children in this story are naughty, not nice.

 The Animals' Santa
  The  Animals’ Santa (Jan Brett) Those of us who are Jan Brett fans love to pore over her detailed scenes and accompanying borders filled with delicate intricate designs.  She always gives us two stories in one. Here, Little Snow Hare is skeptical that there is a Santa for animals.  The other woodland creatures are sure, because they get gifts every year, but no one has seen a Santa.  Little Snow’s big brother figures out a way to help discover whooo (I’m giving it away) is the animals’ Santa. All the while we see animal “elves” making the gifts for Santa to deliver. 

 Give and Take
  Give and Take (Chris Raschka)  This Caldecott award winning author/illustrator (A Ball for Daisy) combines  a traditional folktale with some word play and a morality lesson.  Give and Take are two little gnomes who urge a farmer to “Take, Take, Take” one day, and “Give, Give, Give” the next.  Neither result is satisfactory.  The bold, expressionistic brushwork and multiple imagings give this story the feel of video.

 Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas
  Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas (Lynn Cox, Brian Floca) Floca’s previous award winning book, Locomotive, brings to life the excitement of riding the newly built transcontinental railroad in the 1800’s.  Now he illustrates a true story about an elephant seal in Christchurch, New Zealand, who repeatedly returns to the local river where she also likes to sunbath in the middle of the street.  Despite being taken hundreds of miles away to live in a more appropriate environment, she travels back on her own Incredible Journey.  Floca’s illustrations tell the story sweetly and simply, culminating  with a wonderfully atmospheric scene of Elizabeth swimming up the river in the moonlight.
So settle in, open the cover and turn the page for some wonderful reading time together.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Latino Authors

Last week Luis Alberto Urrea visited Lake Forest to talk about his novel, Into the Beautiful North, as part of Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale our city’s one book/one community program.  This funny, poignant story deals with topical issues surrounding the United States’ relationship with Mexico and our policies along the Mexican-American border. 

Nineteen-year-old Nayeli is the heroine of this tale.  She works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the U.S. when she was young. He hasn't been home since then and his letters have stopped. While watching the film, The Magnificent Seven, she decides to go north herself and recruit seven men -- her own "Siete Magníficos"-- to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over.

If you haven’t had a chance to read it, there are still plenty of copies at the library. Stop by and check one out. But there are also other Latino authors that you may find interesting; you can’t go wrong with these classics:

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is set in Mexico at the beginning of the 20th century.   Tita, the youngest daughter of a well-born rancher, has always known her destiny: to remain single and care for her aging mother. When she falls in love, her mother prohibits the liaison and insists that Tita's sister marry Pedro, in her place.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is told in a series of vignettes. It is the story of a young girl, Esperanza Cordero,  growing up in the Latino section of Chicago.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. Four sisters recount their adventures of growing up in two cultures after they are forced to flee the Dominican Republic and arrive in New York City in the 1960s.

Check out this list of books by other Latino authors including recently released Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano and This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Object Lessons

Here are a variety of histories told through museum objects and other items such as maps, stamps, recipes, and songs.  So if you're a visual learner, a museum-goer, or you just like to approach your learning and reading in manageable lists or bits, you might enjoy these histories, listed here from broader to narrower subjects:

A History of the World in 100 Objects   by Neil MacGregor (Viking, 2011).  As Director of the British Museum, MacGregor wrote this book based on a BBC radio program that described 100 of the museum's objects chosen by these rules: 1) They represent the beginning of human history to the present. 2) They represent the whole world as much as possible. 3) They represent varied aspects of human experience. 4) They represent whole societies, not just the rich or powerful.  
The objects and their brief stories are laid out chronologically, but could easily be read and appreciated in random order.  [Other titles of a similar world-wide scope are:  Earth in 100 Groundbreaking Discoveries  by Douglas Palmer (Firefly, 2011) and A History of the World in Twelve Maps  by Jerry Brotton (Viking, 2012).]

These two recent books by West (America, 2014 and Britain, 2013) give interesting 3-5 page glimpses into British and American events, people, styles, and attitudes based on individual stamps laid out chronologically.  You need not be a stamp collector to enjoy these books.  In fact, West prefaces the British history with these words: "Stamps tell stories.  They speak to us across generations - if only we'd stop squeezing them into albums and worrying about their catalogue value, and just listen to their voices instead."

A History of New York in 101 Objects   by Sam Roberts (Simon & Schuster, 2014).  Roberts, The New York Times urban affairs correspondentwrote this history following the example of MacGregor from the British Museum (see above). He looked for enduring objects that played a transformative role in the city's history, and consulted museum curators, archivists, librarians, other journalists, and other New Yorkers to assemble this collection of "distinctive objects that span the history of New York, nearly all reproduced in brilliant color." [from flyleaf].

And here are three histories on narrower subjects:  The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs  by Greil Marcus (Yale Univ. Press, 2014) - the significance of ten songs recorded and re-recorded between 1956 and 2008; Season of Saturdays : a History of College Football in 14 Games  by Michael Weinreb (Scribner, 2014) - 14 of the greatest games of all time and their greater significance; A History of Food in 100 Recipes  by William Sitwell (Little, Brown, 2013) - the British food writer's selection of the best chapters in the history of food, with culinary characters, villains, and recipes, which have not been updated for modern cooks.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Opera Resources at the Library

Link to Giovanni Program Book
Lyric Opera of Chicago's season is well underway with Don Giovanni, Mozart's "comic drama" based on the Don Juan story, running through October 29th; and Capriccio, Richard Strauss's "conversation piece for music" that weighs the importance of words against music, running through October 28th.  

Recordings, DVDs, scores. and librettos for opera-goers and others wanting to further their appreciation of any of this season's operas can be found at this link:  Lyric Opera of Chicago Resources 2014-15 Season.  Free streaming commentary for each opera is available through the
Lyric Opera's website at this link:  
Lyric Opera Commentaries 

More information about Don Giovanni can also be found in the Lyric Opera's complete program book (link to PDF is above) and in the following title and others like it from the library's collection:

Getting the most out of Mozart : the Vocal Works  by David Hurwitz (Amadeus Press, 2005).  This book begins with an overview of Mozart's operatic style and continues with chapters on several of Mozart's great operas, including Don Giovanni; placing each opera in the context of Mozart's other works, summarizing the plot, discussing orchestration, and the opera's characters and their music.  The accompanying CD includes a few arias from Don Giovanni as well as selections from other Mozart works.

Find out more about Capriccio in The Cambridge Companion to Richard Strauss  edited by Charles Youmans (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2010).  Discussions of it can be found in the chapters on Strauss's last works, his musical quotations and allusions, and his musical commentary on the nature of music itself.