Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sugarplums Dancing In My Head

In the last two years the Nutcracker has popped back into my life in a big way.  Last year my cousin's daughter danced the role of Clara.  Watching her brought back all of my ballerina years of tutus and toe shoes.  She was just beautiful!

This year I am watching it with different eyes.  My critique buddy, Kyra Ties, has been working for months redesigning the costumes for the party scene in the Northeast Ballet's production.  I can't wait to see her costumes under the lights!    It has truly been a labor of love for her.  In addition, her daughter is dancing in the production!

Although this is the Northeast Ballet's 25th production of The Nutcracker, the ballet has a much longer history.  With music by Tchaikovsky it first premiered the week before Christmas in 1892.  The Moscow Ballet has been performing it ever since and, as you know, it has become a staple of the holiday season throughout the world.

The classic tale was originally written by E.T.A. Hoffman and has been adapted into many books.  I think my favorite is illustrated and retold by Susan Jeffers.

There are so many other variations you can find in bookstores.  My suggestion is to take your kids to a local production followed by a bookstore visit to let them choose their favorite book to commemorate their special day!  It doesn't get more magical than that!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Dust Bowl - Three Books For Your Shelf

Did you get to watch Ken Burns' documentary, The Dust Bowl, on PBS?   It was riveting.  I only wish it were longer.  So you can imagine how excited I was to see a copy of Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan's companion volume to the special in the bookstores.  The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History chronicles the epic 1930s environmental and human disaster with more than 300 photographs and numerous first hand accounts.

Another great book to read is Albert Marrin's nonfiction book, Years of Dust.  Marrin goes right to the heart of the tragedy and discusses the causes that led to it.  If you're looking for a title for your classroom, this is a great one to share with your middle schoolers!

I would be remiss if I didn't include Karen Hesse's award winning work of historical fiction, Out of the Dust.   Her beautiful spare language puts the reader in the midst of the Oklahoma experience.  Hesse will leave you craving a deep breath of fresh air as you follow the ordeal of 14-year old Billie Jo.  


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Venice Reads and Sees

The month of May was been a whirlwind for me.  So many wonderful events in my family topped off by a vacation to Europe, which included my first visit to Venice.  In celebration of that trip, I'd like to highlight some wonderful books and movies set in that magical city for both kids and adults.

Daughter of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli

From Publishers Weekly:
Napoli returns to the locale of Stones in Water and For the Love of Venice, this time for a costume drama set in the late 16th century. At 14, Donata Mocenigo and her twin sister watch carefully as their noble parents set about finding a husband for their older sister. Venetian economics dictate that one daughter of a noble family will surely wed, but only with luck will a second daughter be married the remaining daughters either enter convents or care for a married brother's children. Eschewing a traditional romance, Napoli forges a plot with contemporary elements. Donata wants to see Venice and receive the same education as her brothers; she studies the family business and embraces what facts she can uncover about Venetian history and politics. Obtaining a working-class boy's clothes, she disguises herself and sets out on furtive daytime explorations of her beloved city. Soon she is befriended by an attractive young Jewish boy, who helps her find a morning job as a copyist (even though she can't read or write); with help from her sisters, her escapades go unnoticed by her parents. Enjoying the tour of historical Venice and the taste of its complex society and government, readers may not mind Donata's seeming immunity to the mores and prejudices of her day not even when, to avoid an arranged marriage, she anonymously and falsely denounces herself as a convert to Judaism and still earns herself a happy ending. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker

I loved this book, set in 18th century Venice, when I read it years ago.  Now that I've been to Venice I think I have to reread it.  Here's a great review from the Historical Novel Society.

Summertime, starring Katherine Hepburn (1955)

My aunt's favorite movie.  On her recommendation, I downloaded it to watch on the plane.  Wonderful Venice views and the amazing Kate Hepburn.  A win-win!

These titles just brush the surface.  There are so many more.  Please recommend your favorites!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen

Years ago my daughter asked her global history teacher why they weren't discussing Cleopatra….after all they were learning about ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt.  How could you NOT include the famous or infamous queen?  Well, the answer both dismayed and saddened us.  The NYS Regent in Global History didn't cover the great queen.  

I so wish I had this book to hand to my daughter that year!  Cleopatra Rules is smart, hip, and fun.  Vicky Alvear Shecter has delivered a well-researched piece that should intrigue teens.  

"So what did the romantic newlyweds do for their honeymoon?  They planned a war.  Because nothin' says lovin' quite like dead bodies on a battlefield."  

Kudos, Ms. Shecter!  You've created a biography that will not only get picked up for those school biography assignments, but for pleasure!

Readers will get a glimpse into the "bookish nerd" who became Queen of Egypt while coming away with a fascinating lesson in world history!  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Unraveling Freedom and Ann Bausum

Ann Bausum thoughtfully describes the events leading up to the European conflict that later became World War I in Unraveling Freedom.  Well-researched and illustrated, it is no wonder this title received a starred review.   Read an interview with Ann about her new title, Marching to the Mountaintop: How Poverty, Labor fights, and Civil Rights Set the Stage for Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Hours (NatGeo 2012) on the TeachingBooks Blog

Monday, February 6, 2012

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge - Blizzard of Glass

Sally Walker's Blizzard of Glass tells the story of the Halifax ship explosion of 1917 that devastated the city's buildings and population.  Walker did a fantastic job bringing the reader along to meet the families of Halifax and introduce the events leading to this impending tragedy.  I couldn't help wonder, as I was reading the text, how this relates to kids in the United States, after all it was a Canadian event.   But I didn't wonder for long.  Just as the tragic earthquakes in Japan and Haiti touched all our lives, this tragedy also reached the people of the United States, specifically Massachusetts. Readers will read about incidents of loss and heroism.  They'll be able to see that in times of tragedy throughout history people come together and reach out toward each other.   Walker's well-researched text is compelling and period photographs add to the authenticity.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012 Week 3- Big Wig

Kathleen Krull's Big Wig: A Little History of Hair offers readers a fun and sometimes irreverent look at the history of hairstyles.  Brunettes might not agree with Krull's take on the history of blond hair, but they will surely giggle at Peter Malone's illustrations of the fashionable hairstyles of 1785 France.  There is lots to like about this book, including the extra facts at the end of the text, aptly titled, Hair Extensions. A fun and creative look at the evolution and significance of hairstyles.  

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge Week #2- Balloons Over Broadway

What a treat!  A Thanksgiving book that doesn't involve turkeys!  Thank you, Melissa Sweet, for doing what nonfiction authors do best - providing readers with great information in a creative way!

Balloons Over Broadway takes readers back into time, to the beginnings of the famous Macy's Parade.   It's a nostalgic look at  how Tony Sarg's puppets evolved into the giant balloons every kid in America eagerly watches before their turkey dinner emerges from the oven.  Sweet effectively combines traditional watercolor illustrations with cut paper, collage, and photographs.  This is definitely one to add to the shelf!

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge Week #2- Titanic Sinks!

Barry Denenberg did it again!  As in Lincoln Shot, he has brought history to life with his creative work of nonfiction to mark the Titanic's historic anniversary. Titanic Sinks! is set up like a memorial edition of a imagined period magazine.  The design includes articles, headlines, historic photographs, and an imagined journal.  The reader cannot help but feel they have been witness to this tragic event in history with each page they turn.   My only concern is the classification of the title as a nonfiction book.  Will readers be able to separate what is fiction from nonfiction as they read dated articles and imagined journals?   I'd love to hear others weigh  in on this.    It certainly is a compelling read and presents a tremendous amount of research.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012

Announcing: The Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2012
I'm excited to announce the
2012 Nonfiction Reading Challenge
The goal is to encourage everyone to read more nonfiction picture books this year.
Take the challenge by setting a goal for yourself.
Maybe you want to read one nonfiction picture book each week or each month.
Visit both the Kid Lit Frenzy and The Nonfiction Detectives blogs
throughout the year for nonfiction reviews and giveaways!
Tweet about the challenge using the hashtag #nfpb2012.

I'm taking up this challenge by reading at least one book a week.   You can find my science related titles on my other blog, Naturally Speaking, and my history related titles right here.  
I'd love to hear your favorites!