Archive for March, 2009

Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud

Heroes of the ValleyI’ve always been a sucker for any book about the Vikings, fiction or nonfiction. From the D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths in elementary school, to Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls series last year, everything has fascinated me—the culture is so seemingly similar to ours, but so alien. (To anyone familiar with the Greek and Roman gods, the Norse gods will seem incredibly bizarre). All of the books I’ve read, though, mythological aspects notwithstanding, have been set in the real historical world—England, Norway, Iceland. The places were all real.

Jonathan Stroud’s Heroes of the Valley, though it pushes all of the Norse buttons (names, architecture, customs), is set in a world that might be entirely fantasy. Helgi Sveinsson lives in a valley peopled by twelve families, each descended from 12 mighty warriors who died defending the settlement from the evil Trows. No one ever leaves the valley (because of the Trows), and no one ever deviates from the customs of the country—Helgi’s mother is the law-giver of his family, and no one goes against her word.

When Helgi—looked down upon because of his abrasive personality, and his physical resemblance to his dodgy uncle—plays a practical joke that puts his entire family in danger, he begins a journey that not only takes him away from his family, but out of the valley entirely. The story that unfolds is gripping and entirely original, and the characters are believable in their individuality and growth (Helgi never miraculously develops matinee idol looks [something which readers of other novels might be led to believe happens to most normal/homely boys when they grow up], and he never becomes sweet-tempered, but he DOES mature and come to understand the motivations of the people around him). The book isn’t specifically delineated as the first book in a series, and the ending, while not definitively a full-stop, does seem to wrap up all the loose ends. Too bad—I’d love to learn more about the world, and explore it with the same—or new—characters.

Posted by: Sarah

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Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

Rhyming Dust BunniesWant to find a fun way to introduce rhyming? Then look no further than this book. These dust bunnies will have you in stitches with their antics. Filled with bright, fun illustrations, Rhyming Dust Bunnies tells the tale of, you guessed, dust bunnies who rhyme! But will their rhyming be put to an untimely end by a mean cleaning machine? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Whether you are 2 or 52, you will be in stitches by the end of this book.

Posted by: Kate

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The Moon Over Star by Dianna Hutts Aston

The Moon Over StarThis book is a beautifully illustrated story of the first landing on the moon, and promising portrayal of a little girl’s dream of becoming an astronaut. The story takes place in the farming town of Star in 1969. Mae and her family live and work on the farm. They spend time in the evenings watching the night sky. She and her cousins pretend to ride in a rocket to the moon. Then one night while watching the sky with her grandfather, from the yard they see the TV in the house flash these words across the screen “LIVE FROM THE SURFACE OF THE MOON.” Mae gets goosebumps!

The Moon Over Star won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award for 2009. It pays tribute to the Apollo 11 moon landing and is a wonderful heartwarming read aloud of a child’s dream come true.

Posted by: Pat

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Special! An Interview with Author/Illustrator Kevin Luthardt

Kevin Luthardt, author/illustrator of Hats!, Peep!, Mine!, and countless others, took time from his busy schedule of promoting his new book, Flying!, to answer some of our questions.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you start writing?
Well, I actually always wanted to be an artist. As a kid, I specifically wanted to be a comic strip cartoonist, like Charles Schulz who made Peanuts. So, being an author and illustrator of picture books is fairly similar. I suppose I have been telling stories with pictures as far back as I can remember.

If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?
I think I would probably be a teacher of some sort. I enjoy working with kids and using my work to teach and inspire students of all ages has been one of my goals from the beginning of my career. So, instead of me being a formal teacher, I married a teacher!

For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?
The hardest part is the very beginning… coming up with that one good idea to focus on. I have all sorts of ideas floating around my brain, but singling out one story to focus on is difficult.

What advice would you give to young writers and/or illustrators?
My advice is pretty simple… write! draw! Develop a strong discipline and work ethic. Someone told me at the very beginning of my career that you can’t call yourself an artist until you’ve done over 100 paintings. What he was really saying was to get to work. I would also advise taking a writing class or art class outside of school. Of course, read lots of books and study different artists.

Do you have any ideas for new books right now?
Yes… robots and aliens… that’s all I’ll say for now.

When you write a book entirely by yourself (words and illustrations), does your idea start with an image or the plot?
It can either or both at the same time. Each story is different. However, I am more of a visual thinker, so more often the idea comes with the image first. Usually I begin with a character I’ve sketched, and I develop a story around that character.

What is your favorite thing to draw?
I don’t think I have one favorite thing to draw. I guess animals and kids.

Do you base any of your plots on your own childhood?
I suppose all of my stories reflect something from my childhood or other part of my life in some way or another. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes more obvious. My book “Peep!” was directly inspired by my own childhood pet duck, named Peepsee. It was an unusal pet to have, so it stuck out in my memory and I just had to use it in a story. My newest book “Flying!” is directly inspired by being a dad. I have three boys at home

Who is YOUR favorite author or book?
I don’t have just one so that’s hard to say… Since I’m a picture book author/illustrator I’ll give you some of my favorite picture book authors and artists (in no order): Arnold Lobel, David Shannon, Michael Sowa, Eric Rohmann, Mo Willems, Lane Smith, Chris Van Allsburg, Quint Buchholz…

What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?
Well, the fun part of my job is that my hobby is my job! I love what I do.
Most of whatever little free time I have is spent with my family… is that a hobby?
I play guitar, read, watch movies, I work with kids at church… I love to travel, but that’s pretty hard when you have babies at home.

Do you have any subjects that you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t?
Well, I’ve only done picture books so far, and I would love to some day write a novel for children. I have a story I have been working on veeeeerrrrry sloooowly. I’m still trying to figure out what it’s about, so I can’t share too much. Maybe I’ll finish it by the time my kids graduate from college. I am more of an artist than a writer, so I haven’t developed this discipline as much.

Thank you, Kevin Luthardt! If you’re interested in learning more about Mr. Luthardt’s new book, he’ll be holding a book release party on Friday, April 3, 2009 at 6pm at the Brickton Art Center in Park Ridge, IL. The book party will also be an opening for an exhibition of original artwork from Flying! and some of his earlier books.

“The Art of Flying!
an exhibition of original illustrations by Kevin Luthardt
Artist’s Reception: April 3, 2009, 6:00pm
Show runs: March 31-April 22
Brickton Art Center
396 Busse Highway
Park Ridge, IL 60068
http://www.bricktonartcenter.org
(847) 823-6611

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Dino-Why? The Dinosaur Question and Answer Book by Sylvia Funston

Dino-Why?ROAR! Here’s a book that answers all of those nagging dinosaur questions in one wonderful place. As my 3-year-old can attest, this book is so fun it even holds the attention of little dinosaur lovers, too. There are lots of actual photographs of bones and tools and scientists, as well as a variety of illustrations that range from life-like to cartoon style. It is in a question and answer format that really works! And the questions are both serious and funny. For example: Did the dinosaurs eat one another? Which dinosaur would make the best pet? Why do scientists collect dinosaur droppings? (Including an actual photo of dinosaur “coprolite” or poop). This is a great book to read and discover again and again.

Posted by: Mary

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The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle

The Ruby KeyGenna and Dan live in a fantasy medieval world. They are unusual siblings because the younger, Dan, has his own ghost who can warn him of danger and Genna has been studying with her mother to be a healer. There is an uneasy truce between mankind and the nightlings who live in the forest and lately some people have been disappearing or contracting a strange illness. Genna and her brother Dan decide that they have to venture into the forest at night to extract a magic liquid to heal their mother. Their father has already disappeared and they are afraid that their uncle is plotting against their family.

So this story begins. They are captured by the nightlings and end up making a bargain with the evil ruler of the nightlings which they hope will save their parents and their neighbors. Initially their quest seems to have little chance of success but a nightling comes with them and helps them avoid the demonic blind hounds which are sniffing them out. They are also befriended by a strange cat who can talk. They journey on moonroads which sometimes take them out of danger and sometimes deliver them into danger and sometimes they are unsure about who is a friend and who is a foe.

This is a fun quest to go on from the safety of your armchair! Good fantasy literature for children in 5th and 6th grades with a promised sequel.

Posted by: Fran W.

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The Cod’s Tale by Mark Kurlansky

The Ruby KeyHistory is brought to life by this story of cod, the fish that changed the world. The colorful, humorous pictures make the information enjoyable and more meaningful. There is a timeline along the bottom of some of the pages, highlighting historical information. Kids in early grade school through high school can enjoy it on different levels. Read it through or browse the pictures for some fun fishy facts, poetry and even old recipes.

Posted by: Iris

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