School’s starting back up and children will be looking for books to read for school assignments. Parents will be trying to find those books at stores and libraries. If you’re on a hunt for children’s literature, here are a few suggestions, including some with Louisiana connections, from the News Features staff:
PIPER REED, RODEO STAR
By Kimberly Willis Holt,
illustrated by Christine Davenier Henry Holt, $15.99
Louisiana native Holt returns to her Piper Reed series of chapter books for young readers with this Christmas tale.
Piper is a Navy brat. Her dad, The Chief, is stationed at Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida, but the family has moved around for years. They’ve been in Pensacola for just a year.
One thing has remained constant, though, Piper’s trips to visit her Louisiana grandparents (all four) in the town of Piney Woods. When her parents announce they’re taking a second honeymoon in France at Christmas, it means that Piper, her older sister Tori, 13, and younger sister Sam, 6, are going to have to spend eight days with their grandparents, including Christmas.
The family dog, Bruna, will go too.
The children are upset that their Christmas traditions will be interrupted, and Piper is doubly troubled by the fact that one of her best friends is moving away from Pensacola. His father is reassigned to another base.
But Piper, ever the optimist, decides she’ll have an adventure every day. Soon the kids are in Louisiana, the parents are in France and the fun begins.
Holt uses the city kids in the country theme to set up some funny situations. The writing is elegant yet true to the voice of the young girl who is the heroine of the tale. The 13 chapters span 147 pages. There’s a cheery ending with a few surprises that will delight readers in the 9- to 12-year-old range.
THE DOG RULES
By Coco La Rue, illustrated by Kyla May
Scholastic Inc., $4.99, paperback; 128 pp.
There are a lot of children’s books about dogs, but few told from the perspective of a parrot.
In this book, Coco the parrot has one goal - getting Monty the dog banished from the home he shares with Coco and the Lane family. The mutt is just awful, always getting into mischief. And he’s loud.
Coco’s master plan is drawn out into multiple steps when his first attempts at getting Monty to break the rules actually turn out to put the canine in a positive light with the family. In the end, who will be the one to go?
Younger readers shouldn’t be discouraged by the number of pages, as each one has large type, much of it in comic quote style, along with lots of action-filled black-and white illustrations.
A STORM CALLED KATRINA
By Myron Uhlberg, illustrated by Colin Bootman
Peachtree Publishers, $17.95
ROSCOE AND THE PELICAN RESCUE
By Lynn Rowe Reed
Holiday House Inc., $14.95
If it was difficult for adults to get their heads around the devastation surrounding Katrina and then the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, imagine how it was for children.
The stories in these books are written from a child’s perspective, in words they can understand. A Storm Called Katrina captures the emotions of a young boy fleeing with his family as floodwaters rise after the hurricane and levee failures. In Roscoe and the Pelican Rescue, a day at the beach turns into a project cleaning three oil-soaked pelicans.
The books give young readers some idea of what these disasters were like, but leave out some of the worst of it. Unlike the disasters themselves, A Storm and Roscoe both have happy endings.
Bootman’s Katrina paintings are well done, full of rich color and detail. Reed’s bright, colorful drawings are done as a child might draw them, giving a lighter tone to the overall book. Both books offer a summary of the disasters at the back, with Katrina also including a list of other books and websites readers might want to check out.
THERE’S A DRAGON IN THE LIBRARY
By Dianne de Las Casas,
illustrated by Marita Gentry Pelican, $16.99
When young Max goes to the library for storytime with Miss Donna, he finds something unusual on one of the shelves: an egg. As he watches, the egg hatches in front of his eyes. Out comes “a small dragon.”
Max runs to find his mom. “There’s a dragon in the library, speckled and green. He’s a hungry thing! He’s an eating machine!” Max cries.
No one believes him.
So Max goes home, but on his next visit to the library, Max finds the dragon again. It’s bigger. It’s hungry and eating books. It’s eating Max’s favorite book, Where the Wild Things Are. Max runs to tell his dad and repeats his earlier message about the speckled and green dragon. Dad compliments Max’s imagination and pats him on the head. “Come on, Max, let’s go.” So they head home.
The scenario is repeated each time Max visits the library, and each time the dragon is bigger and more insolent. When Max tells the dragon, “Books are for reading, not for eating,” it just sticks out its tongue at Max.
Of course, by the end of the story, all the skeptics learn that Max is not making the dragon up.
This whimsical tale with its tribute to Where The Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak is the product of the imaginations of de Las Casas, a Louisiana writer, and Gentry, a Louisiana illustrator. It’s short with colorful and age-appropriate illustrations in an 8-1/4- by 11-1/4-inch board book format. While younger children will enjoy this book with mom or dad’s help, the words of the story are more in line with the 7-8 year-old vocabulary range.
THE BEDTIME BOOK FOR DOGS
By Bruce Littlefield Hatchette Books, $15.99
This little square board book (8-1/4 by 8-1/4 inches) offers a small story. It has a few words, and big, colorful illustrations. The word are familiar: “treat,” “stay,” “sit” etc. That’s because it’s meant to be read to a dog. And the reader is meant to be a child. It’s a cute idea, but the book would be too expensive at half this price.
FAR FROM SHORE, CHRONICLE OF AN OPEN OCEAN VOYAGE
By Sophie Webb
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, $17.99
Webb is a field biologist who specializes in birds, and there’s plenty about birds in this book but more about marine mammals and fish. The book chronicles a four-month cruise in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) aboard the NOAA ship McArthur II. The books tells the story by mixing text and pastel illustrations, both by Webb. The illustrations are figurative drawings, many including labels, that show different species and water conditions and technical data.
One of the species under scrutiny by the scientists aboard the McArthur II is the dolphin. There are many kinds of dolphins - spotted, spinner, striped, white-sided - and many of them were impacted by the use of purse nets in tuna fishing. Regulations and education of fishermen have reduced the loss of dolphins during fishing operations, Webb writes. “But dolphin populations are not recovering as quickly as predicted, and scientists don’t know why.
“Does capture cause stress that lowers their survival? Or perhaps overfishing and pollution combined with shifts in climate may be affecting the balance of the ocean ecosystem. With long-term monitoring, combined with ecosystem studies, we hope to understand why these populations aren’t recovering at a faster rate.”
This book documents their methods and tools used in the search for answers to these questions. Despite its board book-like form, it’s not well-suited to children in the early grades. The material is above their comprehension level. This is a book for students in third grade or higher. It’s well-written and the illustrations are clear and comprehendible.
THE SECRET LIVES OF BACKYARD BUGS
By Judy Burris and Wayne Richards Storey Publishing,
Kids love bugs, and this magazine-sized, slick-paper book is crawling with them. Worms, spiders, butterflies, moths, caterpillars, bees, beetles and more. There are bug eggs, bugs in larval stages, pupae stages. Some make cocoons, some fly, many crawl. Some eat plants, some eat other bugs.
All are depicted in bright, clear color photos by the brother-sister team of Burris and Richards, who are naturalists. Richards’ wife is also a professional photographer who occasionally contributes to his projects (this is Burris and Richards’ second nature book).
Some of the insects in this book - bees, some caterpillars, spiders - can bite. Some carry venom. Those are clearly identified in this book, and the authors warn against handling them. That’s particularly good because all these potentially dangerous bugs are common in backyards.
This is a very nice nature book for children ages 8-12. It will provide them not only with answers but with some good questions too. The best books do that.
LIVING GREEN: A TURTLE’S QUEST FOR A CLEANER PLANET
By Artie Knapp, illustrated by MJ Illustrations
MightyBook Inc., $12.95
Thurman is one mad turtle. It seems his sister’s wedding has been ruined by litter which was thrown from an overpass and landed on the bridal party standing at the creek below. He sets out for human civilization to straighten out those thoughtless humans.
He finds a lot of litter where the humans live, too, but he also finds a ray of hope. A school class is planting trees near the river. Luckily, one of the kids finds Thurman, who’s gotten his head stuck in a discarded plastic bottle. He’s free and no longer angry, but optimistic about the future of the Earth.