I'm a big fan of cross-cultural books, so I was beyond satisfied that Take Me Out to the Yakyu was just as fun and informative as its reviews promised it would be. Our unnamed Japanese-American narrator shows us the similarities and differences between American and Japanese baseball. Baseball is hugely popular in Japan; although there are definitely similarities, there are some distinct differences (namely that games can end in a tie, unlike American baseball). However, American and Japanese fans both have fun mementos to buy (a foam hand in America; a giant plastic horn in Japan), snacks to munch on during the game (hot dogs and peanuts in America; soba noodles and edamame in Japan), and seventh inning traditions ("Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in America; the team's anthem in Japan). Above all, our young man has a blast at the game, whether he's with his American grandfather or his Japanese grandfather. Author Aaron Meshon has included an American/Japanese baseball glossary and further notes on the way the game is played in both countries.
Jonah Winter's You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax? is a superb picture book biography, and one of the few that would be a great read aloud for elementary school students. Winter continues his conversational tone in this worthy successor, You Never Heard of Willie Mays? Although he may not be as remembered as Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays was an important player in the early days of integrated baseball. Sidebars with more extensive information grace the pages without interrupting the narrative, and a glossary of baseball terms is included. Winter's explanations about baseball statistics and the quotes from radio broadcasts are welcome backmatter additions. Make sure you look for the note that explains how the lenticular cover was created (it's in the front). If Winter has plans to continue this series of baseball players with courage and integrity, I would love to see his take on Lou Gehrig (in the meantime, check out the fine Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man by David Adler, also illustrated by Terry Widener). Also check out Winter's beautiful Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates and his excellent Fair Ball! 14 Great Stars From Baseball's Negro Leagues.
Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington is an exemplary biography for young readers about this Virginia native. It's definitely one of the more literary biographies, as its value lies in the poetic words and illustrations, rather than a book written strictly for homework use. Indeed, this would be a sophisticated and thoughtful read aloud for elementary school students. Washington's inspiring determination and lifelong emphasis on self-improvement is beautifully depicted. An excellent time line and further information on Washington's life are included, and a heartfelt and personal "Author's Note" from Jabari Asim is a highlight, as he explains his thoughts on the changing attitudes about Washington's legacy. Absolutely gorgeous.
The next two books focus on larger-than-life personalities....and their pets!
100 year anniversaries tend to inspire an outburst of literature, and Julia Child's 100th anniversary of her birth was no exception. Julia Child was a fascinating woman; not only did she broaden American taste buds, but she was also involved in World War II secret operations! Child was a novice cook (she refused to call herself a chef, because she had never cooked in a restaurant) when she married, and was determined to improve her cooking skills. Minette's Feast is a delightful look at this extraordinary woman, told through the life of her beloved cat, Minette. The text flows marvelously, and the illustrations make you want to book the next plane to Paris, tout suite. An afterword expands on Child's biography, along with a glossary/pronunciation guide and careful documentation of author Susanna Reich's sources. I can't tell you how disappointed I am when I don't see source notes for stories based upon actual people and events (even if it's a picture book--I want to know the author's research and resources, and it's important for young readers to see them as well), so I was thrilled to find this. I love author notes in which the author explains her/his inspiration and desire to write a particular story, and Reich's "Author's Note" is lovely. Young readers may also enjoy Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child, while grownups might want to check out Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child (which I've heard is exceptional--I really want to read it).
Winston Churchill's nickname may have been "The British Bulldog," but his beloved canine companion, Rufus (and his successor), was a brown miniature poodle (there's a terrific picture in the backmatter of the big man broadly smiling and holding Rufus, along with his ever-present cigar). Rufus accompanied Churchill everywhere, even in his underground war-time office and to the House of Commons. Although War Dogs: Churchill & Rufus is a lovely story about a cherished dog, it is also a sobering look at London life during World War II. The near-destruction of London in 1941 is sensitively and movingly created, and the bravery of the British and Churchill's awe-inspiring leadership are admirably portrayed. Quotes from Churchill's speeches and writing are included throughout the illustrations. The backmatter is quite extensive: a World War II timeline, futher information on Churchill's pets and life story, books and websites for further study, and a lengthy bibliography and source notes. THANK YOU, Kathryn Selbert. This is what I like to see. This may also be the influence of her publisher, Charlesbridge, a well-regarded publisher influential in the school library market (and well-known for their high quality nonfiction books in general). So, well done Kathryn Selbert and Charlesbridge.
I just sent off our March orders; some outstanding books are coming our way! I am am about to jump out of my skin for new picture books from Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Sally Sutton, Eve Bunting, Maria van Lieshout, and David Ezra Stein.......a new novel from Patricia MacLachlan and another poetry collaboration with daughter Emily MacLachlan Charest (unlike their last two sweet and hilarious poetry collections about dogs, this one is all about cats)...a YA sci-fi novel featuring a female character with a disability (double rarities in science fiction!) and earning rave reviews...and a new children's novel by Blue Balliett. If you're so inclined, you might want to hop on the holds list for the latest middle-school story from James Patterson, the next Big Nate book, the latest Brandon Mull novel, the forthcoming first entry in a new YA series by Lisa McMann, dubbed the "next queen of supernatural thrillers" by Kirkus Reviews, a new picture book by Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler), and the 2013 Caldecott winner Jon Klassen (not out until early April, alas), and the conclusion to Anthony Horowitz's Gatekeepers series. WHOA. Tons of beyond fantastic reading headed our way.