Friday, September 19, 2008

The Bells of Bleecker Street

Browsing the shelves of our Lower School library inevitably leads to finding some gems. From the slightly creepy Baby Island, to the magical Gone Away Lake, I usually end up discovering some children's books that may not have otherwise ended on my radar. This time my find was The Bells of Bleecker Street. Since my school is located on the corner of Bleecker Street, I was automatically drawn to this title, and I was happily reading about Joey and his antics over the weekend.

Joey Enrico is a neighbourhood boy. He and his pals hang around the Greenwich Village area. Their main social activities center around The Church of Our Lady of Pompeii, the pushcarts along Bleecker and Sheridan Square. Joey's dad is off fighting in World War II, and Joey is missing him fiercely. He tries to help out in his father's framing shop and stay out of trouble.

But trouble seems to find Joey. Especially when he is hanging out with his friend Pete "the Squeak" Ryan. One day, Joey and Pete decide to go into Our Lady of Pompeii to see the new statue of Saint John. After seeing the new statue, the boys go to see the old one, the one that Joey was baptized under. When the toe of the old Saint John breaks off under Joey's fingertips, Joey panics. The ever mischievous Pete, however, convinces Joey that Saint John's toe should be treated like a rabbit's foot. Joey should keep it for good luck. After all, couldn't Joey use some luck?

So, Joey puts the toe in his pocket and hits the streets. Does his luck change? Maybe a little bit, but Joey is wracked with guilt about his theft.

Valenti Angelo's The Bells of Bleecker Street is a wonderful example of children's literature from the 1940s. Well written chapters are almost stories within the story. Joey and his pals are all squeaky clean family boys who help out around the neighbourhood and generally do the right thing. Joey's Italian family's heritage is examined through everyday activities, and it's interesting to note the differences put forth concerning Pete's Irish family. This is sweet storytelling that would make a great read aloud.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lazy Little Loafers

I always give a little laugh as I walk through the hallways in my school and overhear 2nd graders reminiscing about what it was like to be in the 4s. How they yearn for rest time now. (Mind you when they were 4, you couldn't pay them to stay on their mats!) Lazy Little Loafers has captured the nostalgia of the older child and brought in some snark for good measure.

"Here's a question for you: Why don't more babies work?"

Really. Why don't they?

Our unnamed protagonist who is busily dragging her HUGE backpack filled with work, is trying to figure this out. There are lots of jobs...there are lots of babies...could it be that babies are simply lazy? Babies certainly look lazy. They are wheeled everywhere in their fancy strollers, they eat snacks and roll around. It seems like the hardest work they do is trying to walk!

Illustrator G. Brian Karas' babies are hilarious as they stick out their tongues, suck their thumbs and cavort in the park. This may not be the picture book for everyone, but older kids who appreciate sarcasm will certainly eat it up! I think my readers who loved A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, and Chowder will love Susan Orlean's Lazy Little Loafers.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chalk and Cheese

I was lucky enough to attend a book preview this morning at Simon and Schuster. Some wonderful books were discussed including Nikki Grimes' and Bryan Collier's Barack Obama Son of Promise, Child of Hope, My Dad, John McCain, by Meghan McCain, and Hillary Rodham Clinton Dreams taking Flight. Bryan Collier spoke passionately about his project, and showed us some amazing original art from the book. Other highlights were Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson, Must Love Black, by Kelly McClymer and A is for Art, by Stephen T. Johnson.

But the book that stole my heart is none other than Chalk and Cheese, by Tim Warnes.

Chalk and Cheese are as different as, well, chalk and cheese! Cheese has come over to NYC from the British country side to visit his buddy Chalk, and he can't wait to see the sights. Readers are treated to a two page spread of postcard exchanges where the personalities of Chalk and Cheese are laid out. Cheese is ready to see skyscrapers, King Kong, and is hoping for a Stuart Little sighting! Chalk is certainly ready to play tour guide.

From riding the subway and befriending a cockroach (named Cutey Pops!), to seeing the Empire State Building, Chalk and Cheese are in it together. Even a little disagreement can't stop them from being friends.

The illustrations are made up of sequential panels complete with speech bubbles, and the art made me do a bit of a happy dance, because after opening up this book at the back of the presentation room, I just knew that I had to include it on my list of books that I will be presenting at LREI's Annual Family Book Night. This year our theme is graphic novels (sequential art etc), and this is simply perfect for the younger spectrum of our list. We have some FANTASTIC authors/illustrators coming to present, and I am so pleased to place Chalk and Cheese on the list for our attendees!

So fun.

Do yourselves a favour and pick this one up in late October. I know that I will be getting multiple copies!