Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Themed Reviews: Rosh Hashanah

In 2011 the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, begins at sundown on September 28th and ends at sundown on the 30th. The first of the High Holy Days in the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with rest, prayer, festive meals, and by sounding the Shofar (horn typically created from a male kosher ram).

This year's feature, and those from previous years, can get you started on how to incorporate new books into your classroom, library, and home.

For information about Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish year, visit

YaYa and YoYo Sliding Into the New Year
Dori Weinstein
The meaning and traditions of Rosh Hashanah are woven into a story about a twin sister and brother whose family are Conservative Jews. A contemporary style and point of view that connect present-day pluralistic Judaism to the unbroken chain of Jewish beliefs and customs are at the story's heart. The main characters of Ellie (YaYa) and Joel (YoYo) are portrayed as typical fifth graders whose interactions with each another, their parents and older brother, and their school friends are genuine, laced with humor and warmth. The somewhat repetitive plot concerns Ellie's excitement over being invited to go with a friend to a sensational new waterslide park, and her disappointment to learn that the date for this excursion falls on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Why does she have to observe both days? Ellie wonders. Isn't one day of reflection and repentance enough? Guided and goaded by her brother's greater attentiveness to what Rabbi Green has been teaching them about teshuvah in Hebrew school, Ellie begins to answer those question for herself. Her response leads to an affirmation of Jewish beliefs, traditions, and values. A publisher's note states that this is the first of a planned series of twelve books about YaYa and YoYo, each one focusing on a holiday, life cycle event, or other Jewish experience. Although the writing needs some tightening to quicken the pace, this first entry into the series is a good beginning. Category: Holidays. 2011, Yaldah, 132 pp., $8.95 Pbk. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Linda R. Silver (Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews, February/March 2011).
ISBN: 9781592872015

Monday, September 12, 2011

Themed Reviews: Autumn

     Did you know there are 7,000 varieties of apples in the world? Or that an apple has five seed pockets? As summer winds down, we start to notice all the signs of fall. The leaves turn colors, days get shorter, the weather cools, and foods like apples, squash, and pumpkin come into season. While people may not prepare for winter in the same manner as animals by stockpiling food, we do have plenty of traditions that symbolize the coming of winter. Holidays such as Halloween, Sukkot, the Moon Festival, and Thanksgiving all take place during the fall season and are associated with celebrating the harvest.

   In fact, before the 16th century harvest was the word used to refer to this season. After that the word fall came to be used, stemming from phrases like "fall of the leaf" and "fall of the year." The word autumn traces its origins to French, automne, and fall has its origins in Old Germanic languages. In North America the start of fall is marked by the September equinox, this year falling on September 23rd.

   Fall is a busy and exciting time in classrooms and libraries, as students, and adults, get back in the swing of things. This new feature highlights recent books about what goes on during this season, perfect for reading aloud to young listeners or to use in elementary classrooms.

For more information, activities, and photos visit:

Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival
Grace Lin
   In this story, we join the child narrator and her family on a picnic to celebrate the Chinese thanksgiving holiday called the Moon Festival (or Mid-Autumn Festival.) Each family member has a role in setting up the food, the "moon-honoring table," paper lanterns, and tea before indulging in round moon cakes, giving thanks, and making secret wishes to the moon. With spare language, Lin conveys a strong sense of community and reverence for the natural world. She uses gouache for the illustrations, which, rich in detail such as a background with muted swirls, evoke the vastness of the moonlit sky on a peaceful night. An extensive author's note explains the origins of the festival and the various round objects used to symbolize good fortune and peace. Useful in the fall, around Thanksgiving, or as part of a multi-cultural studies curriculum, this book will inspire children unfamiliar with this holiday to want to celebrate it too. 2010, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, $16.99. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Miriam Chernick (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780375861017

Contributor: Emily Griffin, CLCD

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jacqueline Mitton

  Imagine my surprise as I was crossing the Atlantic Ocean on the Queen Mary 2 to see that one of the guest lecturers on the trip was Jacqueline Mitton. She was a double bill with her husband and their topic was Astronomy. I of course knew her as the author of several wonderful children's books all dealing astronomy. Jacqueline is more than qualified since she has a PhD in astrophysics from Cambridge and is a member of the Royal Astronomical Society.

   I attended their lectures and then asked her for an interview. I was really interested in how she came to such an interesting career. She remarked that as a young child she was fascinated by natural things and was always curious. Her parents were open minded but not well off. She went to the local library weekly and it was quite a walk. As an only child, her mother taught her to read before she was five and before she went to school. One thing she remembers about that time in her life was that she could not borrow books from the library until she was 7 years old. Her love of everything in nature and especially astronomy comes out in her books.

   Both Jacqueline and her husband are good communicators and that is certainly one of the reasons that they are on the lecture circuit. It was also part of the reason she decided to write children's books. She had great ideas when she saw the pictures coming back from space. Show children the real thing; bring them cutting-edge science. Her biggest battles were with the editors who felt they knew better what should be in a children's book. They were fixed in the past and did not keep up the science. Now that her books have done well and she has established her bona fides—she gets more respect from the editors. She has consulted frequently for DK on their books and you will find her name as a contributor, author, advisor or editor on over a dozen Eyewitness book titles. That type of work for hire is hard because of the tight schedules and payment is usually a fixed amount.

   Jacqueline prefers writing at her pace and royalty arrangements. Zoo in the Sky was an idea that she had in her head. After talking with an editor she got nowhere. So she just sat down and wrote the text and sketched out the illustrations. While she had an agent for her adult work, she really did not have one for the children's material. She swallowed her anxiety and went to her agent and as luck would have it, his wife was an agent for a children's writer. She thought the book would sell and took it to Frances Lincoln. It was a slow process—actually years, but since she already had a reputation in the adult market and the title and idea were clever, it came to fruition. Zoo in the Sky was published in 1998 by Frances Lincoln and was later picked up by National Geographic in the U.S.

   National Geographic has published several other books by Jacqueline including Kingdom of the Sun, Once Upon a Starry Night: A book of Constellation Stories and The Planet Gods: Myths and Facts about the Solar System. Meanwhile in another book with Frances Lincoln entitled Zodiac: Celestial Circle of the Sun , Jacqueline was hoping for a crossover book. She needed to be careful that she did not mar her professional reputation as an astronomer with a book that was not truly science. One of the most recent books—I See the Moon (2010, Frances Lincoln) was six years in the works as they tried to find the right illustrator. It was one of those stories written in a flash, but then she had to undertake research to make sure that she had gotten the animals correct. It was a bit frustrating, but Jacqueline persisted until the illustrator who could interpret what she had in mind was finally found and she is now very happy with the book. For one thing she wrote about the possibility of water on the moon before the impact in Feb of 2011 proved the point.

   Jacqueline and her husband Simon met at Oxford. They are parents of two daughters, one of whom is in aerospace engineering. Earlier they collaborated on books and while he continues to write for adults, Jacqueline has branched out and expanded her writing into the world of children's literature. Lucky for us that she has since her books have won numerous accolades and awards.

Contributor: Marilyn Courtot

I See the Moon
Jacqueline Mitton
Illustrated by Erika Pal
     The Moon can be so different every time you see it.' The illustrator of this luminous picture book shows the Moon's phases above dark, atmospheric landscapes. Sometimes it is a thin curvy crescent with the whole of the Moon discernible only if you look carefully. ‘It's the old Moon in the new Moon's arms' say some children staring out of a window. At other times the moon is full, sometimes silvery and sometimes an almost golden colour at harvest time. The strong black line often encloses a burst of bright colour – the orange coats of the fox family and the golden eyes of the owl. A lyrically written text creates some lovely images too: the full Moon looks like ‘a silver-coloured fruit dangling in the sky'. Questions and exclamations help create space in young minds for concepts to develop. The Moon is always there, even if we cannot see it in daytime unless it is a cloudless sky. And by putting a tiger, koala, fox and rabbit into the landscapes, the book shows children that the Moon can be seen from every place across the world. Then, on the last double spread, the young learner's imagination is put into top gear. We see a lunar landscape: ‘Imagine being there, like an astronaut.' And, if we were, imagine seeing our Earth taking the place of the Moon in the heavens. Quite simply, this is a marvellous first introduction to the Moon and the night sky. Highly recommended. Category: Under 5s Pre-School/Nursery/Infant. Rating: 5 (Unmissable). 2010, Frances Lincoln, 32pp, D11.99 hbk. Ages 0 to 4. Reviewer: Margaret Mallett (Books for Keeps No. 186, January 2011).
ISBN: 9781845076337