Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Sea of Trolls

Farmer, Nancy. 2004. THE SEA OF TROLLS. New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0689867441 [Suggested Grade Levels 6 and up]


Young Jack is offered an unheard of opportunity: to leave his boring life of farming and become the Bard’s apprentice where he will learn to use magic! Unfortunately, his lessons barely begun, a band of Berserkers attacks his Saxon village and Jack and his little sister, Lucy are taken prisoners. When they are presented to the Viking queen, a half-troll by the name of Frith, Lucy is given to her as a gift. Then, when Jack attempts to sing a praise-song about the queen, he causes her hair to fall out! Now, he must go on a quest to the dangerous land of the trolls to find the magical Mimir’s Well to learn the spell to undo the damage. If he does not, Lucy will die!

Full of humor, drama and magic, THE SEA OF TROLLS is a rollicking adventure story. Jack finds himself battling trolls and dragons, not to mention his iffy allies: the half-crazy Berserker girl, Thorgil and a giant of a warrior, Olaf One-Brow. When Olaf tells Jack he must come watch them in battle so Jack can write a praise-song about him, Olaf says, “I know how exciting pillaging is,” the giant said fondly, ruffling Jack’s hair. It felt like a blow. “No matter how much you’re tempted, just say no.” “Just say no to pillaging. You got it.”

The characters are well developed and full of personality. The trolls’ Queen Glamdis and her daughters, are not simply evil beings bent on destroying men, but complex creatures who end up helping Jack in his quest. Jack learns about himself on his journey and grows to admire the berserkers’ strength and loyalty, while still abhorring their violence. This is a rich fantasy, blending Farmer’s exquisite story-telling skills with the excitement and magic of Norse mythology. Fantasy lovers will definitely add this to their list of favorites.

Readers may be interested in reading actual Norse myths to learn more about the creatures mentioned in the book. They may attempt to create their own similar myths incorporating legendary figures and places or by making up their own and creating unusual names.

Here are other books related to Norse mythology:
Colum, Padraic. ODIN’S CHILDREN. ISBN 0027228908
Langrish, Katherine. TROLL FELL. ISBN 0060583045

By Ellen Reed

Monday, April 18, 2005

Pie in the Sky

Ehlert, Lois. 2004. PIE IN THE SKY. New York: Harcourt. ISBN 0152165843
[Suggested Grade Levels Pre K - 1]

Dad says that the tree in the yard is a pie tree, but no pies can be seen! However, as spring progresses, we can see all sorts of other things in the tree: birds, blossoms, insects, a raccoon and finally, cherries! Dad takes the cherries and makes a pie and it is the best pie ever! This beautifully constructed book could be considered both a concept book and a participation book.

Children learn about events that happen in a fruit tree during the spring, from the formation of buds to the development of the fruit as well as the kinds of creatures that live there. However, on each page there is a rhyming “I spy” segment that lists colored items for children to search for. These poems are more complex than the main text. For example, on one page it says: “I see brown cherry pits, red wing tips, on cedar waxwings, and white rings around robins’ black eyes. But no pies.” This encourages listening in children as well as visual activities such as learning colors. The language is appealing and uses techniques such as alliteration: “Buds we saw last fall are bursting into bloom” making it fun to read aloud. This text also encourages children to participate by answering questions such as: What are the animals doing? The illustrations are highly creative and colorful collages using a variety of textured materials such as corrugated cardboard, twigs, colored handmade paper, metal, wires as well as paints and colored pencils. This creates a visually exciting collection of illustrations. The bright colors and simple, yet detailed pictures encourage the reader to closely examine them.

This book encourages children to learn about nature as well as baking and colors. Children might discuss what they have seen in their own gardens in the spring or their experiences in cooking.

Children can also be encouraged to discuss the types of materials that were used to make the collages and perhaps make their own collages.

Other books by Ehlert that could be compared to this one:

By Ellen Reed

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Darkest Evening

Durbin, William. 2004. THE DARKEST EVENING. New York: Orchard Books. ISBN 0439373077. [Suggested Grade Levels 6-8]

Things were tough for everyone during the Great Depression, but in 1934, Jake Maki’s father, Arvid, saw what he believed to be the chance of a lifetime. Selling everything the family owned, the Makis left their comfortable home in Minnesota for Karelia, an area of Russia where Arvid hoped to join others of Finnish descent in forming an independent, socialist Finnish republic within the borders of the Soviet Union. Things go badly from the start. The family is assigned to live in a ramshackle hut in the middle of the wilderness while setting up a lumber mill. There is no school or comforts of any kind, but Arvid refuses to give up. Eventually, the family is moved to tiny apartment in the city of Pertrozavodsk, so Arvid can work in a ski factory. Things look promising at first, but soon, the Soviet secret police begin arresting Finns for no apparent reason, but even when Jake’s older brother, Peter is arrested, Arvid believes it is all a mistake. Then, Arvid disappears. Jake, his mother, and younger sister decide they must leave and make a daring escape by skiing through the snow covered wilderness and into the safety of Finland.

This is an intriguing story of a little known historical event. American Finns were persuaded to leave the US in the 1930’s and move to an uncertain future in Stalin’s Soviet Union, all in the hopes of building a workers’ paradise. From the moment the Makis set foot in Russia, it is apparent things are not going well there. After seeing a drunk lying in the gutter, Jake feels his apprehension increase. Durbin’s sense of foreshadowing is well done. Readers can feel Jake’s growing anxiety as he sees more and more things go wrong while his father continues to maintain all is well. This is both a fascinating historical novel and an exciting adventure story for young adult readers.

Readers can discuss how they think they would react if they were suddenly taken from the United States and forced to live as the Makis did. They may want to study maps and trace the Makis’ journey from Minnesota to Karelia to Finland.

Other books by Durbin that could be compared to this one:

By Ellen Reed

Friday, April 8, 2005


DuQuette, Keith. 2004. COCK-A-DOODLE-MOOOO! New York: Putnam. ISBN 0399238891 [Suggested Grade Levels K-4]

From the Griffin and the Hippocampus to the Cooster and the Mouscodile, this mixed-up menagerie brings new creatures to life. The wondrous beasts of ancient mythology are an introduction to this imaginary land. The Griffin, a lion/eagle that guarded treasure, the Kappa, a monkey/tortoise that was feared by children, the Hippocampus, a horse/dolphin that was ridden by the god of the sea, and the Cockatrice, a rooster/serpent with poisoned breath, are shown on the first page and challenge readers to imagine the possibilities of other mixed-up creatures.

DuQuette offers 24 animals that are combined to make 12 haphazard, amusing creatures that are described in rhyming verse. The unlikely pairing of the parrot and gorilla forms the Parilla, who is large and green and wants your lunch, the snail and horse form the Snorse, who races at molasses paces. The impossibilities and clever word play keep the pages turning. With the torso of a poodle, and the tentacles of a squid, the Squoodle swims across the page in search of shampoo. The Mosquiphant, with its stinging trunk, is too fat to fly. The Mouscodile skips the cheese and eats the cat. And the Cooster crows “cock-a-doodle mooo, I’ve got milk for you.”

The realistic watercolor and gouache illustrations bleed off the page with vivid, appealing color and DuQuette uses the last two pages to illustrate 24 new creatures to play with, and to list other animal combinations found in myths and legends from around the world.


Provide pictures of animals, or stuffed animals for a more tactile experience, and have children randomly pick two and illustrate the creature that would result from a combination of the two.

Find animal pictures where the animals are roughly the same size and cut each picture in half, shuffle the pictures, then have the children pick one front end and one back end to combine. Have them write a paragraph or short poem about the resulting creature’s characteristics.

Other books about unlikely animals combinations:
DuQuette, Keith. HOTEL ANIMAL. ISBN 067085056X
Prelutsky, Jack. SCRANIMALS. ISBN 0688178200

By Tammy Korns

Tuesday, April 5, 2005


Dunrea, Oliver. 2004. PEEDIE. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 0618356525 [Suggested Grade Levels PreK-1]

Peedie is an adorable young gosling who tends to forget almost everything. He forgets to eat, to clean his nest, but never forgets his most favorite thing, his lucky red baseball cap. One day he puts his baseball cap in a special place. Days pass until he needs his lucky cap, and now even forgets his special place. Peedie looks for his red cap almost everywhere. Looking under and around flower pots, tall grass, even apples -- Peedie is sure his favorite cap is gone forever until suddenly he finds his lost cap with the gosling egg. Peedie learns a great lesson about responsibility as would any young reader. The colorful and light illustrations complement the story beautifully. A highly recommended picture book for youngsters.

Invite children to talk about the importance of responsibility. Encourage the group to suggest where Peedie puts his favorite lucky red baseball cap in the future.

Draw pictures of what they do around the house to be responsible.

McCloskey, Robert. MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS. ISBN: 0670451495

By Kim Southwell

Friday, April 1, 2005

Dog Blue

Dunbar, Polly. 2004. DOG BLUE. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763624764. [Suggested Grade Levels Pre-K-1]

Written and illustrated by Polly Dunbar, DOG BLUE is the story of a young boy, Bertie, on a quest to find the perfect pet dog. The story and illustrations are simple yet effective in conveying Bertie’s hopes, dreams, disappointments, and ultimately his satisfaction. “Bertie loved blue. He had a blue sweater, a blue dog collar, blue shoes, but no blue dog. What Bertie wanted more than anything in the whole wide world was a dog. A blue dog.” In the remaining pages, the reader watches as Bertie first pretends to have an imaginary blue dog, then pretends that he is a blue dog, before ultimately finding the perfect “blue” dog—a black and white spotted dog named Blue. Using repetition and alliteration (the “b” sound in particular), DOG BLUE makes a great read aloud for younger children. Bertie is an imaginative child with an amazing capacity to solve his own problems creatively.

The illustrations of DOG BLUE match the text perfectly. Both are simple yet charming and in many ways are reminiscent of older illustration styles such as HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON or THE CARROT SEED.

Have the children take turns pretending to be an animal (a pet animal: cat, dog, bird, fish, etc.). Have the other children guess what animal the child is pretending to be.

Have children take turns sharing with the group about a pet s/he has or would like to have. Have children draw pictures of their pets whether real or imagined.

Other books written or illustrated by Polly Dunbar:
Dunbar, Polly. FLYAWAY KATIE. ISBN 0763623660
Ely, Lesley. LOOKING AFTER LOUIS. ISBN 0807547468

Other books about imaginative play:
Chen, Chih-Yuan. ON MY WAY TO BUY EGGS. ISBN 1929132492
Gardiner, Lindsey. HERE COME POPPY AND MAX. ISBN 0316603465
Shannon, David. ALICE THE FAIRY. ISBN 0439490251

By Becky Laney