Friday, August 27, 2010



Angelo is a plasterer. He has spent most of his life high above the city re-plastering buildings and cleaning up pigeon droppings from the facades. So when he finds an injured pigeon in one of the crevices of the buildings, he only agrees to take it home and nurse it back to health for a day or so. After all, he hates pigeons. The days turn into weeks and the two become friends. After the pigeon, named Sylvia, gets better she flies away but comes back to keep an eye on the old man. The two become inseparable, eating and working together. Sylvia notices that Angelo is slowing down on his work. He rests more often. And Angelo notices too. After he finally finishes his building job, he decides he needs to do something for Sylvia. Something that will last forever.

If I was looking for a book where I cried with both happiness and sadness, this would be it. I'm so in love with this book. I love Sylvia, I love Angelo, but most of all I loved the friendship between them. This is no simple story about a man rescuing a pigeon. Angelo is rescued just as much. The friendship between the two is well built, based on hard work and time spent together. We get to watch it develop from the moment Angelo builds a makeshift hospital bed for the bird until the very end. Angelo is hardworking and caring. He works to do a good job even as he gets too old to work. Sylvia is sweet and caring, and worried about the old man. The ending though, is what cements this book as a new found favorite. I cried at the end of this book, the story was so touching. I was happy and I was sad. In only a couple words Macaulay creates a final image that will stick with me for a very long time.

David Macaulay's illustrations are filled with rough lines and warm colors. In only a few simple pen strokes, he creates beautiful Mediterraneans buildings and expresses great character emotions. He uses terra-cottas, creams, browns, and light blues to bring out the Italian feel for the city and to make his unassuming character of Angelo come to life. Here is a plain man presented plainly. But we still get a feeling for the great love and tenderness he has. A beautiful book, both in story and in illustrations. And a new favorite of mine.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


When I think of children's book authors, Carl Hiaasen is not the first name that springs to mind. I've read a number of Hiaasen's books and never once did I think to myself, this man should write children's books. In fact, normally his zany and gritty tales of Florida are the exact opposite of a classic kids book. Hiaasen writes about crime and dirt and corruption. And when it comes to Hoot, a Newbery Award honor book, he does it perfectly for the young adult audience.

Hoot follows Roy (or Cowgirl as his not-quite friends call him), a young boy who's just moved to Florida from Montana. Roy has problems and he has them in spades. He's the new kid in school with all that implies, he's attracted the attention of the school bully who wants to beat him to a pulp, and he's just discovered a mysterious boy named Mullet Fingers who's involved in a personal crusade against a national pancake company. A huge pancake company has decided to open a restaurant in the small town that Roy lives in. That should be cause for excitement and is until Roy finds out that there are endangered burrowing owls who have made a home on the site that the restraunt will be built on. Roy, Mullet Fingers, and Mullet Finger's sister Beatrice decide to stop them, using some rather unusual means. If you have read Hiaasen before, you know what kinds of antics his characters can get into. If you haven't...well what are you doing. Why aren't you at the library picking up one of his books?

As an environmentalist and a believer in animal rights, I was completely in love with this book from the beginning. Hiassen's message of anti-development rings so true with me. Hiassen often talks about corporate greed and its impact on the environment. Here he offers us a couple of heros that are willing to stand up against corporate greed, even if it means no pancakes. The kids get their point across through a wonderful mixture of vandalism and law-abiding routes (Mullet Fingers on the vandalism side and Roy on the law abiding). This is a book about standing up for what you believe in no matter how unpopular it is.

But it's not as preachy as that sounds. Instead Hiaasen uses humor to get his point across. From the opening scene, where Roy first sees Mullet Fingers while having his face smooshed against the glass by the school bully, you know you're in for a story that's both touching and humorous. Roy is not a violent kid and he goes about helping Mullet Fingers (and dealing with his bully), in funny ways. The pranks that Mullet Fingers pulls on the construction contractor are hilarious with just a slight touch of danger. The contractor and the police officer dealing with the case start off as charactures and become real people during the course of the book. But they are still the bumbling idiots of the tale. And in the end (after all the humor is done) you come away with a great environmental message. I have to take back my earlier words. Hiaasen can write children's books. And he'll do it with humor.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Auntie Claus

With nearly record high heat indexes and constant rain, I needed a reminder that there is something called winter. So when I was in the library last week, I stopped to check out the books on Christmas. The cover of Auntie Claus drew me in so I dropped it on my stack to check out. And I'm so glad I did. The rest of the book was just as sweet and enjoyable as the cover.

Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera tells the story of the Kringle family who live in New York City. Every year, Auntie Claus disappears on a "business trip" from October until Valentine's Day. One of the younger members of the family, Sophie, is curious about where her aunt goes each year. She's determined to find the secret. So when Auntie isn't looking, Sophie stows away. As most readers have already guessed by now, she finds herself deposited at the North Pole. One of the head elves mistakes Sophie for an elf and puts her to work. She starts in the mail room and finds herself unhappy sorting mail all day. When Santa needs someone to go get the naughty list from the basement (the worst job at the North Pole), Sophie volunteers. She finds her spoiled brother's name on the list, so Sophie makes a choice. She erases her brother's name, and replaces it with her own. The moment her name is signed, Sophie is summoned to Santa's side to help deliver packages. She falls asleep in the sleigh and wakes up Christmas Morning at home, with a very special gift.

Elise Primavera's story is sweet and fun, but with a moral. Adults will not be surprised by Auntie Claus's job, nor by the rest of the family's connection to Christmas, but children will be drawn into the world. Sophie is a great character, half rebel, half sweet caring girl. I loved her curiosity and her spunk. She is spoiled at the beginning of the story but we see her make sacrifices later in the book. We watch her grow. In a way we watch Sophie discover her more adult, mature self. Auntie Claus starts the story with the idiom "it is better to give than to receive" and that is displayed at the end in wonderful form. The moral is not pushed hard but readers will leave with it firmly in their mind. The subtle message fits beautifully with the idea of Sophie growing up. I was actually a bit surprised by the ending of the story but I found it much more satisfying than a more Hollywood-style ending. It is a mature, sensitive, and fitting ending. I left the book with a huge smile.

Primavera's illustration are simply gorgeous. Auntie Claus is elegant in a movie star type of way. Her home, along with Sophie's home, are luxuriously drawn. Everything is rich and elegant. Once Sophie leaves the house and heads to the North Pole, the colors become even more rich. Filled with reds and blues, these gouache and pastel illustrations wrap you in warmth. Sophie is presented very plain compared to her famous aunt and the beautiful world she inhabits and then visits. Primavera gives everything a soft focus, adding to the unreality of the situation. It was a world I loved visiting, with sweet characters and an even better moral. A great book for Christmas and one I'll be adding to my collection.