Monday, November 30, 2009

Season of Giving

The Thanksgiving feast is over, Black Friday has gone, and happy family stories (can you believe I made a pumpkin pie that looked green?) will be replayed in our collective memory. It is time to move on to the next holiday.

While children may be thinking of presents, new toys, Santa or special foods, many families are suffering. It’s not a new story. We’ve been living with the recession, unemployment, and difficult circumstances for many area families for over a year now. This holiday season I hope you can find different ways to help. No matter what your own circumstances, there is always some small service you can perform. It is a great lesson for your children to take them along and participate in this season of giving.

Here at the library we have our “mitten tree.” We are helping Parsons Child and Family Center with a drive of donated winter mittens, hats, scarves and gloves. The Voorheesville Middle School Builders Club is helping with this drive in the schools and throughout the town. Parsons calls their campaign “Holiday Heroes: Compassion in Action.” I love that name. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on an item, but it will be very helpful to the families that Parsons serves. Check out their website to see all the work that is done at Parsons: The mitten tree in our library will be up through December 10th. On Friday, December 11th I will be taking everything over to Parsons for their distribution to children and families.

Today’s Times Union had a piece about a diaper drive for food pantries throughout the Capital District. The Times Union is hosting the drive at their office: Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. through December 14th. You can read the full story here: This grandma has some leftover diapers that grandchildren have outgrown and I’ll buy some more packages. They aren’t covered by food stamps.

If you don’t want to buy diapers, or mittens, or gloves, you can always drop off an extra can of food, box of pasta, etc. at local food pantries. We have baskets in the library for the New Scotland Food Pantry. If you want to help your children understand the giving part of holiday traditions, let them choose something for the food pantries with you at the grocery store; take them to a department store and let them help choose a scarf, mittens or a hat; or remind them that a dry baby is a happy baby and buy one bag of diapers for a family.
~Joyce Laiosa

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? by Brian Fies

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? That’s a great question and an extraordinary graphic novel. Brian Fies recreates most of the Twentieth Century with many creative minds and inspirations that explored the future.

We meet our two main characters in 1939 on their way to the New York City World’s Fair. They are a father and son filled with high expectations for what the future holds. The fair was dedicated to communication, transportation, production and food. The author takes real photos of the fair and places his comic characters into the pictures. Father and son are awestruck by the possibilities of the future and filled with excitement.

Of course, 1939 was the beginning of World War II and the future is put on hold while the home front and the military, including the bomb, take over the narrative. As with any comic series, time marches on but our main characters do not seem to age at all. We move up to the 1950s and see how the Cold War effects the family. Father is building a cement block fallout shelter in the basement and the world of tomorrow seems to have brought supersonic planes, super-smart computers (but they are huge), atomic power, and plans for travel in outer space. Included are actual pictures that were run in Collier’s magazine at the time by an artist that envisioned what the world of tomorrow would look like.

As we move through the decades Fies also includes small comic books (with the newsprint paper and typical super heroes fighting from space to earth and back again) that remind the reader what a typical boy might be reading that was part of the “world of tomorrow.” We continue through spaceflight (when the boy finally goes off to college – I told you it was comic book time) into the future one last time. Then we see a new family: the man with his own daughter, and his father by his side, living on the moon in their world of tomorrow.

I highly recommend this book for kids in sixth grade and up, plus adults! I think of it as history, science, science fiction, and a unique graphic design. The author even pays homage to veteran comics creators in the Space Age Adventures that are the four comic books throughout the story. If you are looking for a book that both fathers and son would enjoy, look no further than Whatever Happened to the Worl d of Tomorrow.
~Joyce Laiosa

Monday, October 26, 2009

"A Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and Aaron Burr

I was in Troy Saturday night for a performance of A Legend of Sleepy Hollow with the New York State Theatre Institute (NYSTI). My son is an intern there and is learning about building, welding, and making theatre sets. He is also painting. If anyone saw the production he is responsible for the Dutch tiles around the stage. (Yes, I am proud!)

I have recently read The Duel: The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Judith St. George. I am very interested in NYS history, and Alexander Hamilton because of his connection to the Schuyler family here in Albany. Hamilton was married to Eliza Schuyler and lived for a short time in Schuyler Mansion. What does this have to do with A Legend of Sleepy Hollow? The Duel was an eye opener not only about Alexander Hamilton, but Aaron Burr. And Aaron Burr was a major "character" in the new NYSTI production. If I hadn't read The Duel I would have been completely lost watching the play! I was very surprised that there were no background historical notes for this play.

What I learned from The Duel was how vilified Burr was after the duel that ended Hamilton's life; Burr was Thomas Jefferson's first Vice President (this is the election that ended with a tie between Burr and Jefferson and sent the election to the House of Representatives to break the tie); while Vice President, Burr ran for New York Governor as an Independent, which was an insult to his own Republican party. After he lost that election, he finished his term as vice president, but his political life was over. He continued making mischief. After the duel (1804) he was indicted for the murder of Alexander Hamilton in New Jersey. To avoid arrest he fled. Eventually he concocted a scheme to organize an expedition to conquer Louisiana and form a new empire that would include all of the western states. Eventually he was tried for treason, but the guidelines in the Constitution could not be met for a treasonous act, therefore he was acquitted and set free. He died in 1836.

I think Aaron Burr's story, especially how intertwined he and Hamilton were throughout the course of history and their lives, is more interesting than the character (Burr) that was inserted in A Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It is important to get history right, especially when young people have such a poor grasp of their own country's history. I hope that NYSTI will add notes to their programs to explain the background stories.

Lastly, I highly recommend The Duel as well as a picture book on the same subject, Duel!: Burr and Hamilton's Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin. I can't get enough of it!

~Joyce Laiosa

Friday, October 16, 2009

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation

As a lover of history, historic landmarks, and tours of houses ("not another dead person's house" is the cry of my youngest) I was surprised that I had forgotten how flexible and unique a document our constitution is. One would think a graphic adaptation might be a silly book, or have a point of view. I don't believe that this applies to author Jonathan Hennessey or illustrator Aaron McConnell. I was very impressed with their knowledge and how they interpreted this document in pictoral form.

The very beginning of the preamble, "We the People" is a broad picture of our fellow citizens. This is followed by a brief history of how our country fought for independence, then the explanation of the preamble into the Articles explaining how the government works. The artwork is wonderful, especially the representations of the three branches of government: legislative (a man in a suit with the Capitol for a head), executive (a man in a suit with the White House for a head), and judicial (a person in a judicial robe with the Supreme Court building for a head).
This book brought new understandings of why articles were written; specifically how population was counted in order to appeal to southern states in order to pass the document and make our federal government. The book explains the Bill of Rights and the amendments that have been passed. The reasons that the Supreme Court still struggles with decisions is easier to understand now that I've "re-read" this U.S. Constitution.

If you have someone taking American History in 8th or 11th grade, do them a favor and make sure they see this book. It will help young people understand their rights and responsibilities. It will be a refresher course for grown-ups !

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


War is scary for everyone, children and adults. Listening to news reports about Afghanistan is difficult. I can't comprehend what our soldiers are going through. It is also difficult to understand how people can even live in this country. As much as we want to shelter our children from the news, perhaps we should embrace the good that happens in terrible places.

Adults have been reading Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea since 2006, when the book was first published. He tells the story of his failed attempt to climb K2. On his way back down he became lost in the mountains of Pakistan. He ended up staying in a poor village where he was overwhelmed by their kindness and vowed to come back and build schools. This happened in 1993, and as of now, he has built over 60 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His book has been adapted by Sarah Thomson for young adults (same title) and in a picture book edition with Susan L. Roth. That edition is called Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg and Three Cups of Tea. Roth's collages capture the people of Baltistan and their way of life in the mountains. It is a beautiful story that will shed light on people we know so little about. Learn about Dr. Greg and the great work he is doing.

Another author that will shed light on this area of the world is Deborah Ellis. She is Canadian and has traveled all over the world. I love her book The Breadwinner, and the sequel Parvana's Journey. This is the story of a family living under the tyranny of the Taliban, after the Soviet's have left Afghanistan. Parvana and her family live in Kabul. After her father dies, she must dress like a boy to try and earn money for her family. It is a sad story, a hard story. Ellis has visited Afghan refugee camps and heard many stories like Parvana's. These books can be read by fifth graders and older, more likely middle school students.

Check out these books to learn more about Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will give you and your children a different point of view than one of only war.

Friday, March 27, 2009

You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!

Baseball pitchers are special. The good ones are treated like gods. They do not play every day, and yet, fans can’t wait to see them do their “stuff.” Sandy Koufax played for the Dodgers: first, in Brooklyn and then in L.A. Jonah Winter, with illustrator Andre Carrilho has done a superb job of explaining the qualities of Koufax: athlete, graceful, strong, and determined in the new picture book biography, You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! The cover seems to move, as if you are watching Koufax pitch. It is explained as a lenticular cover. It has three images, digitally sliced into strips and printed on a plastic sheet creating the illusion of movement as you turn the cover. Brilliant! The rest of the illustrations are graphite on paper, with color and texture added using Adobe Photoshop. The stylized drawings do look like Koufax, and I love the little statistic boxes throughout the book. It helps to understand Koufax’s place in baseball history to compare him to other pitchers. Every child knows that baseball is more than just hitting the ball, catching the ball or throwing the ball. It is also how well you do those things, in other words, the statistics. Check this out before opening day!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring is Here!

The weather may be frightful, but picture books can put you in a new frame of mind. If you are thinking Easter basket gifts, I’ve got two that I MUST purchase for my grandchildren. (I can’t be stopped!)

First is The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett. Each of the birds has an egg, except Duck. So when Duck finds a beautiful egg of his own he’s delighted-even though the other birds make fun of it. When it hatches, everyone is in for a BIG surprise! The playful illustrations are part of the charm, along with cleverly designed cut pages that allow the visual joke to unfold. Spring? Eggs? You won’t want to miss this book! Emily Gravett has become a favorite of mine for young pre-schoolers. Check out her other books, Orange Pear Apple Bear and Monkey and Me. Every book is a perfect illustration of an early literacy skill. The Odd Egg is perfect for print motivation. Everyone will want to turn the page to find out what happens. Print Motivation is how we demonstrate to children the joy of reading, the fun of books.

The second picture book is from the inimitable Kevin Henkes. He has won a Caldecott Medal, a Caldecott Honor, a Newbery Honor, and he has another winner with his latest, Birds. This time he has written the book (the words), but his wife is the illustrator. She has captured the simplicity of enjoying birds and noticing the many details a young child would discuss with a parent or an adult. The simple story ends with a satisfying declaration that is also a surprise. A lovely spring walk must be taken after reading this! Laura Dronzek’s illustrations are so colorful, especially for a young child. They have a child-like appearance with a sense of movement on every page.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Print Motivation with Twelve Terrible Things!

Print Motivation is an Early Literacy Skill that simply means that the book is so much fun, or exciting, or inviting a child will be ready to turn every page to continue the story. Twelve Terrible Things by Marty Kelley is a perfect example of ‘Print Motivation.’ Inside the book, on the endpapers the reader is warned that turning the page will bring about some terrible things. Well, you have to turn the page now!

There really are twelve terrible things in the book, such as: things that are sad (empty ice cream cone with the scoop of ice cream on the ground); things that are scary (dentist? monster under the bed?); old relative pinching chubby cheeks; to a smelly sock (with the smelly foot still in it). It is funny, well drawn, with funny perspective on each spread. Have a good laugh, a good read with this book.~Joyce Laiosa

What Color is a Bully?

One by Kathryn Otoshi is an extremely simple book of colors and numbers and a story about a bully. I think it would be very useful in a classroom setting, as well as an excellent book for preschoolers. It is a hard lesson to see kids being bullied as well as being the object of the bully. This book shows that a group can work together to thwart the bully and positive remarks can change the focus of the bully. Will it work? I can’t say that one reading of the book will change a bully. But I think it will help children learn to work together to help each other out of difficult situations.

After reading this book, I can see a child making their own book with finger paints. A fun project for everyone and while the child’s fingers are busy, you can have a very relaxed conversation. Check out this title the next time you visit the library. Make it count!~Joyce Laiosa

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wordless Books

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a firm believer in wordless books. I like them because they allow a child to “read” the book; a child who may not be able to read at all. It helps children “tell” a story using the narrative skills, an early literacy skill. The child uses the picture clues to tell the story they want. The story can change every time it is told, the vocabulary can increase by who tells the story, and the book has a timeless appeal that evolves with deepening comprehension of life situations. Lastly, for the child working on writing skills, it helps to have the pictures as a prompt for an essay.

Suzy Lee has taken three simple elements to create a visual tour de force with Wave. We have a sunny day, a curious little girl, and a playful wave. The book is black and white (and shades of gray) with blue. The color blue is, of course, the wave, the water, and the action. There is one other piece of action and that is the “gutter” of the book. Oh, to have a child on my lap talking about this book! Check it out. If you spend any time at the seashore, you must purchase it! ~Joyce Laiosa

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Gates

Have you ever tried to explain a piece of art to someone? It depends upon the work, itself, what you would say, or how you might explain it. I know a little about art, but not enough to explain one of the most beautiful works of art I ever saw. It was called The Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and it was displayed for 16 days in February 2005.

A new book by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan does a wonderful job of shedding light on the work of Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude. We learn of their European background and how World War II shaped their young lives; his in Bulgaria, hers in Paris. The art developed over time from wrapping up small objects all the way to encasing islands in Biscayne Bay, Florida.

Every project begins with drawings by Christo. The Gates began in 1979, but New York City had to approve the project because it was going to be outdoors in Central Park. It took 26 years for the project to be approved and it transformed Central Park. I remember taking the train to NYC to see it. My husband and I walked up to the park from Grand Central Station. Crowds filled the sidewalks. Before we knew it, we were swept up into the park with the crowd, our eyes drawn to the bright orange (salmon) color and flapping fabric over our head. We were part of the art experience as we walked through the park, around the lake, and over the rocks.

This experience is vividly remembered because of the book Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Through the Gates and Beyond. The photographs are stunning and reminds me of the wonderful day when I saw The Gates. What is art? I couldn’t explain it, but this book will help young people understand this beautiful piece of art! ~Joyce Laiosa

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sibert Medal Winner

Do you love baseball? Spring training is about to begin in warmer climates than here in the northeast. But if you are thinking green grass, breezes blowing the sweat off a brow, and the crack of a bat, have I got a book for you!

This year’s best work of nonfiction (which was awarded the Sibert Medal) is We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson. Nelson’s artistry has been recognized with his past Caldecott honor awards and Coretta Scott King Illustrator awards. This is the first time he has been honored for both words and pictures. First and foremost, the illustrations are rich, beautiful oil paintings. The colors resonate right off the page while you dream of sitting on the grass yourself. There is a double spread of a night game that takes you back to a simpler time. The night sky has a few stars, the lights barely shine on the outfield, yet you can’t take your eyes off the page. You are there, in that game, trying to follow the pitch that has just been thrown. In other paintings you notice that the players stand tall with absolute dignity. These men were left out of major league baseball, yet the endured hardships are history.

Each chapter is an inning, and each starts off with a quote. Nelson writes the book from the point of view of an “everyman” player. The title of the book is from a quote by the founder of the Negro National League, Rube Foster. “We are the ship; all else the sea.” The book is well researched with a bibliography, endnotes, and an index. All baseball lovers will want to read this, but for the youngest T-ball players, please read it to them! ~Joyce Laiosa

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Best Books of the Year

I’ve been reading a lot recently. For every three books I read, only one has been a standout. Here are some recent picture books that I absolutely love:

In a Blue Room by Jim Averbeck; Illustrated by Tricia Tusa.
I can only say that I found this to be a perfect book. It is a good-night book, with a charming little girl talking about her blue room, yet we can see from the pictures that she does not have a blue room. As she is tucked into bed, and the pictures give us the wide view, we see that she does, indeed, have a blue room. It is earth. This is an excellent book for the Early Literacy Skill of Print Motivation as a child will want to turn the page to see the blue room. Where is it? Delightful!

Bear’s Picture by Daniel Pinkwater; Illustrated by D.B. Johnson.
First, you must understand that I’m a huge fan of D.B. Johnson. He has written and illustrated three books based on Walden and Henry Thoreau (done as a bear). The books are Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, Henry Builds a Cabin, and Henry Climbs a Mountain. It is a known fact that Daniel Pinkwater is a champion of these books from his commentary on NPR. Together they have teamed up to present a bear who paints. It is wonderful to watch bear’s painting come together while two very skeptical grown-ups fail to see what bear sees. They are NOT art critics! Again, this presents a wonderful book for Print Motivation as a child watches bear create.

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson; Illustrated by Beth Krommes.
I find black and white illustrations extremely imaginative. This book is done in black and white with gold/yellow accents throughout. The story is a reworked Mother Goose rhyme. It is a very striking book that I can see a child looking for clues on every page. It is an excellent book for the Early Literacy Skill of Dialogic Reading. The parent/adult can ask “what” questions of the child to help with comprehension and Narrative Skills to retell the story. The design is lovely. I can see a child asking to have this read every night and never tire of it. There is so much to see, to think and to dream about in this book.