Review: George and the Big Bang

george-and-the-big-bangNever before have the mysteries of the Universe seemed so appealing than after reading Stephen and Lucy Hawking’s latest book, George and the Big Bang. Beautifully and engagingly written, this newest offering in the series is an exciting adventure that strikes all the rights chords for young readers. It’s jam-packed with fun, heart-racing capers, villains, a lonely pig and, believe it or not, lessons from the world’s most famous physicist. If you’ve ever read Stephen Hawking’s theoretical work, you’ll know how difficult it can be, at times, to wrap your head around. What’s utterly brilliant about this series is that Stephen, in partnership with his delightful daugher, Lucy, has taken his most highfalutin concepts and broken them down into understandable and downright appealing ways. As a university freshman, A Brief History of Time was required reading for all incoming students. Thus, I spent my summer slogging through his dense prose and, at times, mind-boggling theories. For a literary soul with nary a minute of experience with physics, his book was like reading an Ancient Sanskrit text without the aid of a translation. I recognized the brilliance, respected the man behind the ideas, but couldn’t quite decode the complexities of his imagination. With this children’s book series by Hawking and his daughter, it’s as if I’ve been given a second chance at understanding the Universe. In this particular book, George and his best friend, Annie, (isn’t it wonderful to see boy/girl friendships in children’s books?) are back at their intergalactic adventures courtesy of a super computer named Cosmos. Using portals offered by Cosmos, George and Annie begin this tale in a rather unexpected way: trying to find a new home for George’s pet pig. What ensues is a conspiracy of the most clandestine and sinister kind that involves Annie’s brilliant father, Eric, and his experiment to find the source of the Universe. Children will love the fast-pace, the space and time travel and will most likely be asking for a Cosmos of their own for their next birthday.

Eager parents will appreciate the fact that interspersed throughout the book are lessons and illustrations about physics – offering a fun and surprising way for kids to take the first step towards understanding Stephen Hawking’s brilliant mind.

In an interview, Hawking himself said that he hoped that the readers of this series would be open to reading his other, more complex, works when they grow up! I think he and Lucy have and will accomplish that (and might even inspire a few adults to follow suit!)

Wonder, or A Book Everyone Should Read

wonderOver the holiday break, I made a point of reading a few books (children’s and otherwise) that have long been on my to-do list. These included You Know When the Men are Gone (Siobhan Fallon’s utterly remarkable and heartbreaking collection of short stories centered around the military wives of Fort Hood) and Mrs. Dalloway (which I read every year just to be inspired). Also on that list was R.J. Palacio’s debut novel for young adults, Wonder. I’d seen this book on a number of “Best of 2012” lists for both children and adults and am always impressed when a writer can span the two audiences. Kathryn Erskine’s mockingbird is another of these books that speaks to any age – a brilliant, lovely piece which I hope to review soon. Wonder tells the story of young August Pullman, a ten-year old boy born with a severe facial deformity.  Homeschooled until this story takes place, Auggie has been protected by his lovable parents and sister with a fierceness and loyalty that any parent would exhibit in such a situation. Now, in an attempt to bring him out into the world and mainstream his education (both academically and socially), Auggie will take on new challenges as a 5th grader at an elite private school in his neighborhood. What unfolds is a story so universal in its pain and joy that every child and adult can relate. Auggie’s challenges, his ups and downs are, indeed, magnified by the extreme physicality of his differentiation, but the heart with which Palacio tells his story, makes Auggie an everyman…everyboy. Friends come and go, cafeteria seats are saved, then not saved, then pulled out from under him, until ultimately, kindness wins. This is an important book. One that every child and parent should read, even together as a means of opening up necessary discussions about interaction with one another. And in an era of bullying and teasing and taunting the likes of which we have not seen before, Auggie’s story is not only a beautiful example of the resilience of the human spirit, it is a reminder that there is always kindness in the world. It may take a while a find it, but it’s there, waiting with wonder.

Today’s Post: Thank You to Jarrett J. Krosoczka

preserve_wonderToday, in place of recommending a holiday book, I wanted to take a minute to thank one of the most gracious, talented and altogether wonderful children’s book authors around. Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of the inimitable Lunch Lady series among other amazing works, recently unveiled a piece of artwork in response to the tragedy in Connecticut. This piece, entitled “Make Magic, Preserve Wonder” is, to me, a true recognition of all that is most wonderful about children and all we must to do safeguard just that. This piece, which you can see above, was created by Jarrett to honor the beauty of childhood and the role that educators play in maintaining that beauty for the world. So today, in honor of Jarrett’s contributions, please take your child to a local library or bookstore and pick up one of his many, amazing books. From Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (my sons’ personal favorite) to Baghead to Max for President, Jarrett makes magic and preserves wonder with every word he writes and each picture he draws.

Best Holiday Books: A Christmas Carol (A Babylit Colors Primer)

xmas carol

A few months ago, I reviewed one of the unbelievably charming books in the BabyLit series – Romeo and Juliet: A Babylit Counting Primer (click here for the review). And now they’ve gone and done it again. The amazing literary team that is writer Jennifer Adams and illustrator Alison Oliver has created yet another instant classic in their holiday book A Christmas Carol: A BabyLit Colors Primer. This utterly adorable board book will keep your little drooling darlings delighted with its lovable drawings, all while learning their colors! Scrooge never looked so good, and the added bonus of a hidden mouse throughout the pages will keep even the most discerning baby literati on their toes. Now, I’m an old English major dork so the thought of board books based on classic literature is just about the most wonderful thing to happen. But you don’t have to be an Austen aficionado or a Dickens dilettante to appreciate the brains behind these beautiful books. If I were you, I’d buy all the babies in my life the full set of these. Adams and Oliver have covered many of the most beloved books, from Sense and Sensibility to Moby Dick, all the way to my personal favorite, Jane Eyre. (I always was a sucker for Rochester…) Honestly, I can’t think of anything better than these wee little books – perfect for your wee little bookworm.

Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books, or Second Only to FDR

In honor of my son’s second most favorite President (he runs closely behind F.D.R. for reasons we’ll get into later), I wanted to share with you a wonderful book about Abraham Lincoln. Abe Lincoln: The Boy Who Loved Books is the story of our 16th President and how the words he read as a child and the books that surrounded him led him to an extraordinary life. Lincoln has been much in the press lately, what with the recent movie starring Daniel Day Lewis, which my husband and I are eager to see this weekend. This book is a wonderful entrance into the life and wonder of Mr. Lincoln.  Little Abe, who practiced spelling in the dust outside of his log cabin, adored reading and this book captures all that is wonderful about a life filled with books. Children will not only learn cool new facts about President Lincoln, but will understand his simple beginnings that were made spectacular by his imagination and love of education. Kay Winters’ words and Nancy Carpenter’s beautifully painted illustrations make this book a classic. This is, by far, one of my favorite books on Lincoln and one I hope you will share with your kids, too.

When You Were Small, or Asleep in a Slipper

Sara O’Leary and Julie Morstad may be the finest writer/illustrator team since Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. Their utterly lovely book, “When You Were Small”, is a feast of words and pictures the likes of which I have not seen in some time. Henry is a little boy who, like most children, likes to hear about when he was small. So, his loving father, with a penchant for exaggeration and wit, spins tales of Henry’s infancy when he could sleep in his father’s left slipper and bathe in a teapot. The whimsy with which O’Leary’s words spill forth is perfectly matched by Morstad’s gorgeous drawings. This is a match (and a book) made in Heaven. I would recommend reading it every night…right after your warm and fragrant teapot bath.

What! Cried Granny, or The Crotchety Substitute

I recently substituted in a 2nd grade classroom (Miss Nelson has nothing on me!) and brought along this book in case there were a few free minutes to fill. Luckily for me, those darling children finished their math lesson with time to spare, leaving me plenty of time to share this, my favorite bedtime story. If ever there existed a book that truly captures the lengths that grandparents will go for their grandchildren, I offer Kate Lum’s What! Cried Granny. In it, a little boy is visiting his Granny for a sleep-over. When it’s discovered that the boy doesn’t have a bed, Granny comes to the rescue with hammer and nails and a few coats of paint. Need a blankie? Granny’ll dye the wool.  Come without your teddy bear? Granny will make a a giant one from scratch. My grandma Deedles used to scratch my back until I fell asleep. And my grandpa Pumpy used to stand in the kitchen with a white dish towel over his shoulder and make foot-high stacks of waffles for me and let me put as much powdered sugar on them as I wanted. And this book reminds me of those million little moments and smile. . I adore this book and so do my boys and so did my little 2nd graders who hooted and hollered when I read it out loud and use a crotchety old lady voice for Granny. The illustrations by Adrian Johnson are divine and the book speaks to the sheer lengths we’ll go to for the little ones we love…

This is New York

As the boys and I prepare for our Thanksgiving trip to New Jersey, we are anxiously awaiting a fun family day in Manhattan. Brunch with friends, a Broadway play in the afternoon, a drink at the Harvard Club…Heaven. And with the devastation caused by Sandy and the reminder to us all just how incredible and impermeable the spirit of that city is, what better way to celebrate this gorgeous metropolis than by reading Miroslav Sasek’s beautiful book, “This is New York”…one in a series of books dedicated to introducing young children to the most wonderful cities in the world. Originally published in 1960, Sasek’s inimitable illustrations of New York and the brilliant and irreverent way in which he shares the history of Manhattan are what make this book a must-have for any family. It’s a literal treasure-trove of all the best New York has to offer and, even today, could serve as a tourist map of must-see attractions. Find a copy, treat yourself to a one-way ticket there and give the New York Public Library Lions a pat on the head from me.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving, or The Unexpected Guest

Eve Buntings, “A Turkey for Thanksgiving” is my all-time favorite Turkey Day tale. In it, Mr. and Mrs. Moose are hosting Thanksgiving for all of their woodland friends. Mrs Moose sends Mr Moose out on an errand to get a real turkey for the event. Mr Moose is soon joined by Rabbit, Porcupine and Goat – all ready to get the turkey for their feast. As you  would imagine, poor Turkey is terrified – picturing himself roasted and stuffed to the gizzards. But what really happens, is as touching and heartwarming as any moment I can recall. A great read-aloud book for your younger guests that will make you hungry for more.