Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Empathy and fun make up the heart of The Sinking of Captain Otter

The Sinking of Captain Otter, by Troy Wilson/Illustrated by Maira Chiodi, (Oct. 2018, OwlKids Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781771473118

Ages 4-7

Kelpy is an otter who loves the sea and fancies himself a sea captain. He’s got the heart for it. The head for it. He’s even got the hat for it! Building a ramshackle ship from scraps, that’s everything he could ever dream of, he sails the high seas, despite the cruel jokes and jabs from pirates, sharks, other otters, even the waves themselves. Sure, he cries a little, but he loves his ship and that’s that. But one day, he meets Blistering Blastering Butterbeard, a teeny, tiny pirate on a teeny, tiny boat of his own, who challenges Kelpy. Well, Kelpy can’t help it: he laughs, too. And Butterbeard cries a little. And then he cries a lot. Kelpy knows he has to do the right thing, and proceeds to cut up his ship to make Butterbeard feel better, telling him that his cannonball sunk the ship. Face to face, the two adversaries know what they have to do: rebuild their ships and play on!

Captain Otter is a story about empathy and doing unto others (or otters, as the case may be): Kelpy knows what it’s like to be laughed at and poked fun at, so when he does it to someone else – and sees the repercussions of his actions – he makes amends, paving the way to a brand new friendship. It’s a sweet story whose repetition drives home the important points of the story, particularly persistence and devotion (“He loved his ship. He loved her from keel to cabin to crow’s nest. So he took a deep breath, straightened his hat, and sailed on”). Scuttling his own ship to make Butterbeard feel better is a completely selfless act that opens the door to a friendship between the two; something we see as the two laugh together, play together, and share tea together, along with a black bird that appears in the story. It’s a good story for storytimes and to start a discussion on doing what you love, and how our actions affect others.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Set sail with two picture books in March!

Tough Tug, by Margaret Read MacDonald/Illustrated by Rob McClurkan, (March 2018, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1503950986

Recommended for readers 3-6

Tough Tug is a scrappy tugboat, newly built and ready for action! He’s got his first big job – to pull a barge to Alaska – and learns that being a tug isn’t all about racing and bravado, especially in arctic waters! Based on the true story of an Alaskan tug that cut loose its own barge to rescue a floundering tug, Tough Tug sends positive messages about responsibility and helping others. Repeated phrases on each spread – Slide and Splash, Swirld and Twirl – get exaggerated font sizes and and lend a fun rhythm to storytelling. The digital illustrations personify the boats, giving them wide eyes and facial features, like eyepatches and mustaches. Kids who love movies like Cars will enjoy this fun add to vehicle/transportation picture books. Get your readers up and moving to this story like you would for Helen Oxenbury’s classic, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: swirling and splashing, painting and priming, using their arms and legs to wade through the story. Endpaper maps illustrate Tough Tug’s journey from construction to Alaska.

 

Ready, Set, Sail!, by Meg Fleming/Illustrated by Luke Flowers, (March 2018, Little Bee), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4998-0533-8

Recommended for readers 3-7

Are you ready for a day of fun on the high seas? Join this group of animal friends as they grab their life vests and head out onto open water in this adorable rhyming tale. The group rows out to their ship, sets sail, and drops anchor so everyone can have some island fun diving and exploring. At the end of the day, they head to town to tell their whale of a tale. Luke Fleming’s colorful art, with Meg Fleming’s jaunty rhyme and rhythm, make for rousing storytime reading. Pair this with some fun fish and marine tales, like Lucy Cousins’s Hooray for Fish, Kyle Westaway’s A Whale in the Bathtub, or Steve Light’s board book, Boats Go.

Meg Fleming’s book, Ready, Set, Build! is a rhyming tale about two friends who build a playhouse together; together, these two books could form a nice cooperative themed storytime.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

A Chesapeake Fable: Wind and Oyster Jack

Wind and Oyster Jack, by Marcia G. Moore/Illustrated by Heather Crow, (Nov. 2017, Schiffer Publishing), $14.99, ISBN: 9780764354229

Recommended for readers 6-10

Oyster Jack is a Chesapeake Bay waterman, out on his boat, Dinah, harvesting oysters. Their friend, Wind, helps them by lifting Dinah’s sails and allowing the boat to move. The weather is getting chilly, though, and Wind is cold. She asks Oyster Jack to share his coat and his blanket, but he can’t – he needs them for himself! – so Wind goes off to find a coat of frost, and a blanket of snow, that she hears about on Jack’s radio. They don’t fit Wind, and Oyster Jack and Dinah are stuck without Wind. Finally, Oyster Jack comes up with a solution that will make everyone happy.

This sweet story, set in the Chesapeake Bay area, is a nice way to introduce different areas of the States to readers, and a good way to talk about the different careers that flourish in different areas and environments. There’s an explanation of the skipjack – the type of boat watermen use when they go out harvesting – at the end, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a good section on the area’s geography and facts; the Maryland Sea Grant website has a section on the oyster trade and current restoration efforts. The narrative sounds much like a modern-day fable, with the Wind interacting as a living being with Oyster Jack; the resolution explains the windsock’s origin.

This is a text-heavy story, making it a good choice for older readers who can process deeper and longer text. The artwork appears to be watercolor and has an Impressionist feel. The wind has a visible face, and breathes in swirls that cascade through each spread. The light glimmers on the water, and the snow softly blankets the town. Most pages are full-bleed; a few exceptions for large blocks of text are plain, bright white. Bunches of oysters set the tone on the endpages.

If you want to introduce readers to the Chesapeake Bay area, this is a good place to start.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Only Girl in School is no shrinking violet!

only girl in schoolThe Only Girl in School, by Natalie Standiford/Illustrations by Nathan Durfee (Jan. 2016, Scholastic Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780545829960

Recommended for ages 9-12

Claire’s best friend, Bess, moves away just before the start of fifth grade, leaving her the only girl in her entire elementary school. To make matters worse, her other best friend, Henry, has just decided to stop talking to her, and replaced her with Webby (aka Webster), a colossal jerk! How is Claire going to get through this school year?

Told in letters from Claire to Bess, The Only Girl in School is a quick, fun read about growing up, friendship, and the hunt for pirate treasure. Claire is a funny and sympathetic protagonist, whether she’s lamenting the loss of the girl’s locker room, now the coach’s private office (“he probably likes having an office with his own shower in it”) or asking “Yucky” Gilbert – who has a tremendous crush on her – to crew for her for the upcoming boat race (“…the first and most important rule is: No Slobbering”). It’s a story about change: friendships change; being on the verge of leaving elementary school for middle school; and approaching the way boys and girls see one another. It’s also about how adults may treat boys versus girls, especially when there’s only one girl in an entire school: when there’s only one female voice, injustices, no matter how seemingly small, are overlooked a lot more easily, whether it’s removing a locker room where Claire can change or ignoring aggressive and chauvinistic behavior on a soccer field.

I like Claire: she’s smart, she’s athletic, and she’s spunky. She calls out unfair attitudes and behavior when she sees and experiences it, even if it’s happening in her own dining room. She isn’t going to let anyone get to her or make her feel badly for being the only girl in her school. She misses her best friends, but she doesn’t mope around school. She draws pictures on the wall in her “clubhouse” at school to journal her feelings but when her sanctum is invaded by someone who’s defacing her pictures, she takes it upon herself to act and launches an investigation. She’s a fun heroine, and the fact that she can inject snarky humor into her story should resonate with tweens.

The Only Girl in School is a fun middle-grade read and open the doors for interesting discussions about gender relations. Ask boys and girls alike to read it, and see what the different feedback sounds like. Read along with The Last Boy at St. Edith’s and compare the two main characters’ situations!