Friday, February 17, 2012

Taconi & Claude: Double Trouble by Margot Finke

Taconi & Claude:  Double Trouble, a Chapbook for Tweens, by Margot Finke, is a wonderful addition to this genre.  The book is a coming of age story set in the 1950’s in the Australian Outback.  There’s a lot of Aussie information in the chapters to interest kids who wonder what it’s like “down under.”  I found myself humming “Waltzing Matilda” as I turned the pages and met fascinating creatures from that familiar song.  The story has strange words and phrases that are commonplace to Taconi (and defined at the end of the story).  Each time Taconi encounters one of the special critters from the outback, you are engaged and enter more deeply into his world and his conflict. 

Taconi is an aboriginal boy on the verge of his "man ceremony."  His best friend Claude, the talkative Cockatoo, accompanies him everywhere.  Taconi is caught between two worlds -- the tribal world he was born into and the white man's world he navigates with his Dad, a cook on the Coorparoo Cattle Station.  The old and new ways constantly bump into each other.  Taconi must learn white man's customs in order to fit in there and yet not lose his tribal heritage and connection.  His faithful though loud-mouthed pal Claude, talks a lot but also says just what Taconi needs to hear

As any other adolescent, Taconi wonders:  What will I be when I grow up?  What if I can’t endure the pain, and cry out at my “Man Ceremony,” humiliating myself and shaming my Dad?  Does Dad have my interests at heart or is he ignoring me as he pursues his goal?  These thoughts haunt Taconi’s dreams and worry him during the day.  Still he helps his Dad save the soup and also searches for the blue kingfisher tail feather with its powerful magic.  Eventually Taconi learns some important truths about his life that enable him to accept and acclimate to both worlds.

Transplanted Aussie Margot Finke captures the reader’s interest with her intense beginning, Taconi’s fearful dream.  As you follow Taconi’s story, you worry something awful may befall the outspoken Claude.  Or the ancient and menacing Medicine Man may harm Taconi, his Dad, or Claude.  Ms. Finke keeps the story moving, having Taconi deal with one problem after another as his wisdom and courage grow.  I commend Margot Finke for this exciting, entertaining story about a distant world in a different time, but with a timeless message about growing up and finding your own way.  This one is sure to be a favorite of kids here and “down under.” 

Available from Guardian Angel Publishing

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Golden Pathway, by Donna M. McDine, Illustrated by K.C. Snider

The Golden Pathway, by Donna M. McDine, with artwork by K.C. Snider, is a captivating book about a sore subject in American history – the anguish of slavery.  This moving story shows young readers the courage of one slave owner’s son, David, who rescues the slave Jenkins from a life of beatings. 

David helps Jenkins after each beating, but knows he must do more than cleanse wounds.  He has to help Jenkins escape or suffer a slow death at his father’s hands.  The story grabs your heart.  You hold your breath, hoping David won’t be caught by his mean Pa.  You don’t breathe until the end, when Jenkins gains freedom through the underground railway.  David’s compassion and bravery will inspire others to do the right thing in difficult situations. 

K.C. Snider’s sensitive artwork is the perfect vehicle to convey Jenkins’ pain, David’s courage, and the threat they live under.  K.C. Snider exposes the reader to the unvarnished truth, the reality of that horrid past in her artwork, but also shows us conviction and hope shining in David’s face.

Donna McDine has bared a shameful legacy for us to deal with.  She’s done it with tenderness and care, brought us face to face with that ugliness and made it personal.  Then she’s given us high purpose and bravery in David, the shopkeeper Mr. Stump, and his fellow Quakers.  Their quiet determination to right this wrong, at great personal risk, inspires and uplifts us all.  This award winning story is not to be missed.

Available from Guardian Angel Publishing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Horatio Humble Beats the Big D, by Margot Finke, art by Ellen Gurak

Horatio Humble Beats the Big D, by Margot Finke, illustrated by Ellen Gurak, is a humorous approach to a serious learning problem.  Horatio can’t read.  He wants to read, but words are all jumbled in his head.  His teacher diagnoses dyslexia and suggests a special education class, which Horatio dreads.  Finally, he is helped and learns to read all the books he’s always wanted to read.  This is a happy ending achieved through insight and hard work.

Using rhyme to convey Horatio’s learning disability and his ultimate triumph is just perfect.  My hat goes off to authors who rhyme.  Children love rhyming books--they’re fun for parents and teachers to read and even more fun for children to hear.  Margot Finke both entertains and enlightens.  This book helps children understand problems they and their classmates may have and offers hope of overcoming such difficulties.

The expressive illustrations by Ellen Gurak ensure readers understand Horatio’s feelings and fears.  On each page Horatio’s face clearly shows what’s going on as he moves from despair to success.  Even non-readers will "get it" just by “reading” these engaging pictures.

In the past dyslexia has caused enormous pain and lost opportunity for many.  It’s important that we are getting better at identifying and treating it.  This will open the wonderful world of reading and success in school for children who have this disability.  I thank Margot Finke for broaching the subject in a most gratifying and appealing way.

Available from Guardian Angel Publishing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Odd Chick by Mary Esparza-Vela with artwork by Kevin Collier

The Odd Chick, by Mary Esparza-Vela, artwork by Kevin Collier, is one of those books you grab thinking this will be a fun and enjoyable read.  You do get that and more.  You get a cute story, with playful artwork, that also has important teaching points.

Parents and teachers will enjoy reading the book to children because it’s a delightful, cute story, a twist on the ugly duckling tale.  An ungainly chick, Buki, hatches from a stray egg in the barnyard and tries to fit in as best he can, but is shunned by Rooster Rooty and the other chicks.  Buki is sad that his Da Da doesn’t love him.  He is left to find his own way.

Parents and teachers will also appreciate the lessons.  It’s okay to be different.  And don’t judge a book by its cover.  Even though we look different from our family members, we have unique talents and abilities that are useful.  Our differences aren’t to be feared, but celebrated.  Buki’s differences set him apart, but also help him save his adopted family from Freddie Fox and gain their trust and love.  The other important lesson is that nature requires animals such as vultures to keep our environment free of carrion that could spread disease.

Kevin Collier’s lively artwork illustrates the story perfectly.  The story’s characters are funny and funny looking.  As depicted by Collier, the characters show their emotions and bring the action to life.  Little ones will be able to follow the story through the pictures, even before they learn the words to read it for themselves. 

Thank you, Mary Esparza-Vela, for an entertaining new look at the continuing problem of understanding and accepting our differences.

Available from Guardian Angel Publishing.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Where did January go?

I was reluctant to change the page on the wall calendars (yes, I love calendar art).  Why not change?  Because I hate to see time fly, and didn't want to let go of January, since  I've made significant progress on three of my five New Years Resolutions:
(1) Eat Healthy:   Researched and chosen a good diet for me and followed it faithfully for nearly three weeks. 
(2) Exercise:  Increased my dog walking to one hour a day and added Oxycise (see Jill Johnson,  My clothes are fitting more loosely now!
(3) Get Organized:  Purchased file folders for 2011 and 2012, and started on filing (a two to three week process). 
However, I'm behind on my other two:  (4) Read More and (5) Write More. 

Feeling reckless or wanting to justify my poor progress on No. 4 and No 5,  I Googled "Happiness."  I was pleased to find help for at least No. 5, from Henry Miller on Writing, courtesy of The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin (see for her comments and insights).  If you haven't read this in awhile, let it be a happy and motivational refresher.

1. Work on one thing at a time until finished
Whoops.  I have two books in process right now.  Sorry Henry.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”
Apparently Henry had the same problem I have.
3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
Now this I can sink my teeth into.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
Okay, I fail here, since I have to have both time and mood to write, whenever that occurs.
5. When you can’t create you can work.
Gotcha -- work, work, work.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
I'm better at fertilizing -- the better to get into it.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
I can do this.  I need my human time as well as my animal time.
8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
I like this one better than Henry's number 5.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it–but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
We all like tidy, concise writing, don't we?  It's harder to achieve than it sounds from a master.
10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
Grandiosity (and Procrastination) is thy name.
11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Whatever happened to numbers 7 and 8, Henry?
Now I am inspired once again.  Bye bye January.  Hello Happy February!