Book List: Mythical Creatures

The sense of wonder is alive in children, and that may be the reason children love books about mythical creatures– unicorns, dragons, monsters, etc.  The pages of books are the perfect, safe places for these creatures to come to life.

When I began considering books to write about one title jumped out at me:  The Luck of the Loch Ness Monster a Tale of Picky Eating by A. W. Flaherty.  The reason is simple.  My granddaughter Abbie believes cereal, chicken nuggets, Pop Tarts, Cheetos, peanut butter crackers and a few other items make a wonderful diet.  I hoped this book would help me discover a way to get Abbie out of her rut, but it did not.  However, not for the reason you might expect.

Katerina-Elizabeth is a young girl who takes an ocean liner to visit her grandmother in Scotland.  Traveling alone, Katerina-Elizabeth discovers that her parents have ordered oatmeal for her every day.  Hating oatmeal, Katerina-Elizabeth tosses it out the porthole.  A sea worm “no bigger around than a thread and no longer than your thumbnail” thinks the oatmeal is a lovely treat.  You guessed it….Katerina-Elizabeth continues to throw her oatmeal overboard each morning, and the sea worm, growing constantly, follows the boat to get his breakfast. 

When the boat reaches Scotland it continues up the River Ness to Loch Ness and the worm follows.  Luckily for the worm, the children of Scotland do not like oatmeal either, and they also throw their breakfast in the water.

Several months later, a child spots the worm and calls it a monster.  Looking at his reflection in the water, the worm sees how much he had changed.  Tourists begin flocking to Loch Ness to see “Nessie,” and when Katerina-Elizabeth is sailing home to America, the most famous “Nessie” sighting of all occurs. 

The author, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a teacher at Harvard Medical School is a picky eater, as is one of her twin daughters.  The other twin is, like Dr. Flaherty’s husband, a normal eater.  In a section called “The Science of It All,” Dr. Flaherty explains the difference between Supertasters, Nontasters and average tasters.  She says that picky eating is often genetic, and most picky eaters are Supertasters.  She even provides a simple test to see which kind of taster your child or you are. 

Although I loved this book, I did not learn ways to help Abbie become an adventurous eater. More importantly, I realized Abbie must be a Supertaster, so she is not likely to change.  I’ll just relax and enjoy her.

One of the most beautiful books about mythical creatures is Pegasus by Marianna Mayer and illustrated by K. Y. Craft. 

Rainy Day
Creative Commons License photo credit: caroline.apollo

Pegasusis the story of the young hero Bellerophon and his quest. The king of Lycia has been instructed by King Proetusto kill Bellerophon, but the king of Lycia is fond of Bellerophon.  Rather than kill the young man outright, the king of Lycia devises a task which would inevitably lead to Bellerophon’s death.  Bellerophon is to slay the Chimera, a fire-breathing monster with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent.

Before beginning his journey Bellerophon consults a well-known soothsayer and is told that in order to be successful he would need the help of the winged, wild horse Pegasus.  As he is looking for Pegasus, Bellerophon falls asleep by the fountain Pirene.  In his sleep, a beautiful goddess appears to him and tells him of the importance of creating a bond of trust between the young hero and the winged horse.  Only with this bond will the slaying of the Chimera be possible.  Following the battle between the hero and the monster, Bellerophon marries the king of Lycia’s daughter.  However, the hero and the winged horse had forged a bond that neither would forget.

The illustrations in this book are exquisite.  Seeing the picture of Pegasus spreading his wings, you can almost feel the feathers and experience the horse rising into the sky.  The illustrations enhance the text to the extent that it is difficult to imagine one without the other.  The last page features the only round picture in the book, and it creates the feeling of gazing through a telescope at the constellation Pegasus in the night sky.  The illustration is both beautiful and thought-provoking.

Surely, unicorns are every young girl’s favorite mythical, magical creatures, and unicorns that fly are even better! Unicorn Races by Stephen J. Brooks features Abigail and her nightly journey to a forest to watch six unicorns race. 

Unicorn Dreams
Creative Commons License photo credit: seeks2dream

After being tucked in for the night Abigail gets up and puts on her princess dress, her princess shoes and waves her princess wand.  In a few minutes, the unicorn Lord William appears at Abigail’s window, and after she puts on her princess crown he flies her to the magical place where colored unicorns race and fairies and elves provide a feast sure to please any child—sundaes, cakes and cookies.  Following the feast, Lord William flies Abigail back to her room where she falls asleep dreaming of the next unicorn race.

The author Stephen Brooks is a former Federal Agent and “writes to comfort children.”  His books “provide enchanting worlds where children are safe to wander and explore.”  Linda Crockett’s illustrations bring this fantasy to life with beautiful colors and magic on each page.  Don’t just read the book—look closely at the illustrations for a special treat.

Let the wild rumpus start!
Creative Commons License photo credit: rgarwood

Perhaps the best-known book about mythical characters is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.  Max has been naughty and his mother sends him to his room with no dinner.  Alone in his room, a magical forest, the Land of the Wild Things, grows in his imagination.  Although Max becomes “King of All Wild Things” he is homesick and returns to his room where he finds his dinner waiting for him—still warm.

So whether you choose a book in the hopes of solving a dilemma like I did or just want your imagination to soar, these books are a great place to begin.  Enjoy!

Book List: Astronomy

One of my favorite quotations is from the astronomer Carl Sagan.  “Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known.”  I hope you will find something incredible in the HMNS book list  for April, featuring books about astronomy. 

Rainbow Guard
Creative Commons License photo credit: linh.ngân

Gazing at the sky, both during the day and at night, can provide endless hours of entertainment and awe.  Who has not lain on their back in the summer grass and watched the changing cloud formations?  The constantly moving shapes provide each person the chance to use their imagination.  “Do you see that tree?”  “What tree?  I see a bear.”  But at night things are different, as the sky is full of stars with patterns of their own.

A beautiful book about the night sky is Zoo in the Sky, a Book of Animal Constellations, by Jacqueline Mitton and illustrated by Christina Balit.  This exquisite book begins:

     
    “When the sun sets, darkness falls.  The stars appear one by one.  Then the sky turns
     to a picture puzzle.  What is hiding in the patterns of the stars?  Some people say they
     only see squares and squiggles, lines and loops.  But imagine hard, and the sky comes
     to life.”

Are you hooked?  I was. Ms. Balit’s colorful illustrations are incredible, and Ms. Mitton’s words provide the explanations.  Leo the Lionis pictured on the cover.  Ms. Mitton explains the constellation:

     “Leo the Lion is king of the beasts and lord of the sky.  In February and March he looks
     down from a throne high up the heavens.  Stars in his mane shine like jewels in a crown.”

Night sky
Creative Commons License photo credit: coda

You will also meet The Great Bear, the Little Bear, the Swan, the Fox, the Scorpion, the Wolf, the Bull, the Great Dog, the Hare, the Goldfish and the Flying Fish, the Whale, various birds and the Dragon.

Ms. Mitton has written numerous books on astronomy, but three other books similar to Zoo in the Sky are Once Upon a Starry Night: A Book of Constellations, Kingdom Of The Sun: A Book About the Planets, and Zodiac: Celestial Circle of the Sun, all beautifully illustrated by Ms. Balit.  Do yourself a favor and pick up one of these books—you might even decide to share it with children!

A totally different look at the heavens is provided by Tish Rabe who has written There’s No Place Like Space!, a Cat in the Hat Learning Library book.  Ms. Rabe begins in the style so familiar to all Dr. Seuss fans:

     “I’m the Cat in the Hat,
     and we’re off to have fun.
     We’ll visit the planets,
     the stars, and the sun!

Sound familiar? The Cat, his two willing passengers and Thing One and Thing Two visit all the planets, and you learn an interesting fact about each one.

     “Travel to Jupiter
     and you will find
     it is bigger than all
     other planets combined.”

You also learn a nonsense sentence to help remember the names of the planets in order: 

      “Mallory, Valerie, Emily, Meetzah just served us nine hundred ninety-nine pizzas!”

(Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)  The book also contains a glossary and table of contents, and is a cute way to introduce the youngest astronomy fans to the wonders of the universe.

No trip to outer space could be more fun than a field trip with Ms. Frizzle’s class on the Magic School Bus.  In The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System by Joanna Cole, the class is attempting to visit the planetarium - which is closed for repairs.  As the bus is returning to school it tilts back and the roar of rockets is heard.  “’Oh dear,’ said Ms. Frizzle. ‘We seem to be blasting off!’” and another adventure begins.  Besides learning about weightlessness, the reader learns facts about the planets, sun and moon.  For example:

     “Earth’s clouds are white because they are made of water vapor.
     Venus’ clouds are made mostly of a deadly yellow poison called sulfuric acid.
     Mars looks red because there is a lot of rusty iron in its soil.
     The sky looks pinkish because of red dust in the air.”

Solar System
Creative Commons License photo credit: tortuga767

Although a wayward asteroid cuts Ms. Frizzle’s tether and the Magic School Bus zooms away with the children, the students and teacher are eventually reunited for the return to school.  Later, the class prepares a chart of planets listing the name, size, length of rotation, length of a year, how far from the sun, how many known moons and whether or not there are rings.  Although listed as a planet in There’s No Place Like Space, Pluto is not on the students’ chart because Pluto is explained as a plutoid, not a planet.

Like all Magic School Bus books, this needs to be read carefully with attention paid to each illustration.  For example, a student holding a ball and walking around a lamp illustrates a planet rotating around the sun.  Or a student standing on a scale shows the difference between weight on
Earth and weight on other planets. (If you weigh 85 on Earth, you weigh 215 on Jupiter or 14 on the Moon.)

And remember, day or night, your imagination can enable you to travel to the planets—and beyond where “something incredible is waiting to be known.”

Book List: The forecast calls for reading

From Jurassic Park to A Brief History of Time, some of the best and most influential books ever written are science-based. Long before students get to Steven Hawking, however, books about science teach them to explore the world around them and inspire a curiosity that lasts a lifetime.

To encourage this spirit of discovery, HMNS provides monthly book lists on various science topics on our web site. Nonfiction and science-based fiction options are provided at three levels: 2nd grade and below; 3rd – 6th grade; and 7th grade and higher. In January, watch out for the weather and explore the science of meteorology. The forecast for our young readers is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Older kids can discover How Weather Works and ride along with Storm Tracker and Night of the Twisters. Choose a book from this month’s list to get inside nature’s fiercest storm as well as the most peaceful calm – and see what makes it all happen.

Susan, the museum’s Director of Youth Education Sales and a former librabrian, puts these lists together each month. She’ll share her inspirations for each month’s topic here; January’s topic: weather.

Galveston sunrise
Galveston, in calmer times.
Creative Commons License photo credit: millicent_bystander

Many books that feature the weather are nonfiction, but one notable exception is Devil Storm by Theresa Nelson. Although Devil’s Storm is the story of the Galveston hurricane of 1900, it is particularly appropriate for those of us in the Houston-Galveston area that experienced the destruction of Hurricane Ike last September.

Theresa Nelson is another author I am proud to call my friend. The second oldest of 11 children, Theresa grew up in Beaumont. Even as a child she wrote plays for her brothers and sisters—as the playwright she could always give herself the best parts!

During her freshman year at St. Thomas University in Houston, Theresa met Kevin Cooney and says she fell in love with him because he made her laugh. Kevin, an actor, and Theresa have three grown sons and three grandchildren. I first met Theresa fourteen years ago when she visited the middle school where I was the librarian to talk to the students. From the time she walked in the door, I felt that we had known each other forever. I have not seen Theresa for several years, but if she popped in today we would take up exactly where we left off.

Theresa talked to the students about the importance of writing about what you know. She showed them spiral notebooks where she wrote down this and that—words and ideas that would later become parts of a book. Students were just as drawn to Theresa as the teachers were because of her genuine enthusiasm for just about everything.

When she talked about Devil Storm, Theresa told the students that the book is the result of stories her mother told. The Nelson family would vacation on Bolivar Peninsula each year, and inevitably it would rain. Can you imagine trying to entertain 11 children indoors before the days of cable TV and video games? Storytelling was the answer, and so Tom the Tramp entered Theresa’s life.

Devil Storm is the story of the Richard Carroll family, who lived and farmed watermelons on Bolivar Peninsula in 1900. In addition to Richard and Lillie Carroll, the family consisted of Walter, 13, Alice, 9 and baby Emily, 1. Another brother, William, died of “the summer sickness” just before Emily’s birth.

Moonlight over Rice Lake
Creative Commons License photo credit: Derek Purdy

One summer night, Alice convinced Walter to walk to the Gulf to see the magical moonwater, and their lives changed when they spotted a campfire on the beach. Soon afterwards the children learned that Tom the Tramp had returned.

Tom, a former slave, was rumored to be the son of the pirate Jean Lafitte. He carried a shovel and an old “sackful of secrets”. Tom told the children he had been born in the middle of a “herrycane—Devil storm outa the Gulf,” and he would die when the Devil makes “another herrycane” that will carry everyone off.

As the story progressed you learn about life on Bolivar in 1900. In early September, Richard Carroll – not knowing a storm was coming – took a load of watermelons to Galveston. His plan was to spend the night with relatives before returning to Bolivar the next day. The next morning, however, he learned that until the current storm passed he would be unable to return home.

Lillie and her children were trying to ride out the storm in their house when Tom showed up and warned them “Ain’t nothing’ gonna be alive where we’re standin’ this time tomorrow….” Lillie, however, refused to leave, so Tom headed for High Island, the highest point on Bolivar Peninsula. As he walked through the storm Tom thought of losing his own family, and decided to make another attempt at saving the Carrolls.
Will the Carrolls agree to leave their home? If so, where will a mother, three children and a dog go in the middle of a storm?

Trolley Stop at Pier 21
Destruction following Hurricane Ike.
Creative Commons License photo credit: P/UL

As I reread Devil Storm, I was reminded of the pictures of the Bolivar Peninsula following Hurricane Ike, and the story had an even bigger impact than the first time I read it. Luckily, as bad as Ike was, the loss of life did not rival the 6,000 lost in the hurricane of 1900.

At the conclusion of the book don’t miss the Author’s Note about the real Tom the Tramp, buried in a family plot in Beaumont with this inscription:


 

TOM THE TRAMP
He alone is great
who by an act heroic
renders a real service

Theresa’s other award-winning books are The 25 Cent Miracle, The Beggars’ Ride, And One For All, Earthshine, The Empress of Elsewhere and Ruby Electric. You will learn more about Theresa at: http://www.theresanelson.net/

Book List: This month, dig into archaeology

From Jurassic Park to A Brief History of Time, some of the best and most influential books ever written are science-based. Long before students get to Steven Hawking, however, books about science teach them to explore the world around them and inspire a curiosity that lasts a lifetime.
 
To encourage this spirit of discovery, HMNS provides monthly book lists on various science topics, from “Leonardo da Vinci” to “Lizards and Snakes” and everything in between on our web site. Nonfiction and science-based fiction options are provided at three levels: 2nd grade and below; 3rd – 6th grade; and 7th grade and higher.

Susan Buck, the museum’s Director of Youth Education Sales and a former librabrian, puts these lists together each month. Starting with December’s list, she’ll share her inspirations for each month’s topic here.

The museum’s December book list features books on archaeology.  When you think of archaeology you generally think of nonfiction, but one of my favorite books on this topic, Kokopelli’s Flute by Will Hobbs is a fantasy book.

In my “former life” I was a middle school librarian, and one of the great joys of that job was the opportunity to meet incredible authors who became friends.  I am proud to list Will Hobbs and his wife Jean among them. 

Several teachers at my school were using Will’s novels in their classrooms, so I invited him to speak to the students.  A former language arts teacher, Will was right at home, and the middle schoolers were immediately drawn to his easy-going style…and they loved his books.

When Kokopelli’s Flute was published, I was fascinated because Will generally writes about outdoor adventures, many of which he had shared with nieces and nephews. 

 My dog Nanny on the right

The cover of the first edition of Kokopelli’s Flute featured a picture of Tepary Jones, the main character, playing a flute.  However, Tep’s golden retriever, Dusty, did not appear on the cover – even through Dusty had a significant role in the book. 

At that time, our family had the most wonderful golden retriever, Nanny, so Nanny “wrote” a book review that I sent to Will.  The gist of the review was that Nanny loved the book, but felt slighted that Dusty, who plays such a significant role in the book, was not featured on the cover.  The next time Will visited my school I took him to my house to be photographed with Nanny.  Ironically, when I began research for this article I discovered that the cover of the paperback edition features both Tep and Dusty.  Authors tell me that they have no input into the covers of their books, but seeing the picture brought back special memories!

The cover of Kokopelli’s Flute,
reproduced here with permission.

In Kokopelli’s Flute, Tepary Jones and his golden retriever Dusty are camping out at the Picture House, an ancient Anasazi cliff dwelling not far from his father’s seed farm in northern New Mexico, to view a total eclipse of the moon when they encounter pothunters. After scaring them away, Tep cannot resist taking the small eagle bone flute the thieves left behind.  Playing the ancient flute is the beginning of a fascinating story, for Tep triggers his gift as a changeling, and each night after dark, he becomes a pack rat.

Tep’s parents are scientists who have taught their son the joys of nature and an appreciation of the history that surrounds them.  It is very easy to like this family who are so devoted to each other.
As readers become involved in the story they suspend disbelief, so the fantasy works—especially when a mysterious stranger arrives at the farm.  Kokopelli’s Flute has a strong environmental message and readers will remember Tep’s and Dusty’s special relationship long after the book is closed.

Will Hobbs is the author of seventeen novels for upper elementary, middle school and young adult readers, as well as two picture book stories. Seven of his novels, Bearstone, Downriver, The Big Wander, Beardance, Far North, The Maze, and Jason’s Gold, were named Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association. ALA also named Far North and Downriver to their list of the 100 Best Young Adult Books of the Twentieth Century. Ghost Canoe received the Edgar Allan Poe Award in l998 for Best Young Adult Mystery. Will’s books have won many other awards, including the California Young Reader Medal, the Western Writers of America Spur Award, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, the Colorado Book Award, and nominations to state award lists in over thirty states.

Other books by Will Hobbs:  Changes in Latitudes (1988), Bearstone (l989), Downriver (l991), The Big Wander (l992), Beardance (l993), Far North (l996), Ghost Canoe (l997), River Thunder (l997), The Maze (l998), Jason’s Gold (l999), Down the Yukon (2001), Wild Man Island (2002), Jackie’s Wild Seattle (2003), Leaving Protection (2004), Crossing the Wire (2006), Go Big or Go Home (2008), and picture books Beardream (l997), Howling Hill (l998) .

You can get to know Will Hobbs better by reading the questions and answers posted on his Web site.