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Deborah Sloan’s delicious blog for librarians, teachers, and other gluttons for good books--all you can read (and write) about forthcoming children’s literature. The Picnic Basket welcomes school and library professionals to taste new and forthcoming children's books with first-come, first-serve sample copies of books for kids of all ages. Read the books, then post your reviews here for your colleagues to read.
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1. Texting the Underworld ▪ Middle-grade fiction


TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD
August 15, 2013   Dial   Ages 10 and up
This totally fresh take on the afterlife combines the kid next door appeal of Percy Jackson with the snark of Artemis Fowl and the heart of a true middle grade classic.
Story:  Perpetual scaredy-cat Conor O'Neill has the fright of his life when a banshee girl named Ashling shows up in his bedroom. Ashling is--as all banshees are--a harbinger of death, but she's new at this banshee business, and first she insists on going to middle school. As Conor attempts to hide her identity from his teachers, he realizes he's going to have to pay a visit to the underworld if he wants to keep his family safe.

"Got your cell?"
"Yeah . . . . Don't see what good it'll do me."
"I'll text you if anything happens that you should know."
"Text me? Javier, we'll be in the afterlife."
"You never know. Maybe they get a signal."


Discover why Kirkus has called Booraem's work "utterly original American fantasy . . . frequently hysterical." 



The story behind the story:  Author Ellen Booraem explains:  "I was researching another book idea, leafing through Abbey Lubbers, Banshees & Boggartsby folklorist Katharine Briggs, when a picture of a banshee caught my eye. It was a relatively young woman, hovering overhead and weeping. I was shocked—thanks to Walt Disney and a deeply fearful childhood, I’d always thought banshees were hideous shrieking specters. To the contrary, Briggs contended that they often were maidens who died too young, and who then spent their afterlives warning of impending deaths in their families.
Sounded like a book to me.

Each of my stories so far combines a human with a supernatural sidekick. It’s always the supernatural character who pops into my head first. I thought it would be fun to have a young banshee show up in an Irish-American household and see what happened. Obviously she’d be there because someone was about to die, so the most interesting protagonist would be a kid for whom that was going to be a big, big deal.

The result was Conor O’Neill, a twelve-year-old whose favorite person on earth is his grandfather. To up the ante, I gave Conor a potent set of fears (borrowed from his author): spiders, snakes, heights, closed-in spaces.

When the book starts, Conor is trying to get up the courage to squish a spider on his ceiling. Things go downhill (and underground) from there.

Praise:

“Booraem applies a light touch to her heavy subject . . . . But she doesn’t avoid staring death in the face, saddling her likably unlikely hero with an agonizing decision that, though framed in fantasy, is all too gut-punchingly real. Like Conor, readers will emerge from this adventure a little bit better equipped for heroism.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Complex characters, a moving story line centered on family and courage, and plenty of exciting moments make this an appealing read for those fans of tales mixing traditional folklore with contemporary life.” –The Horn Book

Learn more about the author via her website or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.  


And visit with Ellen on her blog tour tomorrow at The Modpodge Bookshelf. She's written a guest post on Being a Girl in Fifth Century Ireland. 

Order your reviewer's copy now.

8 Comments on Texting the Underworld ▪ Middle-grade fiction, last added: 9/5/2013
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2. If The World Were A Village: A Book About the World's People ▪ Non-fiction picture book

IF THE WORLD WERE A VILLAGE
by David J. Smith    illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
Available now   Citizen Kid /  Kids Can Press    Ages 8-12
The best-selling book which has sold over 400,000 copies in 17 languages – updated with new content and insights about the world's people. A Common Core Curriculum ELA Exemplar Title

“This book is about ‘world-mindedness,’ which is an attitude, an approach to life,” writes Smith. “It is the sense that our planet is actually a village, and we share this small, precious village with our neighbors. Knowing who our neighbors are, where they live, and how they live, will help us live in peace.”  -- author David J. Smith

Story: First published to wide acclaim in 2002, this eye-opening book has since become a classic, promoting "world-mindedness" by imagining the world's population – all 6.8 billion of us – as a village of just 100 people.  Now, If the World Were a Village has been newly revised with updated statistics, several new activities and completely new material on food security, energy and health. By exploring the lives of the 100 villagers, children will discover that life in other nations is often very different from their own.  If the World Were a Village is part of CitizenKid: A collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens.


David J. Smith, a teacher with more than 25 years of experience in the classroom, is the creator of the award-winning curriculum “Mapping the World by Heart” and the author of two other Kids Can Press books —
If America Were a Village: A Book about the People of the United States and This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World’s Children. He is now a full-time educational consultant. 


Shelagh Armstrong has been illustrating since 1987. Her work can be found on product packaging around the world, on coins and stamps in Canada and in many books and magazines. She has also illustrated If America Were a Village and This Child, Every Child. 

Story behind the story:  "I taught Grade 7 and the book originated with one of my students," says author David J. Smith.  The student needed to decide which language to take and asked his teacher which one was most important.  The student asked "Suppose our classroom represented the world, how many of us would speak English, how many French, how many Spanish..."  This one question provided the idea for the book.  "If the world were a village, what could we learn?"  You can hear David telling his story via this Meet-the-Author Book Reading at TeachingBooks.net.


Praise:
"This highly informative book will get kids thinking and asking questions." -- Booklist

"These days, the world seems to be getting smaller.  This timely, unique book enhances that sentiment.  It is useful for a current understanding of the world's population." -- School Library Journal

"Thought-provoking and highly effective, this world-in-miniature will open eyes to a wider view of our planet and its human inhabitants." -- Horn Book

★ "An eye-opener and a source of action." -- Library Talk, starred review

Awards
Association of Booksellers for Children Choices 
International Reading Association Children's Book Award
Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
Parents' Guide Choice

IF THE WORLD WERE A VILLAGE is a perfect choice when discussing global community and awareness, multiculturalism, and human geography.  You can "Make it Real," "Become World-Minded," and "Make a Math Connection" with this downloadable activity kit.




IF THE WORLD WERE A VILLAGE has been embraced by classroom teachers of all grades, elementary through college level.  If you've shared the book with your students, colleagues, we'd love to hear your thoughts and HOW you used it in the classroom.  Please share your experience with it in the COMMENTS field. 

FYI:  ALL THE REVIEW COPIES FOR THIS BOOK HAVE BEEN SENT.  CHECK OUT THE "COMMENTS" LINK TO READ WHAT YOUR COLLEAGUES HAVE TO SAY.

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3. Doll Bones ▪ Middle-grade fiction

DOLL BONES by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
May 2013   Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster   Ages 5 - 9
A doll that may be haunted leads three friends on a thrilling adventure in this delightfully creepy novel from the New York Times bestselling cocreator of the Spiderwick Chronicles.
Story: Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friends forever. And for almost as long, they’ve been playing one continuous, ever-changing game of pirates and thieves, mermaids and warriors. Ruling over all is the Great Queen, a bone-china doll cursing those who displease her.

But they are in middle school now. Zach’s father pushes him to give up make-believe, and Zach quits the game. Their friendship might be over, until Poppy declares she’s been having dreams about the Queen—and the ghost of a girl who will not rest until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave.

Zach and Alice and Poppy set off on one last adventure to lay the Queen’s ghost to rest. But nothing goes according to plan, and as their adventure turns into an epic journey, creepy things begin to happen. Is the doll just a doll or something more sinister? And if there really is a ghost, will it let them go now that it has them in its clutches?


BEHIND THE BOOK: Holly Black shares this behind-the-scenes info (really interesting story -- worth the read!):  "DOLL BONES is the book that I’ve been trying to write for a long time. It’s about a lot of things that are really personal to me—and it’s also about a lot of things that creep me out. I did two kinds of research for this book. The first kind of research was trying to get back at my own life when I was twelve. I was the kid who played dolls for way too long and didn’t want to give them up, even after my two best friends got more into music and boys. What I remember most viscerally is grieving over the lost dolls, the ones my friends played with who would never visit again. I still had my friends — and we had lots of new adventures ahead of us — but those people that they pretended to be would never come back. In talking about this book, I’ve been surprised at how many people have a story like mine, a story about being a kid who loved storytelling with friends and who hadn’t wanted to stop. About the moment we were shamed into quitting the game and dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood. A lot of those people grew up to be writers. 


The second kind of research I did was about the creepy part—about bone china manufacturing. I knew that I wanted the doll that the three kids have, the one that might be haunted, the one that they have to bury, to be made from bone china. I wanted that because bone china is made with ground-up bones— in the case of this doll, human bones. (Note: the bone char in actual bone china is cow. I am almost entirely sure that no one ever made bone china plates or bowls or coffee pots with human bone char.) There are only a couple of places in the US that ever manufactured true bone china. Which is how I wound up going on an adventure to East Liverpool, Ohio, a town famous for its pottery and about which I knew absolutely nothing else. I had one weekend, so I headed down to New Jersey, picked up my critique partner, Steve Berman, and we drove through the night to make it to a small hotel across the border in West Virginia. It was about four in the morning when we turned off the highway. Mist was rising off the woodlands around us as we drove through a series of wildly curving roads. We spotted a fence that appeared to be from the zombie apocalypse—too high to be keeping out only cattle, rusted, and ripped unsettlingly. At that moment, we turned a sharp corner in the road and saw the remains of an old building spray-painted with graffiti of dripping red symbols. This was the first time Steve turned to me and said, “turn this car around immediately.” It would not be the last. Now, look. I know what you’re thinking: that’s not so scary. Well, imagine the scene without a single streetlight, illuminated entirely by the headlights of my car, and with no houses for miles. It was pretty scary to us. So scary that Steve and I stopped talking entirely and just stared out the windows, waiting for a ghostly hitchhiker or headless horseman. 


We did finally make it to the hotel, which was brightly lit and perfectly ordinary. We checked into our rooms, laughed at ourselves for being scared, and slept until our alarms woke us. Then it was Saturday and time to go into town. I set my trusty GPS to the address for the Museum of Ceramics. As we crossed over the tiny, skinny bridge into East Liverpool, I realized I had no idea what to expect. The Museum turned out to be near the center of town, across the street from a gorgeous library, on a wide street full of shops and restaurants. There was only one problem— despite it being a beautiful Saturday morning in the Spring, almost every shop was closed. A small café stood open on one end of the road and several blocks over, a place called Pants Unlimited was having a going-out-of-business sale. (And yes, Pants Unlimited made it into the book—how could I have left a detail like that out?) A few cars were parked on the street, but there were no people anywhere. Ignoring that, we headed straight for our goal, The Museum of Ceramics. And lo, it was awesome! Within were beautiful examples of pottery crafted in East Liverpool from 1840 to 1930 and explanations of the processes, as well as the rise and decline of the pottery industry. We watched a short film and I took lots of notes. There was even another person there — or at least sometimes there were footsteps, and once I thought I heard someone’s voice. So, another person, or a haunted museum. On our way out, the nice woman at the desk asked us why we’d come to East Liverpool. “Oh,” said Steve, “to visit this museum.” 


Unfortunately, that was the wrong answer. She stared at us as though we were dangerous lunatics. There were several spots I wanted to visit: the kids, carrying their creepy bone doll, try to make the journey by bus (it does not go well) and must attempt to bury the doll in a cemetery (surprisingly, the cemetery goes better than the bus stop). I thought visiting a few local spots would be a simple process, but alas, we were led astray. No, I mean we were literally led astray. The GPS kept malfunctioning, trying to take us off cliffs and into bogs. ‘Turn this car around, Holly!’ Steve kept chanting. It became our musical accompaniment, varied with different lyrics: ‘‘Do you think the car is possessed and trying to kill us, Holly?’’ and “Didn’t we almost go over this very cliff ten minutes ago, Holly?” (Now that he mentioned it, that cliff did look familiar.) Eventually we made it to the place where the bus stop was supposed to be. I had the street names, and the exact intersection. We got out of the car and walked around and around. The Internet had sworn to me there was a bus stop there. Surely the Internet wouldn’t lie to me. “Let’s go into this bar,” Steve said. “Oh, good idea, let’s ask for directions,” I said. “Sure . . . that’s what I meant,” said Steve. Raucous laughter spilled out of the bar. Several people who lived nearby seemed deeply amused by the thought that there might be, or ever have been, public transportation available nearby. They seemed to feel that I was making a hilarious joke. I couldn’t believe that my twelve-year-old characters turned out to actually be better at bus travel than I was. At least they were able to locate a bus stop. We did actually make it to the cemetery. It existed. It was a perfectly ordinary cemetery, which at this point I found soothing—until we were leaving, when I noticed there were spigots that came out of the ground. They were drive-up spigots, as in we could literally drive up and serve ourselves a cup of water from one. I did not do this, because I (a) don’t travel with a water bottle to fill, (b) never drink water, even though I know I should, (c) thought that grave water might possess the bad kind of magic that turns you into a zombie, and (d) because Steve told me not to. In no way do I mean to imply that East Liverpool was anything but a great place. There was a lot of driving involved for me: I was delirious pretty much throughout. Everybody was lovely to me, possibly because I looked like an escaped lunatic who had somehow got hold of a notebook. 


I went to this place hoping to find stories, and I did: the last piece of my story was born there in the mist, the quiet museum of bones, the apparently imaginary bus stop, and, most of all, in the experience of trying to navigate unfamiliar (and sometimes scary) place with a friend. I found what I needed for DOLL BONES and, also, unlimited pants. I’m glad I went to East Liverpool. And, Steve, thanks for coming with me." 


PRAISE:


"A little bit scary and full of heart, this story grabbed me and wouldn't let go."

- Rebecca Stead, Newbery Award winning author of WHEN YOU REACH ME

"Doll Bones positions itself to look like a simple ghost tale about a creepy doll, then sneaks in an engaging, thoughtful look at the ramifications of adolescence and storytelling. Consider this the thinking child’s horror novel. A devilishly clever read from an author too long gone from the children’s book genre."

-- Elizabeth Bird, A Fuse #8 Production, SLJ blog

FYI:  ALL THE REVIEW COPIES FOR THIS BOOK HAVE BEEN SENT.  CHECK OUT THE "COMMENTS" LINK TO READ WHAT YOUR COLLEAGUES HAVE TO SAY.





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4. UNBREAKABLE ▪ YA fiction

UNBREAKABLE
by Elizabeth Norris
April 23, 2013   Balzer + Bray  Ages 14 - 18
In this heart-pounding sequel to Unraveling, author Elizabeth Norris explores the sacrifices we make to save the people we love and the worlds we'll travel to find them.
Story:  Four months after Ben disappeared through the portal to his home universe, Janelle believes she'll never see him again. Her world is still devastated, but civilization is slowly rebuilding, and life is starting to resume some kind of normalcy—until Interverse Agent Taylor Barclay shows up, asking for Janelle's help. Somebody from an alternate universe is running a human-trafficking ring—kidnapping people and selling them on different Earths. And Ben, with his unique abilities, is the prime suspect. Now his family has been imprisoned and will be executed if Ben doesn't turn himself over within five days. When Janelle learns that someone she cares about—someone from her own world—has become one of the missing, she knows that she has to help Barclay, regardless of the danger.

Now Janelle has five days to track down the real culprit. Five days to locate the missing people before they're lost forever. Five days to reunite with the boy who stole her heart. But as the clues begin to add up, Janelle realizes that she's in way over her head—and that she may not have known Ben as well as she thought. Can she uncover the truth before everyone she cares about is killed?
Story behind the story:  Author Elizabeth Norris gives us this bit of behind-the-scenes scoop:  "When I was teaching, I had a lot of students who said things like, “I hate reading” or “I haven’t read anything since Goosebumps in third grade.” (I taught high school English classes, so presumably anyone who had managed to get into Honors American Literature should have read something since Goosebumps.)

As a result I always prided myself on finding just the right book that changed their minds. Which means I know first hand how important it is for librarians and teachers to have books—and how much money it can cost (sometimes out of your own pocket) in order to maintain that.  So I’m giving away 100 FREE copies of Unraveling to teachers, librarians, or coordinators or programs that promote literacy. Enclosed with the book will be a hard copy of the discussion guide, and I’ll be happy to personalize the book for anyone who wants it personalized. (Signed books and anything by Jodi Picoult were the most commonly stolen books from my classroom library, so I won’t take offense if you don’t want my signature.)"  Since The Picnic Basket blog is all about sharing books with teachers and librarians, we just had to feature this title as the author feels similarly!

PRAISE: 
“Abundant plot twists and betrayals to keep readers on the edge of their seats.” (ALA Booklist )

“This high-stakes thriller-complete with mind-bending sci-fi twist-will hook you and never let go.” (Pittacus Lore, #1 New York Times bestselling author of I Am Number Four - on UNRAVELING )

“Leav[es] the reader wanting more and begging for a sequel to this multilayered debut.” (Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) - on UNRAVELING )

“Readers will enjoy the nonstop action and romance.” (School Library Journal - on UNRAVELING)

“If Veronica Mars snatched a case from Mulder and Scully, you’d get this fast-paced page-turner. With a heroine full of moxie, wicked surprises around every corner, and non-stop action, UNRAVELING is an irresistible thriller.” (Andrea Cremer, New York Times bestselling author of the Nightshade trilogy - on UNRAVELING)


Order your reviewer's copy now.

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5. PTEROSAUR TROUBLE ▪ Non-fiction picture book

PTEROSAUR TROUBLE
by Daniel Loxton    Kids Can Press   Ages 4-7
“Prehistoric creatures sport feathers, wrinkles, teeth and scales that are all rendered with hyper-realistic clarity and sharpness. … Dino devotees will devour this eye candy with relish.” –Kirkus
Story:  Follow the pterosaur, a majestic flying reptile, as he encounters a pack of tiny but vicious dinosaurs.  A unique blend of digital illustrations and landscape photography brings the ensuing battle to life.  PTEROSAUR TROUBLE is book two in the Tales of Prehistoric Lives series.  Dramatic stories + eye-popping visuals = a surefire hit with young dinosaur lovers.
Story behind the story: "The Tales of Prehistoric Life series," says author Daniel Loxton,"  strives to attain very high degree of photorealism — I want it to look like I just grabbed my camera and popped back to the Cretaceous in my time machine. To achieve that, I borrow a lot of tricks from Hollywood special effects and visual effects. But there's a big problem with that: Hollywood techniques tend to be very expensive, and work best with huge crews and huge movie industry budgets. We don't have any of that! 


The support and involvement of my own family helps to make that possible. My pregnant wife and young son and I spent days in a tent to capture the key Canadian location photography for Pterosaur Trouble. Those photographic plates get modified a great deal once I get them into my computer in the studio: I stitch them into massive panoramas; paint out the Coke cans and roads and human beings; replace the skies; add the creatures; and modify the landscapes as needed to serve the story. But the more I can capture in-camera on location, the easier and better the process is later. For example, the prehistoric animals in Pterosaur Trouble interact with the water of the river in the story, so it was very useful to capture a lot of splash elements on location. That way, the splashes of water accurately reflect the environment and lighting conditions of the location, so they look intuitively convincing when I add the dinosaurs. To generate those hundreds of splash elements, I drafted my son to spend hours playfully lobbing rocks into the water — nice work if you can get it!



The creatures I select for my stories are sculpted inside a computer as entirely virtual creatures by my collaborator Jim Smith. After expert feedback from our science consultant and a large number of revision cycles, I wrap realistic skin textures around them. That's a laborious, detail-oriented process. The skin texture maps have so much resolution that they're each equivalent to a 67 megapixel photograph! 

I hand paint much of that detail, but for realism it starts once again with photographic reference from nature: detailed photographs of modern living animals from zoos and preserved specimens in museum collections. Bats, pheasants, and herons were especially useful for Pterosaur Trouble.

Although these books are fiction for kids, they are nonetheless informed by the true scientific discoveries of paleontology. In fact, the basic conflict of Pterosaur Trouble was inspired by a specific fossil find from Alberta, Canada. Scientific accuracy is very important to me, to the extent that I actually went back into Ankylosaur Attack to make a correction AFTER it was published:  Throughout the process for Pterosaur Trouble and the third book (in production now), I've kept in close contact with our science consultant, palaeozoologist Darren Naish. He clears all of the basic plot points, reviews the creature designs, and checks the story for scientific accuracy.   See more here.

Reviews and praise: 


"Pterosaur Trouble is a terrific example of how to make a popular book on prehistoric animals both exciting and scientifically sound, an accolade that is all the more remarkable when you consider that a part of its targeted demographic is still learning to read....I get the feeling that real effort was made to render animals which would satisfy fully fledged palaeontologists as much as children. …  there are lots of little details to appreciate."
- Mark Winton, paleontologist, author of Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy (Princeton University Press, June 2013).


 “…the prehistoric creatures sport feathers, wrinkles, teeth and scales that are all rendered with hyper-realistic clarity and sharpness. … Dino devotees will devour this eye candy with relish.”
Kirkus

Read an interview with the author on Wired's GEEKMOM blog, and Scientific American.  Plus Daniel writes for Junior Skeptic, the 10-page critical thinking publication for kids bound inside Skeptic magazine.

FYI:  ALL THE REVIEW COPIES FOR THIS BOOK HAVE BEEN SENT.  CHECK OUT THE "COMMENTS" LINK TO READ WHAT YOUR COLLEAGUES HAVE TO SAY.

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6.

Daisy's Defining Day
by Sandra V. Feder
Available now   Kids Can Press   Ages 7-10  Grades 2 - 5
Book Two in the irresistible Daisy series which introduces children to the satisfaction of independent reading and the joy of playing with language.
Story: Daisy loves words, so she is delighted when Miss Goldner teaches the class about alliteration. When her neighbor Grant starts calling her Lazy Daisy, she decides to come up with an alliterative nickname so dazzling it sticks. As Daisy collects D words that describe her, she shows delightful determination in finding the perfect name.


Story behind the story: Author Sandra Feder offers this behind-the-scenes info on the Daisy series:  "Often I hear parents say that they want to raise children who are avid readers.  We all want our children to curl up on the couch with a book just as often as they reach for the TV remote.  But how do we get them there? With three daughters of my own, I have come to believe that the best way is to start with the building blocks of books – the words. Daisy is a normal kid who likes riding her bike and hanging out with her best friend. 

But what makes Daisy so special in the world of children’s literature is that the thing she loves most is words – she even keeps track of her favorites in her green notebook covered with purple polka dots.  My goal was to create a totally accessible and appealing character, in the hope that she will draw children into her world of words and reading in a natural and fun way.   Each book in the series deals with a different aspect of words and language.   

In Daisy’s Defining Day, the second book in the series, Daisy does what any word-loving girl would do when a neighborhood boy gives her a nickname she dislikes.  She uses her words to come up with a wonderfully long name for herself, so that everyone will forget the awful nickname. Because she’s just learned about alliteration in school, Daisy decides to make her new name alliterative.  I think all children can relate to Daisy’s delightful determination to tackle her problem with creativity and enthusiasm."

On her website, Sandra shares some terrific tips for teachers on using DAISY'S DEFINING DAY (including a great exercise for introducing the concept of alliteration) with students to help children develop a lifelong love of language and begin to understand, even at a young age, the fun and power of words.  Plus helpful ideas for librarians on how to help readers associate the library with books but also the words that are in them.  

PRAISE: 
"Transitioning readers, particularly girls, will enjoy seeing Daisy navigate the familiar shoals of elementary school in this better-than-average early chapter book." - Kirkus Reviews


“This delightful book not only takes us into the everyday adventures of a wonderful character, but it also explores the ways in which words affect us, and sometimes seem to take on a life of their own. Through Daisy, young readers will discover that words are not just inanimate things sitting on a page, they have the power to make people happy or sad. They can inspire and excite people, and they are full of possibilities.”– Through the Looking Glass (for DAISY'S PERFECT WORD)
“Daisy loves words. She collects them like squirrels collect nuts, ever eager to store her selections in her green notebook with purple polka dots . . . Daisy’s irrepressible but realistic enthusiasm for life is charming and irresistible. Her story is a perfect next step for children who have outgrown Jane O’ Connor’s “Fancy Nancy” books but aren’t quite ready for Andrew Clements’s Frindle.” – School Library Journal (for DAISY'S PERFECT WORD)

Order your reviewer's copy now.

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7. SPIKE: The Mixed-Up Monster ▪ Picture book (non-fiction)



SPIKE:  The Mixed-Up Monster
by Susan Hood  illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Available now   Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books   Ages 3 - 8
Meet Spike, a lovable monster—and a real-life salamander—who’s looking for friends in this lively picture book that includes Spanish vocabulary.
Highly Commended for the 2013 Charlotte Zolotow Award (presented annually to the best picture book text by the Cooperative Children's Book Center)
Story:  Spike is a scary-looking salamander who keeps trying to frighten other animals—until he finds that using fear is not the best way to make friends. And since Spike lives in Mexico (he is an endangered species called the axolotl), this story is peppered with easy-to-understand Spanish words. In addition to a charming tale of friendship, this picture book contains nonfiction information about the axolotl and a Spanish/English glossary.  As the Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books writes, "use this in a lesson on unusual animals, Mexican fauna, or possibly include it in a monster-themed storytime to throw a nonfiction twist into that popular theme."
The Story Behind the Story: I spoke with Susan and Melissa and they have LOTS to share about the making of this book.  Plenty of background that will be helpful in showing students what goes into the thinking of making of a book.  Per author Susan Hood:  "One day I stumbled upon this photo in a book about baby animals. I was dumbfounded! I couldn’t believe this pink Muppet-like creature with its blue eyes, feathery spikes and slight smile was real.  I discovered it’s a type of Mexican salamander.  And the more I researched, the more I was fascinated.
One Home In the wild, this impossibly cute critter lives in only one place in in the world—Lake Xochimilco in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico and its largest city.

The Peter Pan Effect Axolotls never grow up—just like Peter Pan! While most salamanders lose their gills and develop lungs for a land-based life, the axolotl never goes through metamorphosis. It lives its whole life and even has children as a teenage water baby.

Superpower  Axolotls has long been studied by scientists because of their amazing regenerative powers. Just as a sea star can regrow a lost arm, the axolotl can…get this!...regrow a lost limb, its tail, internal organs, even parts of its brain and spinal cord.  The fact that the axolotl is a vertebrate like us has enormous implications for science and medicine.

Ecological Peril Unfortunately, the lake where the axolotl lives is now a major tourist site called The Floating Gardens, and according to the Washington Post, a crashing ecosystem. A recent article in The New York Times reports that as result of this pollution, the axolotl is
critically endangered, about to go extinct.  And with extinction would go our window into the axolotl’s amazing biological traits.

Fan Base Given this backstory, I knew I wanted to write about the axolotl, but was convinced I would find a glut of children’s books on Amazon. Here’s what I found:


Pet Owner Guides: It turns out that many, many people keep axolotls as pets (see axolotl.org). 
They have more than 9,000 fans on Facebook!
A Mad Magazine connectionAxolotl” was one of the odd words Mad frequently used in comic strips, along with words like “potrzebie,” “furshlugginer” and “veeblefetzer.” Mad also published a poem about axolotls —a take-off on William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.”
An Adult Short Story: Like the narrator in Julio Cortázar’s “Axolotl," I was transfixed by this little guy
.  


So, I started writing. You might wonder why Spike is “a mixed-up monster.”  The name “axolotl” comes from the native Aztec language (Nahuatl) and means “water monstrosity,” “water sprite” or “water dog” after the Aztec god Xolotl. 

I thought Spike might have a little identity issue. In the story, he believes he’s a monster, given his slithery tail, spiky crown and stumpy teeth. So he acts monstrously, trying to scare all his friends. There’s only one little problem. Spike is no bigger than a lily pad. So no one is afraid of Spike. Then one day, when a real monster appears at the lake, Spike discovers his true nature and what it takes to make a friend.

The book uses a few Spanish words to reflect the Mexican setting, and includes a glossary. It also includes all the facts about the axolotl and the other animals in the back for the book.

I’m hoping that SPIKE can help call attention to the plight of the axolotls and support the efforts of Dr. Luis Zambrano, a biologist who is trying to save them."

And, if that wasn't fascinating enough, wait until you read (and see!) what illustrator Melissa Sweet has to share: "Susan and I had worked together a long time ago when I did illustrations for Nick Jr. When I got the call that she had written this book, I wasn't at all sure I could fit it in, but I was intrigued.Then I read the story, saw the picture of the axolotl, (who was preposterously cute!) and I was smitten with both.

Usually I do quite a bit of research for picture books, especially one with a nonfiction slant. 
Axolotls come in various colors and we decided that, since they are green in the wild, Spike would look best this color. The other animals in the story are also true to their species, but in my artistic style and anthropomorphized so they can have a lot of emotion and expression. The sketches in my dummies are notorious loose. It's hard to plan a collage--you just have to start."









"Sometimes when I set out to find the collage materials something shows up that will set the tone of the book. In this case, I found a paper with colored squares arranged in a grid in gorgeous, earthy-hues. That paper is used on the endpapers and throughout the book, even in the stem of the flower below: 




Our art director, Lizzy Bromley did such beautiful job with the book design.I was over the moon when I saw how she used the type on the jacket.  The hand-lettering in the book is done separately but I create it by drawing, painting and cutting out each letter. All books are huge team effort, and on this one everyone went the extra mile. We just wrapped up the Activity Guide for SPIKE which will be available on our websites. (Crafty kids, get your scissors out!).

Check what reviewers are saying: EarlyWord, Kirkus, 5 Minutes for Books, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Booklist, among many others.

Order your reviewer's copy now.http://www.wanderingherpetologist.com/mad-axolotl-poem/

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8. Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure ▪ Picture book

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure
by Wynton Marsalis 
  illustrated by Paul Rogers
October 2012  Candlewick Press  Ages 4-7
The creators of Jazz ABZ are back for an encore! With infectious rhythm and rhyme, musical master Wynton Marsalis opens kids’ ears to the sounds around us.
Story: What’s that sound? The back door squeeeaks open, sounding like a noisy mouse nearby – eeek, eeeek, eeeek! Big trucks on the highway rrrrrrrumble, just as hunger makes a tummy grrrrumble. Jazz Legend Wynton Marsalis combines the everyday sounds of doors creeking and clocks ticking, with the whomp’s and tlawk’s of classic jazz instruments to create a culmination of sounds that turns a lazy neighborhood into a concert in this exciting new book.
Story behind the story: Five years after illustrator Paul Rogers’ and musician Wynton Marsalis’ first collaboration with Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits, the creative duo present their new children’s book, which suggests the musical qualities of everyday sounds. By presenting two everyday sounds, and then an instrument that has a similar sound with accompanying poems, the story encourages children to take a closer listen. Marsalis reveals his inspiration, “When I read books to my kids I always animate the stories with sounds. So I started thinking about how everyday sounds we hear in our homes or on the street relate to the sounds of musical instruments.” Rogers hopes that the book inspires readers beyond its pages. He says “This is a book for children written by a jazz musician, and the poems are hip. I hope the drawings measure up to the words. We both hope children and their families enjoy it and listen to the sounds around their own neighborhoods in a new way.”

Read a conversation with Wynton and Paul here.

Praise for Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!:


“Loud and clear, the creators show how tuning into everyday sounds can inspire music. Clap, clap, CLAP!” – Kirkus Reviews, starred review
 “Who better to lead children in a celebration of sound than jazz virtuoso Wynton Marsalis? From the “tluck…tlock” of a dripping faucet and the “Chrrick chrrrick” of toast being buttered to the noises of trucks, drums, and washboards, the musician gives voice to the sounds enveloping an African American boy throughout the day…  This exuberant articulation of sounds both subtle and grandiose is sure to inspire closer listening and creative responses.” – School Library Journal, starred review


Order your reviewer's copy now.
  

4 Comments on Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure ▪ Picture book, last added: 10/25/2012
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9. The Jaguar Stones Trilogy ▪ Middle-grade fiction


The Jaguar Stones Trilogy
by J & P Voelkel
September 25, 2012  ▪  Egmont USA  ▪  Ages 10 and up
 “A fact-packed, thrilling ride. Rick Riordan fans will love it.” –Booklist (on the second book in the trilogy)
Story: As the world awaits the outcome of the Mayan Prophecy calling for the end of the world on December 21st, 2012, what better way to spend ones time than reading? And what better series to delve into than The Jaguar Stones by J&P Voelkel?Featuring 14-year-old Max Murphy from Boston, and Lola, the quick-witted Maya girl who teaches him to survive in the perilous rainforest, this nail-biting, middle-grade adventure introduces readers to Central American culture, history and so much more, all in a fun engaging manner. As we all await that looming date three months from now, Max and Lola must find the five legendary Jaguar Stones that gave ancient Maya kings their power-and save the world from the evil, cheating Lords of Death.

Story behind the story: As entertaining as the Jaguar Stones books are, so too are their creators, Jon and Pam Voelkel. Check out their web site for loads of interactive activities for the classroom—educational fun that will have students clamoring for more information as they countdown to the (possible) end of the world.

While Jon Voelkel was growing up in South and Central America, his wife-to-be, Pamela, had an altogether tamer childhood in England. They met while working at an advertising agency in London (The Financial Times named him one of the top fifty creative minds in Britain) and now live in Vermont. To research the Jaguar Stones books, the Voelkels and their three children have explored over forty Maya sites in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico; canoed down underground rivers; tracked howler monkeys in the jungle; and learned to make tortillas on an open fire. Jon’s most frightening experience was being lost in a pitch-black labyrinth under a Maya pyramid. Pamela’s most frightening experience was being interviewed by Al Roker on the Today show.

Author info, including blogs on their world travels, research for their novels and more: http://www.jaguarstones.com/Authors.html

Resources, including information on the prophecy, Mayan history, and FREE lesson plans: http://www.jaguarstones.com/Teachers2.html


The Jaguar Stones by J&P Voelkel (Egmont Publishing)
Book 1: Middleworld: In The Jaguar Stones, Book One, Max leaves his comfortable life in Boston far behind and heads for Central America in search of his archaeologist parents who have gone missing on a dig. Set against a backdrop of haunted temples, underground rivers and Maya magic, The New England Booksellers Council called Middleworld “funny, fast paced and entirely original.”
ISBN: 978-1-60684-179-2 (pb)

Book 2: The End of the World Club: In The Jaguar Stones, Book Two, the action moves from Central America to Spain, as Max and Lola set off on the trail of the conquistadors. As the rest of the world panics about the end of the Maya Calendar, only Max and Lola can avert the coming doomsday as they continue their battle against the Maya Lords of Death.  ISBN: 978-1-60684-307-9 (pb)


 “A fact-packed, thrilling ride. Rick Riordan fans will love it.” –Booklist

Book 3: The River of No Return: In The Jaguar Stones, Book Three, Max and Lola are back in the jungles of the Maya and the Death Lords are on the warpath. Can video-gaming, pizza-loving Max Murphy and Lola, his modern Maya sidekick, save the world one more time? Not if they can’t get past the zombie army, the mutant-cave spiders, the subterranean hotel, and some very dark family secrets.
ISBN: 978-1-60684-073-3 (hc)


Order your reviewer's copy now.  We can't wait to hear what you have to share...



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10. Who's In My Family: All About Our Families ▪ Non-fiction Picture Book

WHO'S IN MY FAMILY?: All About Our Families (Let's Talk About You and Me series)
by Robie H. Harris  illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Available now  Candlewick Press  Ages 2-5
Trusted New York Times best-selling author Robie H. Harris continues her series for preschoolers with a look at the many kinds of families that make up our world.
Story: "Harris and Westcott, who previously collaborated on Who Has What? All About Girls' Bodies and Boys' Bodies (2011), return with another matter-of-fact and sensitive informational book, this time not about the human body and sexuality, but about human families and relationships." (Kirkus Reviews) Join Nellie and Gus and their family -- plus all manner of other families -- for a day at the zoo, where they see animal families galore! To top off their day, Nellie and Gus invite friends and relatives for a fun dinner at home. Accessible, humorous, and full of charming illustrations depicting families of many configurations, this engaging story interweaves conversations between the siblings and a matter-of-fact text, making it clear to every child that whoever makes up your family, it is perfectly normal -- and totally wonderful.

Story behind the story:  I've known Robie Harris for years, ever since the publication of now mega-award-winning and bestselling IT'S PERFECTLY NORMAL, her first book with Candlewick Press.  So I gave her a ring and asked her about how this one came about:  "Ever heard a young child, who's looking at animal families at the zoo, blurt out questions such as: "Who's in my family?" "Was I adopted or not?" "Is our puppy and are my friends in our family?" I wrote WHO'S IN MY FAMILY? All About Our Families to answer those kinds of questions because we all also know that books can help to answer those perfectly normal questions and concerns that most young children have," says the author. 

Of course, since I can't draw for beans, this book would not have worked at all without the entertaining and age-appropriate art created by Nadine Bernard Westcott. We are just finishing up WHAT'S IN THERE?, the third book in our series. WHO HAS WHAT? is the first book. WHO'S IN MY FAMILY? is the second. All three books feature Gus and Nellie and their parents. We've become very fond of this family. Bet you will be too! 

You, the children's book librarian and teacher community, have been champions of my earlier books. Our community of children's book authors needs you. Without you, our books would not be accessible to children and their families. Thank you so much for that!"

Robie H. Harris is the highly acclaimed author of numerous books for children, including IT'S PERFECTLY NORMAL, IT'S SO AMAZING! and IT'S NOT THE STORK!, essential guides for younger children on bodies, babies, families, and health. She lives in New York City. Nadine Bernard Westcott is the illustrator of more than a hundred books, including WHO HAS WHAT? She lives in Massachusetts.

PRAISE:
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
“This book sets out to reassure children: “Wherever you live, wherever you go, there are all kinds of families.” As readers journey to the zoo with Nellie, Gus, and their family, they learn about where people live, what they eat, their habits and hobbies, and how their families are composed, including references to single parents and same-sex couples. The prose is unadorned and economical, but gentle, and perfect for very young children. Digitally created images are bright and welcoming and feature a host of multicultural characters and diverse families. The conversations between Nellie and Gus featured in speech bubbles alongside the illustrations sweetly reinforce the messages in the broader text: “Right, Gus. Don’t worry. I can be your big sister and your friend. And I am!” This book should find a place in classroom libraries, guidance offices, and public libraries.” –Alison Donnelly, Mississippi Valley Library District, Collinsville, IL
KIRKUS REVIEWS
“Narrative text and speech balloons introduce diverse family constellations in a celebratory spirit of inclusivity and community… the tone remains positive and affirming even as it acknowledges that “sometimes, families have mad times. And sometimes, families have sad times....A welcome addition."
Want a copy to review? Order your reviewer's copy now.  We can't wait to hear what you have to share...

[Robie Harris author photo credit:  Susan Kuklin]

3 Comments on Who's In My Family: All About Our Families ▪ Non-fiction Picture Book, last added: 10/16/2012
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11. The Tooth Mouse ▪ picture book

The Tooth Mouse
Susan Hood    illustrated by Janice Nadeau
Available now  ▪  Kids Can Press  ▪ Ages 3 - 7
This finely rendered fable introduces readers to France's version of the tooth fairy.
Story:  In many countries around the world, there is no such thing as The Tooth Fairy.  Instead, there is the Tooth Mouse!  This modern fable, set in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, tells how an aging French Tooth Mouse names her successor.  Can little Sophie meet the three contest challenges?  Can she prove she is the right mouse of the job of La Petite Souris?  Illustrated in gorgeous watercolors, the book includes information about tooth traditions around the globe.
The Story Behind the Story:  Author Susan Hood explains: "When I worked at Nick Jr. Magazine, I wrote a regular feature called “Kids Like You,” in which I interviewed young children around the world about their everyday lives. My husband connected me with the French family he lived with as an exchange student years ago and I interviewed six-year-old Sophie. Given her age, I asked, “What happens when you lose a tooth in France?” She said, “Well, you give it to the Tooth Mouse, of course!” I had never heard of such a thing! The more I researched, the more I found that many, many countries all around the world (Algeria, Argentina, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Morocco, Russia, Spain, Slovenia, South Africa, Switzerland, Venezuela and more) have a Tooth Mouse instead of a Tooth Fairy. Italy has both! In my research, I also found a 17th century story about the Tooth Mouse, La Bonne Petite Souris, written by Marie-Catherine d’Aulnoy, one of the most prolific fairy tale writers of the French Salons. It’s quite a long story and like many fairy tales, it’s filled with murder, deceit and revenge. I wanted to write a younger, gentler story—my own modern fairy tale—and yet include the quests and challenges I loved in books as a child. Et voilà! The name of my Tooth Mouse comes from the little girl who first introduced me to her. Merci beaucoup, Sophie!"

Formerly the content director for NICK JR. magazine, Susan Hood has written more than 200 children's books -- including two other picture books due out this fall: JUST SAY BOO! and SPIKE:  THE MIXED-UP MONSTER, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, winner of both the 2012 Sibert Award for nonfiction and a Caldecott Honor Award.  Illustrator Janet Nadeau lives in Montreal and is a three-time recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Illustration,

Canada’s most prestigious literary prize.  

WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:  


FROM BOOKLIST
"How charming is this?.... a unique ending that listeners and their parents will smile with the cleverness of it all. Nadeau’s art is clever as well. Using delicate ink lines and soft-shaded watercolors, she offers pictures that seem truly set in a world of mice. There is a lightness and sweetness to the art that makes every full-page picture and vignette a tasty yet smart confection. Those who’ve believed in the Tooth Fairy will happily make a place for the Tooth Mouse." (STARRED REVIEW)


FROM KIRKUS REVIEWS

"Beautifully executed…. Hood masterfully spins her story with lush language sprinkled with some French (which further impresses when read aloud). … Readers will pore over the exquisitely drawn details on each page.... With a nod to classic titles of years past, this provides a fresh, modern take on an itty-bitty heroine's achievement of her seemingly impossible goal."  
FROM PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"Like Katharine Holabird’s Angelina Ballerina, this effervescent story from Hood (the Pup and Hound series) stars a dainty, ballet-loving mouse, but Sophie’s life is a little edgier than Angelina’s. ... Sophie’s ballet skills come in handy, but her courage and intelligence win the day. Hood’s confiding tone and French asides are part of the book’s charm, while Nadeau’s (Cinnamon Baby) ink-and-watercolor paintings, with their delicate tracery and moody pink and gray washes, temper the story’s frilliness with just a hint of dark humor."

Order your reviewer's copy now.

We can't wait to hear what you have to say!

3 Comments on The Tooth Mouse ▪ picture book, last added: 10/3/2012
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12. ROYAL PRINCESS ACADEMY: Dragon Dreams Chapter book (illustrated)

ROYAL PRINCESS ACADEMY:  Dragon Dreams
by Laura Rennert  illustrated by Melanie Florian
Available September 13, 2012   Dial  Ages 6 and up
She's sporty, funny, and brave -- meet the one-of-a-kind Princess Emma!
Story: Emma is not your typical princess. She dislikes pink, would rather play soccer than go dancing, and secretly dreams of being a dragon rider. And so, when she hears the news that dragons in the kingdom are becoming ill, does Emma quietly wait around for her fairy godmother to save the day? Of course not! She makes a plan to solve the dragon mystery herself. With a helping hand from her best friend, Rapunzel, and a surprising new pal, Emma might actually manage to save her favorite mythic creatures...and possibly even the whole kingdom.
Story behind the story:  ROYAL PRINCESS ACADEMY is Laura Rennert's second book (her first, a picture book, BUYING, TRAINING AND CARING FOR YOUR DINOSAUR, was illustrated by Marc Brown -- yes of Arthur fame!) and I spoke with her about  the "why" behind this one: "Lots of girls go through a princess stage. My daughter Emma was no exception. First, Em adored everything princess-y, and then she wanted to be the least princess-y girl ever. This funny, relatable switch inspired ROYAL PRINCESS ACADEMY, DRAGON DREAMS.

Princess Emma comes from a long line of princesses (some of whom you'll know). She’s in her first year at the Academy, and, with the All-School Princess Contest looming, she doesn’t have a lot of faith in herself, because she is not your typical princess. For starters, Emma has a secret: she really wants to be a Dragon Rider!

Girls will root for and relate to Emma. She’s sporty and funny and still finds a way to be royally and truly herself. 

I love talking to kids, librarians, and booksellers, and am available to do events in person or via Skype." 


When she's not working on her own books, Laura Rennert puts on her agent hat -- she thinks of herself as a "literary omnivore" and specializes in all categories of children's books, from picture books to young adult, and in up-market women's fiction and narrative nonfiction. She represents award-winning and best-selling authors, including #1 NYT bestsellers Ellen Hopkins, Jay Asher, #1 NYT bestseller and Printz Honor Finalist Maggie Stiefvater, and National Book Award Finalist Kathleen Duey, as well as brand new, first-time authors.  You can connect with Laura via Facebook -- and to read a bit about what she has to say about agenting and writing, take a peek at mediabistro.com, A View from the Top, and Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog Cynsations.

But first, order your reviewer's copy now.

We can't wait to hear what you think of it!  



2 Comments on ROYAL PRINCESS ACADEMY: Dragon Dreams Chapter book (illustrated), last added: 9/23/2012
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13. THE NOVEL LEARNING SERIES ▪ Study Guides / YA Fiction


THE NOVEL LEARNING SERIES
Nicholas Sparks
Available now  Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group  ▪ Ages 12 and up
Bestselling author Nicholas Sparks creates the brand new NOVEL LEARNING SERIES to assist teachers in aligning to the English Language Arts (ELA) Common Core Standards and help teens prepare for college entrance exams.
Story:  We know that teens don’t like to be told what to read or how to prepare for exams.  When it comes to both reading and prepping for national tests, many teens groan over both.  We do know, though, that when kids like what they’re reading, they’re more likely to have reading and writing success.  They need 
to be moved by a book and its characters.

With over 80 million copies of his books sold worldwide, Nicholas Sparks is a household name to a generation of teens who have grown up devouring his books and eagerly seeing his films upon release.  With accessible language, emotionally resonant storytelling, and compelling moral questions, his books make excellent reading choices for both struggling and advanced teen readers.

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14. Bill the Boy Wonder ▪ Nonfiction (illustrated)



BILL:  THE BOY WONDER, THE SECRET CO-CREATOR OF BATMAN
by Marc Tyler Nobleman  illustrated by Ty Templeton
July 2012  Charlesbridge  Ages 8 and up    
This is the true story of how Batman began.
Story:  Every Batman story is marked with the words “Batman created by Bob Kane.” But that isn’t the whole truth. A struggling writer named Bill Finger was involved from the beginning, helping to invent Batman, his foes, and his haunting origins. Bill the Boy Wonder is the first book about the unsung man behind the Dark Knight. With the release of the new Batman movie this summer, this book is sure to be a hit with readers.
The Story Behind the Story: Marc Nobelman explains:  "The last line in the first panel of the first Batman story refers to Batman, but for at least a quarter century, it also applied to the man who wrote it: “His identity remains unknown.”



0 Comments on Bill the Boy Wonder ▪ Nonfiction (illustrated) as of 5/9/2012 10:35:00 AM
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15. Bill the Boy Wonder ▪ Nonfiction (illustrated)



BILL:  THE BOY WONDER, THE SECRET CO-CREATOR OF BATMAN
by Marc Tyler Nobleman  illustrated by Ty Templeton
July 2012  Charlesbridge  Ages 8 and up    
This is the true story of how Batman began.
Story:  Every Batman story is marked with the words “Batman created by Bob Kane.” But that isn’t the whole truth. A struggling writer named Bill Finger was involved from the beginning, helping to invent Batman, his foes, and his haunting origins. Bill the Boy Wonder is the first book about the unsung man behind the Dark Knight. With the release of the new Batman movie this summer, this book is sure to be a hit with readers.
The Story Behind the Story: Marc Nobleman explains:  "The last line in the first panel of the first Batman story refers to Batman, but for at least a quarter century, it also applied to the man who wrote it: “His identity remains unknown.”



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16. Love & Haight ▪ YA fiction

LOVE & HAIGHT 
Available now    Henry Holt / Macmillan    Ages 14 and up
Even in the land of easy love, some things aren't so easy.
Story: It's about old love and new love and free love. And what happens when two girls spend two weeks in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury in 1971, and one of them is pregnant and wants to be unpregnant.  Seventeen-year-old Chloe and her best friend MJ head to San Francisco to ring in the New Year, circa 1971. But Chloe has an ulterior motive—and a secret. She's pregnant and has devised a plan not to be. In San Francisco's flower-power heyday, it was (just about) legal to end a pregnancy.

As soon as the girls cross the Golden Gate, the scheme starts to unravel amid the bellbottoms, love-beads, and bongs. Chloe's secrets escalate until she betrays everyone she cares about. Her best friend who has doubts about Chloe's plan. Her groovy aunt who offers the girls a place to crash. Her self-absorbed mother meditating back in Phoenix. And, especially, the boy she wishes she'd waited for. 
Story behind the story:  Author Susan Carlton tells us "LOVE & HAIGHT is set in the waning days of San Francisco’s hippie movement, started as a valentine to my hometown. I grew up in the city and its suburbs, although I was too young for the Summer of Love by a good decade. Still, as a teenager in the ’70s I spen

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17. Love & Haight ▪ YA fiction

LOVE & HAIGHT 
Available now    Henry Holt / Macmillan    Ages 14 and up
Even in the land of easy love, some things aren't so easy.
Story: It's about old love and new love and free love. And what happens when two girls spend two weeks in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury in 1971, and one of them is pregnant and wants to be unpregnant.  Seventeen-year-old Chloe and her best friend MJ head to San Francisco to ring in the New Year, circa 1971. But Chloe has an ulterior motive—and a secret. She's pregnant and has devised a plan not to be. In San Francisco's flower-power heyday, it was (just about) legal to end a pregnancy.

As soon as the girls cross the Golden Gate, the scheme starts to unravel amid the bellbottoms, love-beads, and bongs. Chloe's secrets escalate until she betrays everyone she cares about. Her best friend who has doubts about Chloe's plan. Her groovy aunt who offers the girls a place to crash. Her self-absorbed mother meditating back in Phoenix. And, especially, the boy she wishes she'd waited for. 
Story behind the story:  Author Susan Carlton tells us "LOVE & HAIGHT is set in the waning days of San Francisco’s hippie movement, started as a valentine to my hometown. I grew up in the city and its suburbs, although I was too young for the Summer of Love by a good decade. Still, as a teenager in the ’70s I spen

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18. THELONIOUS MOUSE ▪ Picture book

THELONIOUS MOUSE
by Orel Protopopescu ▪  illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
Available now   FSG/Macmillan Kids   Ages 4 - 7 
Story:  Thelonious the mouse has got so much rhythm in him he can’t help letting it out. To his family’s horror, he won’t stop scatting and shimmying around the house, teasing deadly Fat Cat instead of collecting crumbs like the rest of them. But just as Thelonious's games become too dangerous, he find a most unexpected musical partner in this jaunty picture book with art and text that truly sing!
Story behind the story:  
Dear Reader,


Wrap your tongue around the rollicking rhymes in my newest picture book, THELONIOUS MOUSE, and you'll soon be scatting to the beat of his dancing feet. This jazzy mouse risks his tail and more to fierce Fat Cat, because Thelonious has "too much music in him to

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19. Scored ▪ YA fiction

SCORED
by Lauren McLaughlin
Available now  Random House Books for Young Readers  Ages 12 and up
You already know you're being watched. But do you know you're being scored?
"The most rounded, thought-provoking and pulse-pounding exploration of the surveillance society I've yet read." - Cory Doctorow
Story: Set in the future when teenagers are monitored via camera and their recorded actions and confessions plugged into a computer program that determines their ability to succeed, everyone is a number in this dystopian near-future.  Surveillance cameras track your every move while a software program scores you on your mental fitness. Score above 90 and you’re set for life--a full college scholarship and the career of your dreams. Score below 75 and you’re on your own.  Scored's reluctant heroine is Imani, a girl whose high score is brought down when her best friend's score plummets.  Where do you draw the line between doing what feels morally right and what can mean your future?  Friendship, romance, loyalty, family, human connection and human value:  all are questioned in this fresh and compelling dystopian novel set in the scarily foreseeable future.
Story behind the story:  Here's what Lauren McLaughlin has to say about the inspiration for SCORED: "I was living in the Hackney section of London a few years ago, a neighborhood that would later make itself known as one of the locations of the London riots. Not a posh neighborhood. Every day as I walked to the park for a picnic lunch, I’d notice piles of shatterproof glass on the ground and a few cars with smashed-in windows. The cars that thieves couldn’t steal, they’d merely break into and take whatever they could find. Then one day I noticed there hadn’t been any piles of glass or smashed in windows for a while. I also noticed on that day that someone had installed surveillance cameras up and down the street. They were obviously working. The thieves had moved on. I remember thinking this was a perfect test case for the effectiveness of surveillance in crime prevention. And the conclusion was obvious: put surveillance cameras everywhere and you could elimina

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20. All the Way to America • Picture book

All the Way To America: The Story of A Big Italian Family and A Little Shovel 
written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Available now  Knopf Books for Young Readers  Ages 5 - 8
The portrait of an Italian-American family from a beloved storyteller.
Story: This is the story of four generations of an Italian American family. It begins with an immigrant who came through Ellis Island with big dreams, a small shovel, and his parents' good advice: "Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and never forget your family."
Now, many years later, the man's great-grandson, Dan Yaccarino, tells how he succeeded, and how the little shovel has been passed from father to son—along with the good advice.
It's a story that captures the experience of so many American families. One that will have kids asking their parents and grandparents, where did we come from? Tell me your story.
Story behind the story:  Dan has written more than 30 books and earned numerous awards during his nearly 25 years as a published author, and All the Way to America is by far his most personal book to date. It’s his family’s story. Starting with his great grandfather’s immigration from Sorrento, Italy to New York, NY, all the way to his own son, Dan connects the four generations of his family through images, food memories, love of family and history, and a special shovel. The book is dedicated to Dan’s grandmother who was alive to see the sketches and confirm family stories, but unfortunately she passed away before the book was published. The shovel that plays such a pivotal role in the story, is now in Dan’s possession and will one day be in his son’s.

To hear Dan tell his story, watch this interview with him and Vicky Smith, editor of Kirkus Reviews, at the Texas Book Festival:




Can't get enough? Want to know even more?  Read this interview with Dan and John Sellers from Publishers Weekly, check out the teacher's guide, watch the trailer,  tell your immigration story here at the book's blog.


PRAISE:
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2011

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21. Calling the experts: reading tips wanted!

Calling all teachers, reading specialists and literacy professionals:  Ruckus Media Group, creator of award-winning interactive digital storybooks for children, is looking for reading tips to stimulate children’s love of reading, both inside and outside the classroom. Who better to write those tips than you, my expert librarian and teacher readers? No doubt you have some tricks up your sleeve to help kids and families fall in love with reading -- or practice reading basics without making it feel like work (or homework!).  Tips can be for emerging, beginning or independent readers -- or feel free to send suggestions for all three!
Email your creative reading tip and photograph to TeacherTips@RuckusMediaGroup.com and, if selected, Ruckus will credit the submission with your name and image, and post a link directly to your site or school if you'd like. Plus, you’ll also be eligible to receive a $10 iTunes gift card to select your choice of stories from the Ruckus library.  
Here are the rules, terms and conditions (make sure you read the fine print before entering):
  • You must be at least 18 years old to enter.
  • Photos (high-resolution jpegs at a maximum size of 100 KB) must accompany all submissions, and should include your name, title, school (if applicable), city and state. If

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22. THELONIOUS MOUSE ▪ Picture book

THELONIOUS MOUSE
by Orel Protopopescu ▪  illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
Available now   FSG/Macmillan Kids   Ages 4 - 7 
Story:  Thelonious the mouse has got so much rhythm in him he can’t help letting it out. To his family’s horror, he won’t stop scatting and shimmying around the house, teasing deadly Fat Cat instead of collecting crumbs like the rest of them. But just as Thelonious's games become too dangerous, he find a most unexpected musical partner in this jaunty picture book with art and text that truly sing!
Story behind the story:  
Dear Reader,


Wrap your tongue around the rollicking rhymes in my newest picture book, THELONIOUS MOUSE, and you'll soon be scatting to the beat of his dancing feet. This jazzy mouse risks his tail and more to fierce Fat Cat, because Thelonious has "too much music in him to

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23. Calling the experts: reading tips wanted!

Calling all teachers, reading specialists and literacy professionals:  Ruckus Media Group, creator of award-winning interactive digital storybooks for children, is looking for reading tips to stimulate children’s love of reading, both inside and outside the classroom. Who better to write those tips than you, my expert librarian and teacher readers? No doubt you have some tricks up your sleeve to help kids and families fall in love with reading -- or practice reading basics without making it feel like work (or homework!).  Tips can be for emerging, beginning or independent readers -- or feel free to send suggestions for all three!
Email your creative reading tip and photograph to TeacherTips@RuckusMediaGroup.com and, if selected, Ruckus will credit the submission with your name and image, and post a link directly to your site or school if you'd like. Plus, you’ll also be eligible to receive a $10 iTunes gift card to select your choice of stories from the Ruckus library.  
Here are the rules, terms and conditions (make sure you read the fine print before entering):
  • You must be at least 18 years old to enter.
  • Photos (high-resolution jpegs at a maximum size of 100 KB) must accompany all submissions, and should include your name, title, school (if applicable), city and state. If

    0 Comments on Calling the experts: reading tips wanted! as of 1/1/1900
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24. All the Way to America • Picture book

All the Way To America: The Story of A Big Italian Family and A Little Shovel 
written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Available now  Knopf Books for Young Readers  Ages 5 - 8
The portrait of an Italian-American family from a beloved storyteller.
Story: This is the story of four generations of an Italian American family. It begins with an immigrant who came through Ellis Island with big dreams, a small shovel, and his parents' good advice: "Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and never forget your family."
Now, many years later, the man's great-grandson, Dan Yaccarino, tells how he succeeded, and how the little shovel has been passed from father to son—along with the good advice.
It's a story that captures the experience of so many American families. One that will have kids asking their parents and grandparents, where did we come from? Tell me your story.
Story behind the story:  Dan has written more than 30 books and earned numerous awards during his nearly 25 years as a published author, and All the Way to America is by far his most personal book to date. It’s his family’s story. Starting with his great grandfather’s immigration from Sorrento, Italy to New York, NY, all the way to his own son, Dan connects the four generations of his family through images, food memories, love of family and history, and a special shovel. The book is dedicated to Dan’s grandmother who was alive to see the sketches and confirm family stories, but unfortunately she passed away before the book was published. The shovel that plays such a pivotal role in the story, is now in Dan’s possession and will one day be in his son’s.

To hear Dan tell his story, watch this interview with him and Vicky Smith, editor of Kirkus Reviews, at the Texas Book Festival:




Can't get enough? Want to know even more?  Read this interview with Dan and John Sellers from Publishers Weekly, check out the teacher's guide, watch the trailer,  tell your immigration story here at the book's blog.


PRAISE:
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2011

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25. Scored ▪ YA fiction

SCORED
by Lauren McLaughlin
Available now  Random House Books for Young Readers  Ages 12 and up
You already know you're being watched. But do you know you're being scored?
"The most rounded, thought-provoking and pulse-pounding exploration of the surveillance society I've yet read." - Cory Doctorow
Story: Set in the future when teenagers are monitored via camera and their recorded actions and confessions plugged into a computer program that determines their ability to succeed, everyone is a number in this dystopian near-future.  Surveillance cameras track your every move while a software program scores you on your mental fitness. Score above 90 and you’re set for life--a full college scholarship and the career of your dreams. Score below 75 and you’re on your own.  Scored's reluctant heroine is Imani, a girl whose high score is brought down when her best friend's score plummets.  Where do you draw the line between doing what feels morally right and what can mean your future?  Friendship, romance, loyalty, family, human connection and human value:  all are questioned in this fresh and compelling dystopian novel set in the scarily foreseeable future.
Story behind the story:  Here's what Lauren McLaughlin has to say about the inspiration for SCORED: "I was living in the Hackney section of London a few years ago, a neighborhood that would later make itself known as one of the locations of the London riots. Not a posh neighborhood. Every day as I walked to the park for a picnic lunch, I’d notice piles of shatterproof glass on the ground and a few cars with smashed-in windows. The cars that thieves couldn’t steal, they’d merely break into and take whatever they could find. Then one day I noticed there hadn’t been any piles of glass or smashed in windows for a while. I also noticed on that day that someone had installed surveillance cameras up and down the street. They were obviously working. The thieves had moved on. I remember thinking this was a perfect test case for the effectiveness of surveillance in crime prevention. And the conclusion was obvious: put surveillance cameras everywhere and you could elimina

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