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1. The Great War ... - an audiobook review

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War by by David Almond, John Boyne, Tracy Chevalier, Ursula Dubosarsky, Timothee de Fombelle, Adele Geras, et al. | Read by Nico Evers-Swindell, JD Jackson, Gerard Doyle, Richard Halverson, Sarah Coomes, Nick Podehl
(2015, Brilliance Audio) is a powerful collection of short stories that view World Ward I and its repercussions from many different points of view.  

The link to my short review for AudioFile Magazine is below.  An audio sample is available at the link as well. Publisher recommended for grades 5 and up.




Note:
 I'm still working on a follow-up post to my trip to the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco. It was a great experience.

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2. Off to San Francisco!



I'm off to the annual American Library Association Conference today!  For conference news, updates, and insight, be sure to follow the ALSC Blog.  I (and many other ALSC members) will be live blogging from the conference on the ALSC Blog.  If you prefer, follow the hashtag #alaac15 on Twitter.

Cheers!

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3. Great Websites for Kids

If you're looking for useful, fun, or educational websites to share with your children, students, or library patrons, I urge you to check out Great Websites for Kids,
 sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).
Image from http://opencliart.org

Sites chosen for inclusion on Great Websites for Kids are curated and maintained by the Great Websites for Kids Committee.  Sites are searchable by eight main classifications (AnimalsThe ArtsHistory & BiographyLiterature & LanguagesMathematics & ComputersReference DeskSciences, and Social Sciences) or by keyword.


If you have a suggestion for a great site, you can submit it from the "Suggest a Site" link on the Great Websites for Kids page.


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4. Cody and the Fountain of Happiness - a review

I don't review many early chapter books, but I requested this one from LibraryThing Early Reviewers. because it's published by Candlewick Press (always a plus), and Eliza Wheeler's cover illustration sealed the deal.


Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb.  Candlewick Press, 2015.  Illustrations by Eliza Wheeler.

Here's why I like Cody and the Fountain of Happiness:
  • Cody's an average kid - Mom works in a shoe store, Dad's a truck driver, she argues with her older brother Wyatt, though it's clear that they love each other.
  • Cody is positive and decisive.
  • Her new found friend, Spencer, is an African-American boy with a super hip grandma. (The percentage of African American characters in early chapter books is rather slim, so this is a plus.)
  • Cody's mom and dad are positive role models.
  • Eliza Wheeler's illustrations are simple, soft, and expressive.
  • Spoiler alert! Mom gets a promotion at the shoe store. 

Here's an excerpt.  Cody is waking her brother on their first day of summer vacation and refuses to be daunted by his grumpy mood.

     "Want to go to the dog park and pick what dog we'd get if only we were allowed to get a dog?"
     Wyatt put his hands over his eyes.
     "No?" said Cody.  "How about we look for rocks and have a rock stand and use the money to buy a skateboard?"
     Wyatt slowly got to his feet.  He was very tall and skinny.  If he were a building, he'd be a skyscraper, but a droopy one.
     "Silencio," he said.  He toppled back into bed and pulled the covers over his head.  "You are causing me pain.  A big fat pain in my cerebral cortex."
     "Do you want some tea?"
     "No, Brain Pain. I want you to disappear.  Preferably forever."
     "I can't," said Cody.  "I promised Mom to take care of you.  I never break a promise."

Give Cody a try.  Though you may wonder about her peculiar fondness for ants, I think you'll like her, her family, and her friends!


My Advance Reader Copy is 151 illustrated pages.




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5. Picture Book Roundup - June 2015 edition

Enjoy a slide show version of this month's picture book roundup - a sampling of my new favorites!
 If the slide show doesn't work for you, I've listed the books below with links to my reviews on LibraryThing.

 

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6. ALSC Blog


I'm over at the ALSC Blog today with a post on my recent stint as a "virtual teacher."  Please hop over and read it. 



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7. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition

The story of William Kamkwamba is so inspiring that three books have been written to tell it. I listened to the audio book version of the 305-page, young reader's edition. 

My review of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
written for AudioFile Magazine, is linked here. 


I cannot recommend this one enough.  I hope you have time to read at least one version of this inspiring true story of a teenager who created electricity for his impoverished, starving village in Malawi with nothing more than garbage, an elementary education, an old borrowed Physics book (in a language that he did not speak or read!), and a will to make things better!
  1. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (William Morrow, 2009)
  2. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Dial, 2012)
  3. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Penguin, 2015)

Here are William Kamkwamba's two TED Talks.  They're short and well worth a listen.
[http://www.ted.com/talks/william_kamkwamba_on_building_a_windmill?language=en]


[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QkNxt7MpWM]

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8. Feet, Go to Sleep - a review

Welcome to the final stop on the Barbara Bottner blog tour for her latest book, 
Feet, Go to Sleep, illustrated by Maggie Smith and published by Alfred A. Knopf.


Fiona has spent the day at the beach and now it's time for bed.
"Time to say good night," said Mama.
"I'm not ready!" said Fiona.
"You've had a long day.  You must be tired, from your head to your toes," said Mama.
"Maybe just a little tired...."

This may be a bedtime story, but Maggie Smith's bright illustrations are richly colored and full of life. 
"Toes, go to sleep!" said Fiona.
Toes were for gripping flip-flops on the way to the beach.
Toes were easy.  They went right to sleep."

The illustrations feature bright and bold depictions of Fiona's earlier daytime activities, while the pajama clad Fiona is contrasted in a smaller inset box, growing wearier with each page until she is finally and peacefully asleep against a backdrop of evening blue.  Feet, Go to Sleep is an attractive combination of enjoyable and practical.

Although I was traveling, and did not have time to submit interview questions to author Barbara Bottner, she was kind enough to answer one question for me.  As a Jersey Shore gal, I was curious if Feet, Go to Sleep is based on any particular beach - perhaps one of Ms. Bottner's favorites. Bottner enjoyed frequenting Jones Beach on Long Island as a teenager, however, the location of Fiona's activities are not based on any specific beach, In fact, the book's location was added after the first draft. I have actually (succesfully) used the relaxation technique in Feet, Go to Sleep many times, although I've never needed it after a day at the beach. For me, a day at the beach is a relaxation technique in itself.  Ah, that salt air!

Previous stops on the blog tour include:
Feet, Go to Sleep by Barbara Bottner
Blog Tour Schedule



My copy of Feet, Go to Sleep was provided by the publisher.

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9. Monday Morning Miscellany v.9

I've been reading (and writing!), but no reviews for you today, just a few announcements:

Today is the start of  Scholastic’s #IReadYA week - a celebration of all things YA.  In support of this week, Scholastic will be holding daily challenges beginning today and running through Friday the 22nd. By participating in the challenges, you earn the chance to win #IReadYA prizes including: #IReadYA tote bags, tumblers and free YA books!


The fun daily challenges range from describing a YA book only using words that start with the same letter (e.g. Harry helps Hogwarts, hefting horcruxes), to sharing YA reaction videos/memes.


Some YA authors will also be participating with impromptu Twitter chats, Tumblr posts and more.

To become a part of #IReadYA week and take part in the daily challenges, click here:
Scholastic’s #IReadYA Week 

And on the topic of YA books, I attended a Penguin Random House Book Buzz event on Friday. Library of Souls, the final book in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series will be coming out in September.  The final cover will be revealed this month.  And coming next spring, is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiars, the Tim Burton movie based on the first book in the series.


And finally, today, as it is every Monday, you can visit the Nonfiction Monday blog to see what's new in nonfiction for kids and teens.


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10. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France - a review

You've heard the term mesmerized before, and you've likely heard of a blind study in medical research (in which study participants are unaware of whether they have been given a treatment or a placebo).  But do you know what these two terms have in common?  Benjamin Franklin!

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France
Written by Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. Candlewick, 2015

When Benjamin Franklin arrived in France seeking support for the American cause, Paris was all abuzz about recent advances in science, but one man in particular was drawing much attention - Dr. Franz Mesmer.  Like the invisible gas that was recently proven to buoy giant passenger-carrying balloons when burned, Dr. Mesmer claimed that he, too, had discovered a powerful new invisible force.


Dr. Mesmer said this forced streamed from the stars and flowed into his wand.  When he stared into his patients' eyes and waved the wand, things happened. 

Women swooned.

Men sobbed.

Children fell down in fits.
Mesmer and his practitioners claimed to cure illnesses in this manner, but was is true?  Or was it quackery?  King Louis XVI wanted to know, and Benjamin Franklin was sent to find out.

Mesmerized is one of those wonderful books that combines history with science and humor.  Using the scientific method, Benjamin Franklin was able to deduce that Dr. Mesmer had indeed discovered something, but not the something he had claimed!

Delightfully humorous and informative illustrations, a section on the scientific method (Oh La La ... La Science!). and a list of source books and articles make Mesmerized a triple-play - science, humor, and history.  Go ahead, be mesmerized!


*This post also appears on the STEM Friday blog today


STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
See all of today's STEM-related posts at STEM Friday.




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11. Terrific - an audiobook review

Below is my review of Jon Agee's Terrific as it appeared in the April 1, 2015 issue of School Library Journal.  The review was slightly edited from my original.  I didn't refer to Eugene as "the boy."  Eugene is definitely not a boy, as you can see by the cover illustration.  ;)

AGEE, JON. Terrific. 1 CD. 7 min. Dreamscape. 2014. $14.99. ISBN

9781633795112.

PreK-Gr 2--Eugene's life follows Murphy's Law--if something can go wrong, it will. And when inevitable misfortune falls, Eugene's favorite expression is a sarcastic, "Terrific." So, it's no surprise that when the boy's Eugene's cruise ship sinks, all the passengers (except Eugene) are rescued, and he finds himself on a deserted island with a talking parrot. "Terrific," says Eugene. Narrator Kirby Heyborne plays the resigned, older, and long-suffering Eugene perfectly with a mix of sarcasm and fatigue, and creates a suitably squawking voice for the take-charge parrot who will change his attitude. Sound effects including boat horns, construction din, and ocean waves complement the story. Though listeners will miss Agee's humorous illustrations, the CD includes a fun musical version of "Terrific," sung by Heyborne with music by the Promise Makers. The lyrics are slightly modified from the text to fit the upbeat rhythm and rhyme scheme of the song, but stay true to the original story. VERDICT Purchase this one for sharing with school or storytime groups, one with a copy of the print book.--


Copyright © 2015 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.


Listen to an excerpt from Terrific here.

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12. Graceful - a review

When I reviewed The Last Present by Wendy Mass, I wrote the following:
The Last Present is the final book in the Willow Falls (or "birthday") series, realistic fiction with just the right amount of magic, courtesy of Angelina, the mysterious old woman with the duck-shaped birthmark. Angelina is seemingly the architect of all that occurs in Willow Falls, the town where nothing happens by coincidence and everything happens for a reason. Readers of the series will delight in revisiting their favorite characters - Leo, Amanda, Tara, Rory, David and all rest, as their stories intertwine and the story of Angelina is finally revealed. ... I'm sad to see it come to an end. It's been great fun!
Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was sorry to see the Willow Falls series come to an end. In the forward to Graceful (Scholastic, 2015), Wendy Mass writes that her readers let her know "IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS" that they were not ready for the series to end.  Graceful (due out tomorrow) is a gift to her readers.

I think fans of the series will be happy with Graceful, in which Grace fills in (somewhat unwittingly) for the mysterious Angelina as the architect of all that occurs in Willow Falls.  This is a series about friendship and family and the cosmic connectedness of all things. It can best be described as magical realism, and it is a series that should be read sequentially.  Mass does her best to catch the reader up with previous occurrences, but the series is so intricately plotted that it is difficult to skip a book or read them out of order.

Willow Falls has been a great place to visit, but I think Ms. Mass is ready to move on now.  All of our questions have been answered and all loose ends are tied.  It's been fun!  Enjoy!

The Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass


My Advance Reader Copy was supplied by the publisher.

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13. Audiobook reviews

I recently reviewed two audiobooks with a peculiar connection.  Masterminds is a thriller set in the seemingly perfect town of Serenity, New Mexico.  The Way to Stay in Destiny is a character-driven novel set in the woefully imperfect town of Destiny, Florida.  Neither town is quite what it seems.  Click the links to read the complete reviews.

Masterminds by Gordon Korman.  Read by a cast of five(2015) 

[http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/98783/]
A contemporary science thriller set in New Mexico - a real page-turner!  This is the first in a planned series.  I'm not sure how he can top this one!



 [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/99246/]
Historical fiction set in 1970s Florida by the author of Glory Be. Another paean to the power of music.  (Try Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, too!)




I'm confident that either of these is great in print as well.

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14. Thoughts for a Thursday

I'm blogging at the ALSC blog today with a post on "Putting it all together" - books, technology, creative space, diversity, and kids.  Please hop over and check it out. 

In other news, if you haven't checked out the new lineup yet, SYNC will  be returning on May 7th.  As they do every summer, they will offer free downloads of classic books paired with current books with a similar theme.  Each week features a different pairing. Week #1 begins with Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, paired with Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

And finally, here's a link to an audio book review that I wrote for AudioFile Magazine.  I don't think I ever posted it here. The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio, read by Mike Chamberlain.  Brilliance Audio, 2014. 

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15. Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe? a review

I have to admit, that Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe? is the first I've read in the Who Was ... ? series.  When I first began receiving them a year or so ago, I thought that kids would be turned off by the caricature cover art.  I was wrong.  They have been quite popular for biography assignments. One reason is because Grosset & Dunlap (Penguin) was smart enough to make them each about 100 pages long.  (Teachers, I do wish you would be less strict with page counts, particularly in nonfiction.  Kids miss out on a lot of great books because they're trying to reach that magic number.)

In any case, I am pleased to see that the latest entry into the Who Was? series is writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, best known for her book Uncle Tom's Cabin, or for being, as President Lincoln said,  "the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war."

Rau, Dana Meachen. 2015. Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe? New York: Grosset & Dunlap.

The first chapter bears the title of the book, "Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe?" and gives a very brief synopsis of her life and its impact on history.  Other chapters elaborate on her personal life and her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin.  Today's young readers should find it fascinating that in an age before telephones, radios, televisions and computers, the publication of this one book made Harriet Beecher Stowe a wealthy and well-known celebrity in the U.S. and Europe, and it helped bring about the end of slavery by changing public opinion.

The book is illustrated with black and white drawings, and also contains several double-spread illustrations featuring background information that is necessary to gain an understanding of the era. These inset illustrations explain The Famous Beecher Family, The Underground Railroad, The Congregational Church, and Frederick Douglass.

The story of Harriet Beecher Stowe is a perfect illustration of the power of the pen. Hopefully, it will inspire young readers to seek out a copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the future.

Rounding out the book are time lines and a bibliography.

Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe? will be on a shelf near you on 4/21/15. My copy was provided by the publisher.


Following on the heels of the Who Was... series' popularity, there is a  What Was ... series and now, a Where Is... series.  Details on all three series may be found on the publisher's site.

Learn more about Harriet Beecher Stowe at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.  If you've never read Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, there are numerous free copies available in various formats from Project Gutenberg.

Today is Nonfiction Monday.  Stop over to see all of today's reviews.


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16. Picture book roundup - more funny ones!

Here are two new funny additions to add to my earlier post, Picture Book Roundup - new or coming soon!

We were reading these at work the other night.  All you could hear were laughs, chuckles, and "awww"s.


  • Dyckman, Ame. 2015. Wolfie the Bunny. New York: Little Brown.  Illustrated by Zacharia OHora.


This one had all the library staff laughing! Wolfie is the cutest little wolf in a bunny suit, but the star of this story is his sister, Dot. Doesn't anyone else realize that a wolf does not make a good brother for a bunny? Every time I read it, I find something else amusing in the illustrations.  See you at the Carrot Patch Co-op! (Bring your own shopping bag.)



  • Slater, David Michael. 2015. The Boy & the Book. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. Illustrated by Bob Kolar.

This wordless book about a book and a "rough-and-tumble" little boy will crack you up and then make you say "Awww!" It's sure to become a librarian favorite. You'll love the blue book (but "read" them all!)




Musing for the day: How does one become a wordless picture book author? ;)

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17. The Sittin' Up - a review

I would never think of "North Carolina fiction" as a genre in children's literature, but I seem to have read quite a bit of it lately. I picked up Three Times Lucky  because my daughter is attending college in North Carolina.  I loved it!!  Later, I had the good fortune of reviewing The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (also by Sheila Turnage) for AudioFile Magazine.  I can't say enough how quirky and wonderful and timeless these books are!

Another North Carolina book caught my eye last year (I love the cover art!) but I just got around to reading it.

The Sittin' Up by Sheila P. Moses (Putnam, 2014).

The premise for The Sittin' Up is an interesting one.  The year is 1940, and former slave, Mr. Bro. Wiley has died.  Stanbury "Bean" Jones is 12 years old, finally old enough to attend his first "sittin' up," an area tradition with similarities to an "Irish wake" or Judaism's "sitting shiva."  There is not a lot of action in The Sittin' Up - something I've seen it knocked for in other reviews.  I, however, loved the opportunity to take my time and get to know the rich personalities of the Low Meadows community, where they treat death with sorrow, remembrance, practicality, and humor.

Mr. Bro. Wiley lived with Bean and his parents, Stanbury and Magnolia Jones, and was revered by the everyone in the closely-knit African American community. Bean's father, a stutterer, is generally accepted as a leader of the community and is a foreman on the tobacco farm where many of the Low Country men work for the white, wealthy, Mr. Thomas. Bean's mother is Magnolia, a kind, commonsense woman with a baby on the way.

Other characters include Miss Florenza (the bootlegging sinner who dares wear red to a sittin' up) and Miss Lottie Pearl (Pole's busybody mother and Magnolia's best friend),

"Yes, Lord. Please help us," Miss Florenza said.  Miss Lottie Pearl rolled her eyes at Miss Florenza.  Poor Miss Florenza can't even talk to Jesus without Miss Lottie Pearl putting her two cents in.  

Bean's best friend is Pole (they go together like a bean to a pole), and there's the preacher (who is more concerned with fancy clothes, cars, and women, than his parishioners),

"I thought we were in a Depression," Pole whispered to me.
"We are." I whispered back.
"Look like to me Reverend Hornbuckle should have been thinking about how the folk at Sandy Branch Baptist Church are gonna eat come winter instead of buying a new car," Pole said.  Wasn't sure if the preacher heard my sassy friend, but she didn't seem to care.  She got a whole of Miss Lottie Pearl in her as sho' as Mr. Bro. Wiley was dead in the house.
There's also Uncle Goat the liar,
Ma swears Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in Northampton County.  Papa said that ain't so.  He said Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in the state of North Carolina. That's how he got the nickname Goat.  Ma says he eats the truth up faster than a goat eats grass.

Even Mule Bennett has a personality,
"I will never forget Mr. Bro. Wiley," I thought as we headed to town.  Mule Bennett must have felt the same way.  He was slowing down and barely lifted his head.  Papa kept saying, "Get-get, get up, mule, get up." But Mule Bennett took his own sweet time.
Mr. Bro. Wiley,the reader gets to know through the remembrances of the living.

Yes, this is a story about segregation and how a great catastrophe serves as a catalyst for change, but that is the backdrop for a story that is mostly about people - wonderfully flawed people - people who sometimes do the wrong thing, but choose the right one when it matters - people who know the value of dignity and community - people who find sorrow and joy and humor in the small occurrences of daily life  - people - just plain people - just like us.

I may have nothing in common with North Carolina sharecroppers of 1940, but these people "spoke" to me, nonetheless.  If you enjoy historical fiction with a character-driven plot, you'll love The Sittin' Up.



Next on my list of North Carolina fiction: Stella by Starlight. More on that one later.

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18. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch - a review

Barton, Chris. 2015. The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.  Illustrated by Don Tate.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is a nonfiction picture book for school-age readers and listeners.  More than just an inspirational story of a former slave who becomes a landholder, judge, and United States Congressman, it is a story that focuses on the great possibilities presented during the period of Reconstruction.

"In 1868 the U.S. government appointed a young Yankee general as a governor of Mississippi.  The whites who had been in charge were swept out of office.  By river and by railroad, John Roy traveled to Jackson to hand Governor Ames a list of names to fill those positions in Natchez.  After John Roy spoke grandly of each man's merits, the governor added another name to the list: John Roy Lynch, Justice of the Peace.

Justice. Peace. Black people saw reason to believe that these were now available to them.  Just twenty-one, John Roy doubted that he could meet all those expectations. But he dove in and learned the law as fast as he could."

Sadly, the reason that John Roy Lynch's story is amazing to today's reader is because the opportunities that abounded during  Reconstruction dried up and disappeared as quickly as they had come. The period of hope and optimism for African Americans in the years from 1865 to 1877, gets scant attention today. The life of John Roy Lynch is an excellent lens through which to view Reconstruction.

To make sometimes difficult scenes accessible to younger readers, Don Tate employs a self-described, "naive ... even whimsical" style.  It works well with the sepia-tinged hues that help to set the time frame.

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch is a powerful, historical reminder of what was, what might have been, and what is.

A Timeline, Historical Note, Author's Note, Illustrator's Note, For Further Reading, and maps round out the book.

Advance Reader Copy provided by








A reminder: Today is Nonfiction Monday.

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19. The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love - an audiobook review

My review of The Secret Sky as it appeared in the February, 2015, edition of School Library Journal. Author Atia Abawi is of Afghani descent and was a CNN correspondent in Afghanistan. Her insight into the life of a young Afghani girl is invaluable.

Young Adult
ABAWI, Atia. The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Lovein Afghanistan. 7 CDs. 7:45 hrs. Recorded Bks. 2014. $77.75.ISBN 9781490627403. Playaway, digital download.Gr 9 Up-- This story is told through the alternating viewpoints of three young Afghanis--Fatima, a Hazara girl on the cusp of womanhood; Samiulla, a teenaged Pashtun boy disillusioned by the "religious" teachings of radicals; and Rashid, a believer in the harsh justice and rhetoric of Islamic fundamentalists. On the path to the well, Sami and Fatima meet by chance, sparking a platonic affection that will place the young people, their families, and their village in danger. In a land where every action is scrutinized and measured, their blossoming relationship is a sinful affront to propriety that cannot be accepted. Abawi does not shy away from the frank realities of a woman's life in Afghanistan. Scenes of torture and murder may disturb sensitive listeners; however, they make the couple's faith in the possibility of a better life all the more poignant and miraculous. The employment of a narrator of each gender, Ariana Delawari and Assaf Cohen (both Arabic speakers with believable accents), heightens the distinction between the sexes that permeates every aspect of every waking hour for rural Afghanis. VERDICT A perfect choice for libraries seeking topical and diverse titles

 Copyright © 2015 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
###

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20. Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos - a review

Sisson, Stephanie Roth. 2014. Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the mysteries of the cosmos. New York: Roaring Brook.


In simple text augmented by word bubbles, thought bubbles, and sketches, Stephanie Roth Sisson gives us the highlights of Carl Sagan's lifebut more importantly, she offers a sense of his wondrous enthusiasm for the cosmos,

It gave Carl goose bumps to think about what he had learned about the stars, planets, and the beginnings of life.  He wanted everyone to understand so that they could feel like a part of the stars as he did.
So he went on television.


This is the first book that Stephanie Roth Sisson has both written and illustrated.  The fact that she is enthralled with her subject is apparent in the artwork. Painted cartoon images (often in panels with word bubbles), depict a happy Sagan, wide-eyed and curious.  While some pages are like panel comics, others are full-bleed, double spreads depicting the vastness of the darkened skies, dotted by planets or stars.  One foldout opens vertically, reminding us of our infinitesimal existence in the cosmos.  We are so small, yet we are reminded,

The Earth and every living thing are made of star stuff.
Star Stuff is a 2015 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award Honor book for "outstanding nonfiction for children."

Substantial back matter includes Author's Note, Notes, Bibliography and Sources, Special Thanks, and Source Notes.

Preview the first eight pages of Star Stuff on the publisher's website.

Note: 
Carl Sagan graduated from Rahway High School in Rahway, NJ.  As far as I can tell, he's not mentioned anywhere on the school's website. Pity.


It's STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
See all of today's STEM-related posts at the STEM Friday blog.

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21. Feathers: Not Just for Flying

As I've mentioned before, I had the great honor and opportunity to serve again as a second round judge on the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction book award panel for the Cybils Awards.  If you're not familiar with the Cybils awards, they are the Children and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.

Our judging panel chose the following as the 2014 Cybils Award winner for best Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction book:

Congratulations to Melissa Stewart,  Sarah S. Brannen, and Charlesbridge



The judging panel's description:
Using child-friendly similes, Feathers shows that there is both beauty and purpose in nature and that, although we do not fly, we have many things in common with birds, such as the need to be safe, attractive, industrious, communicative, and well-fed. The simple, large text is suitable for reading to very young children, while the inset boxes contain more details for school-aged kids. The scrapbook-style watercolor illustrations show each feather at life size, and provide a nice jumping-off point for individual projects. Science, art, and prose work together to make this the perfect book to share with budding young artists, painters, naturalists, and scientists, and it will be appreciated by parents, teachers, and kids.


Melissa Stewart's website offers teaching resources and activities to go along with Feathers.

Be sure to check out all of the Cybils award winning books (and apps!) at [http://www.cybils.com/2015/02/the-2014-cybils-awards.html ]

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22. Echo: A Novel - a review

If this is how the year is starting out, it's going to be a banner year for middle-grade books.  First, Gordon Korman's Masterminds (more on that fantastic new thriller another day) and now Echo: A Novel.

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. 2015. Echo: A Novel. New York: Scholastic.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of Echo from Scholastic and was intrigued that it was wrapped in musical notation paper and had a smartly-boxed Hohner Blues Band harmonica tied to it.


I was happy to see an apparently music-related book, and what somewhat surprised to find that Echo begins with a fairytale, "The Thirteenth Harmonica of Otto Messenger," a fairytale replete with abandoned princesses, a magical forest, a mean-spirited witch, and a prophecy,

"Your fate is not yet sealed.  Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed."

Though brief, I became enthralled with the tale and was surprised and taken aback when I reached Part One and found myself not in the fairytale forest, but in

Trossingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, 1933, home to the world's oldest harmonica manufacturer.  I couldn't wait to find out what became of the abandoned princesses, but soon found myself wrapped up in the story of young Friedrich Schmidt, a German Jew during Hitler's ascendance to power.  This kind-hearted, young boy of a musical family was surely destined to be gathered up in the anti-Semitic wave sweeping through Germany. I became engrossed in Friedrich's story, anxiously hoping that things would work out for him and his family, and was again surprised when I reached Part Two and found myself in

Philadelphia, 1935, home of the then-famous Albert Hoxie and the Philadelphia Harmonica Band, and of the Bishop's Home for Friendless and Destitute Children, where I found myself in the company of piano-playing orphans, Mike and Frankie Flannery.  Their story was no less heart-wrenching than Friedrich's, and I found myself desperately rooting for the young boys when I suddenly arrived

in a migrant worker's community in Southern California, 1942, where young Ivy Maria Lopez was about to play her harmonica on the Colgate Family Hour radio show, but her excitement was short-lived.  I fell in with this hard-working, American family and hoped, along with Ivy, for her brother's safe return from the war.

Of course, there's more, but this is where I will leave off.

Pam Muñoz Ryan has written a positively masterful story that will take the reader from the realm of magic through the historical travails of the infirm, the oppressed, and the poor in the midst of the 20th century.  Through it all, music gathers the stories together in a symphony of hope and possibility.  In music, and in Echo, there is a magic that will fill your soul.

It may only be February, but I predict that praise for Echo will continue throughout the year.


On a library shelf near you - February 24, 2015.

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23. Tricky Vic - a review

Pizzoli, Greg. 2015. Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower. New York: Viking.

In 1890, the man who would one day be known by forty-five different aliases was born to the Miller family, in what is now the Czech Republic.  His parents named him Robert.


Working both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Robert Miller was a con man of legendary proportions, becoming most famous for his "sales" of Paris' iconic Eiffel Tower. In addition to selling the Eiffel Tower (numerous times), Miller was a counterfeiter and a card sharp.

Yes, Robert Miller was a criminal of the worst order, but it will be hard for readers to remain unimpressed by the sheer chutzpah of the man.  It's a book that readers won't put down until they learn the fate of the legendary man who came to be known as Tricky Vic!

Not content with merely an intriguing story, Greg Pizzoli has enveloped Tricky Vic in outstanding artwork. The back matter includes an explanatory note about the unique combination of methods (including halftone photographs, silkscreen and Zipatone) used to achieve the book's dated, contextual feel.  Appropriately, the face of the elusive Tricky Vic is represented by a fingerprint stamp.

Back matter includes a Glossary, Selected Sources, Author's Note, Acknowledgments, and the aforementioned "Note about the Art in this Book."

Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher. Coming to a shelf near you on March 10, 2015.



Two reminders for this first Monday in March:

March is Women's History Month! Please visit KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month!  We've got a great month planned.  Today features author and librarian, Penny Peck.



Today is Nonfiction Monday.  Check out all of today's posts at the Nonfiction Monday Blog.


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24. Women's History Month and other things

March is always a difficult time for me to be blogging here because I spend many hours working on KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month! I do hope you'll check it out.  We spend a lot of time curating and maintaining the site, and our contributors are phenomenal authors, artists, librarians and bloggers that share a passion for women's history and children's literature.  So, if my posts are sparse in March, you know the reason.


That being said, I have been busy in other areas.  Today, you can find me just goofing around - blogging on the ALSC Blog.  I write a monthly piece there and try to keep it fun! 


Oh, and big newsfor Wendy Mass fans - there's going to be another book in the Willow Falls series - more on that after I've read it!

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25. Picture Book Roundup - new or coming soon!

This edition of the Picture Book Roundup features "jampires" (!), two Stanleys (one dog, one hamster), and a new Kadir Nelson book for which I can't find enough superlatives.  Enjoy!

If you can't see the slideshow, I've included my reviews below.

 

If You Plant a Seed is a brilliantly written and exquisitely illustrated book about kindness. Sparse but meaningful text, combined with joyfully detailed illustrations of plants, birds, and animals. I love it!


  • MacIntyre, Sarah and David O'Connell. 2015. Jampires. New York: David Fickling (Scholastic)

Who could be sucking all the jamminess out of the doughnuts?  Jampires!  Will Sam find jam?  Will the Jampires find their nest?  If you like funny, this is the best!


  • Bee, William. 2015. Stanley the Farmer. New York: Peachtree.

Stanley is a hardworking hamster. Illustrations and text  are bright and simple, making Stanley a perfect choice for very young listeners. Along the lines of Maisy, but with a crisper, cleaner interface.  Nice size, sturdy construction.



The Wimbledons can't sleep.  What IS all that noise?  It's only Stanley, the dog.  He's howling at the moon, fixing the oil tank, making catfish stew, ...?  Hey, something's fishy here! Classic Jon Agee - droll humor at its best.


Review copies of Jampires, Stanley the Farmer, and It's Only Stanley were provided by the publisher.

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