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Recommended for ages 7-12.
In this picture book for older readers. Tracey Fern
tells the little-known story of Eleanor Prentiss, an extraordinary woman who not only navigated a clipper ship but also set a record for the fastest time from New York to San Francisco, navigating around Cape Horn in a record-breaking 89 days, 21 hours.
If you're an avid movie-goer like I am, you may have seen the two major films this year set at sea, Captain Phillips
and All is Lost
. Such movies always make me think about the "olden days," when sailors navigated by the stars and a sextant. Doesn't it seem incredible? Even more incredible (but true) is the life of Eleanor Prentiss, born the daughter of a sea captain in 1814 and taught everything about ships, including navigation, by her father, perhaps because he had no sons. Certainly this education was highly unusual for a 19th century girl. The sea was in Ellen's blood, and, not surprisingly, she married a sea captain, who took her along on his merchant ships as her navigator.
When Ellen's husband was given command of a new, super-fast clipper ship, Ellen seized the opportunity to get as quickly as possible from New York to the tip of South America to San Francisco and the Gold Rush. Speed was of the essence for those looking for riches in the gold fields of California. The book portrays the considerable dangers of the voyage, including a period when the ship was becalmed (no wind, no movement!) and also the perilous stormy waters of the Cape. Fern does a terrific job of capturing the excitement of the journey, and Ellen's triumph when she sets a world record for the fastest time for this 15,000 mile voyage. The book is greatly enhanced by the beautiful water-color paintings of Caldecott-winning artist Emily Arnold McCully
. The seascapes, and particularly the scenes of storms, are particularly effective. Back matter includes an author's note with further historical information, and suggestions for further reading, both books and websites, a glossary, and end pages which show a map of the Flying Cloud's 1851 Voyage.
Highly recommended for Women's History Month and for those looking for stories of strong, heroic women and girls!
Recommended for ages 12 and up.A Death-Struck Year
is an excellent historical novel for teens from debut author Makiia Lucier
about the 1918 flu epidemic, which continues to fascinate and frighten into the 21st century. As the novel opens, we meet Cleo, a 17-year old orphan who's being raised by her older brother and his wife. She's a student at a ritzy girls' boarding school in Portland when the flu epidemic begins in the United States, but despite the dire news reports about the epidemic striking East Coast cities, she feels safe enough 3000 miles away in Portland.
But when a train filled with soldiers coming home from "The Great War" brings the epidemic to the West Coast, the influenza quickly spreads and Cleo's school is shut down, with girls that have no family at home quarantined at the school. Telling no one that her brother and his wife are out of town, Cleo escapes to her own home, where she lives alone--just for a few days, she thinks, until their housekeeper returns from a trip out of town. But when the epidemic strikes in force, Cleo decides to volunteer with the Red Cross, putting herself in harms' way but feeling a strong pull to help out in some way. This being a YA novel, she meets a handsome young medical student with whom she falls in love. The Red Cross volunteers are not immune to the flu epidemic, despite wearing masks (which did little if nothing to protect them). What will happen to Cleo and her new brave friends?
This is a well-researched and compelling historical novel that will appeal to teens 13 and up. It paints a realistic view of the tragedy of the 1918 flu, which struck particularly hard at healthy young people, as well as children and the elderly. The author does not try to spare the reader's feelings, and be prepared with some tissues to deal with the many tragedies described. Highly recommended, particularly for those teen readers looking beyond the plethora of paranormal and dystopian novels that have been flooding the YA market in the last few years.
A historical note provides further background about the flu epidemic, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.
Women's History Month began on Saturday, March 1. You can learn more about outstanding children's books on women's history by following the 4th annual group blog which I co-organize with fellow blogger/librarian Lisa Taylor, Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month, Once again we will feature posts from distinguished authors, illustrators, librarians and bloggers, and we invite you to participate in the conversation. This year's contributors will include authors Tonya Bolden, Sandra Neil Wallace and Gretchen Woelfie, librarian Penny Peck, and many others. In addition to the blog, you can also access our content on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. While new content is published only in March, the blog is available all year long as a resource for librarians, parents, and educators. Please join us in our 4th annual celebration! Here at the Fourth Musketeer I will also be highlighting books about women in history this month. Today I will be reviewing Demi's newest book on Florence Nightingale. Demi has published over 150 books during her long career, many of them large format biographical picture books aimed at elementary school-aged students. In addition to their informative text, Demi's biographies showcase her unique artistic style, which features a strong Asian influence, traditional materials, intricate patterns, and vibrant, glowing colors.
When I was a girl in the 1960's and '70's, Florence Nightingale would have been one of the only women from history you would have been likely to find a book on in the children's biography section of your local library, although I would be reasonably certain that I could not have found a biography as beautifully illustrated as this new one. On the end pages and title page, we see Florence as the iconic Lady of the Lamp. The book unfolds in a traditional linear narrative, beginning with Florence's birth and girlhood. She was born into a very wealthy British family, where she had all the advantages of an upper class upbringing. But her interest in nursing and helping others began at a young age; Demi shows us Florence as a little girl playing hospital with her dolls. Her interest in nursing intensified on a family trip to the Continent when in addition to seeing the tourist sights, she visited hospitals and charities. Her parents were opposed to her becoming a nurse, but eventually relented when they saw her commitment.
Demi's text and artwork show Florence's career progressing from working at a hospital for indigent women to her groundbreaking work nursing soldiers in the Crimean War, where she arranged for patients to get healthy food and water and stressed the need for cleanliness. We see Florence wandering the wards at night with her lantern, earning her nickname, The Lady with the Lamp.
Florence worked herself to exhaustion and suffered ill health later in her life. Nonetheless, she continued to work for the poor and downtrodden in society, and inspired the founding of the International Red Cross.
Demi's book not only provides an outline of Florence Nightingale's remarkable life but also considers her legacy as an extraordinary woman in history. Back matter includes a timeline and suggestions for further reading.
This slim but powerful volume is a must for school and public libraries.
Recommended for ages 14 and up.
I first learned about the Grimke sisters of South Carolina through the Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month
blog, as they were one of the Civil War era women profiled on storyteller Jim Weiss' CD Women in Blue or Gray: True Stories from Both Sides of the Civil War.
I again heard their story in a PBS American Experience documentary aired in 2013, The Abolitionist
s. But neither captured my imagination as completely as Sue Monk Kidd's fascinating new novel, The Invention of Wings
, which focuses on the elder of the Grimke sisters, Sarah, and her slave, Handful.
The Grimke sisters, separated in age by 12 years, were born into a wealthy Charleston slave-owning family, and, like other young Southern women of their class, were expected to study French, drawing and other lady-like pursuits, then make a good match and raise a family. As Kidd tells Sarah's story in the first person, beginning with her girlhood, she never fit into the hole society carved for her.
With her keen intellect, she yearned to become a lawyer like her brother, but her dreams of pursuing a career were ridiculed and then squashed by her family. When presented with a slave on her 11th birthday, she tried to free the young girl, called Handful, but when her father ripped up the manumission papers she soon decided to teach the girl to read--the only sort of freedom she could offer her. When her family found out, she was severely punished--all books were denied her--and so was the slave girl. She takes comfort in the birth of her youngest sister, Angelina, and persuades her mother to make her the child's godmother, and thus begins a close relationship that went considerably beyond sisterly bonds. Angelina, too, develops a horror of slavery, and we discover through the diary-like narrative that the Grimke sisters' destiny does not lay in Charleston, but rather in the North, where they become Quakers and become the first female soldiers for the abolitionist cause. This, we must remember, at a time when the idea of women speaking in public places was unheard of. At the same time, they were among the first to champion women's rights, even more shocking than taking up the cause of slaves. Their scandalous behavior for the time made them famous around the United States. Indeed, their anti-slavery pamphlets, addressed to Southern women, were best-sellers in their time, and were inspirational to Harriet Beecher Stowe in her writing of Uncle Tom's Cabin
In alternating sections, we follow the life of Handful, the slave given to Sarah on her birthday. Handful is a house slave, schooled in sewing like her mother, and becomes indispensable to the household. While her life may have been better than a field slave, she craves for freedom, and pays a cruel price for her longing. Her story is given equal weight to that of the Grimkes, and in an afterword the author describes how while Handful is fictional, she is based loosely on the actual slave that was given to Sarah Grimke on her birthday (although that individual died a few years later). While the Grimkes' house slaves may be fictional, they are well developed characters, and their story is interwoven with a planned slave revolt orchestrated by Denmark Vesey, a free black historical figure who plays a substantial role in the novel.
While this is an adult novel, I would recommend it highly for high school and even middle school students who are interested in US history and women's history. It is extremely well written and provides great insight into life at that time, as well as portraying two amazing sisters who were infamous in their time (described in the novel as the most famous women in the country) but who are sadly practically unknown today. Their inspiring story would also be an excellent choice for a book club.
There are several books for children on the Grimkes, including Sisters Against Slavery: A Story about Sarah and Angelina Grimke
(Stephanie McPherson, 1999) but no picture books. Authors: we need an outstanding new resource on these amazing women!
Author Harper Paris and Little Simon have recently released a new beginning chapter book series, Greetings from Somewhere, which is perfect for those who are graduating from beginning readers like Henry & Mudge or Dr. Seuss and are ready for something a little longer, but not particularly more difficult. The first book weighs in at 118 pages, with very large font and appealing black and white illustrations on every page. These appear to be at an easier reading level than a series like Magic Treehouse, and are well suited to children from 7-9, or even younger, if the child is already reading.
The series starts with The Mystery of the Gold Coin
. It revolves around eight-year old twins Ethan and Ella, who when the series opens are less than thrilled when they discover they are about to leave on what their parents are billing as the adventure of a lifetime--traveling around the world with their mother, a travel writer, and their father, who will be home-schooling the twins during their travels. The twins are more concerned about missing their friends and soccer games. But just before they're supposed to leave, a special gold coin that was a present from their grandpa disappears--leaving the twins to solve the mystery before they have to leave for the airport.
In the second volume, The Mystery of the Mosaic
, the twins and their parents have arrived in Venice, where they can't help but be enchanted by the magical city. But soon they are faced with another mystery, a missing gondola. In true kid detective fashion, Ethan and Ella solve another case--no great surprise there!
This is a gentle yet appealing mystery series with no violence, a chance to learn about some exotic locations (future volumes take place in Paris, Beijing, and Africa) and a little foreign vocabulary (a glossary of foreign words is included). Although I was a bit skeptical of the way the 8-year old twins took off on their own (no parents in the way) in Venice to solve a mystery, I don't think that will bother the young readers who are the target audience for these books.
An excerpt from the series can be found at http://pages.simonandschuster.com/greetings-from-somewhere
, as can related games and activities and information on upcoming releases in the series.
Disclosure: Review copies provided by publisher.
Every Tuesday evening I am responsible for a family storytime for about 50-60 people, ranging from babies and toddlers to school-age children to parents. It's a valuable opportunity not only to entertain and encourage a love of reading, but also to (hopefully) teach something to the audience.
This year I had my second annual Martin Luther King storytime. Dr. King's life and legacy do not lend themselves easily to a crowd of this diversity of ages, but fortunately there are many wonderful books on Dr. King out there to choose from, and more are published each year.
These are the books I shared at this year's storytime:My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Martin Luther King III is a recent (2013) release from Harper Collins and a welcome addition to the King bibliography. Only 10 when his father was killed, "Marty" tells about what it was like to grow up with the famous Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as your father, in a way that's immediately relatable to children. For example, he and his siblings were begging to go to Funtown, a local amusement park, but Dad never would take them. We then learn that Funtown was open only to whites. His dad was often away, but when he was home he liked to play airplane with Marty, even lifting him on top of the refrigerator (parents, don't try this at home). We see King as a warm, caring man who loved his family. But it wasn't easy to be the son of this great man, and sometimes Marty was afraid to tell kids at school his name, because he knew that his father was hated by many people, even though he never hurt anyone or committed violent acts. At Christmas he and his brother were given toy guns as a gift (we aren't told by whom) but they are made to burn them in a bonfire since guns, even toys, were not permitted in their house. The book ends on a hopeful note with Marty and his sister helping to integrate a local school. An afterword tells of Dr. King's death and speaks briefly of his legacy.
We Shall Overcome: the Story of a Song
, by Debbie Levy
(Jump at the Sun, 2013) is another new release which fits perfectly with Dr. King's birthday. This is not the first children's book devoted to this song, but is the one best suited to be read aloud to young audiences. Unfortunately the book doesn't come with a CD, so I used one of Pete Seeger's versions to play for the audience. The version I used is from Pete Seeger's Greatest Hits
, and was recorded live in concert with a huge crowd singing with him in the background. The book traces the history of the song from slavery days to the present, including how the song was instrumental in the civil rights movement. We see Pete Seeger singing the song for Dr. King, we see President Johnson quoting the words from the song in a television address, how the song spread to different countries fighting for freedom such as South Africa and China, and how the song was sung at the inauguration of our first black president. The book presents a message of hope combined with colorful illustrations which enhance the message of the book.
Dr. Martin Luther King is well known for preaching a message of nonviolence and peace, but peace is not an easy concept to explain to young children. I chose to also share beloved children's author and illustrator Todd Parr
's book on the subject: The Peace Book
(Little Brown, 2009). Each spread offers a different definition of peace, from hugging a friend to keeping the streets clean. The book ends with a celebration of diversity: Peace is being who you are, with Todd Parr's signature children depicted in various primary colors.
Did you know that Dr. King's favorite dessert was pecan pie? And I bet you didn't know that two 11" pies can serve 50+ people--just dish spoonfuls of the delicious mixture into cupcake holders, top with a dollop of whipped cream (or Cool Whip), and voila, you can stretch two pies an amazing distance! Everyone (except a few with nut allergies) relished the delicious treat. After explaining that the dove was a symbol of peace, we concluded with an art activity in which we had prepared a white template of a dove, pre-glued it on blue paper, and provided do-a-dot paints for the children to use to decorate the bird.
Have you done storytimes on Dr. King? Please share your favorites in comments below!
As people all over the world mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, it's a great time to take a look at some of the outstanding books to introduce children and teens to this iconic figure.
But first, I can't resist passing on my favorite of the many tributes to Mandela in the past days, from The Onion
"JONANNESBURG--Following the death of former South African president and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela today at the age of 95, sources confirmed that the revered humanitarian has become the first politician in recorded history to actually be missed." (Note: I can so imagine Mandela chuckling at this one!)
Please consider sharing one or more of these books on one of history's great men with your family or classroom:
|Nelson Mandela (Kadir Nelson)|
Kadir Nelson. Nelson Mandela
( Katherine Tegen Books, 2013). Kadir Nelson's moving text and monumental illustrations are a perfect introduction to Mandela for all ages. This spare picture book presents a brief introduction to the outlines of Mandela's life.Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
, Chris Van Wyk, editor. (Flash Point, 2009). A picture book adaptation of Mandela's own autobiography. More information than Kadir Nelson's book, but still suitable for elementary school children.
Floyd Cooper. Mandela: From the Life of the South African Statesman
(Puffin, 2000). Beautifully illustrated picture book for upper elementary school students.
Meg Belviso, Pamela Pollack. Who Was Nelson Mandela?
(Grosset & Dunlap, 2014) A new addition to the highly popular Who Was series, this comes out next June (undoubtedly it will be quickly updated with his passing). This series of brief "chapter book" biographies is great for 3rd grade and up.
Yona Zelda McDonough. Peaceful Protest: The Life of Nelson Mandela
(Walker Children's, 2006). Reviews call this picture book biography "easy to read but engaging."
Barry Denenberg. Nelson Mandela: No Easy Walk to Freedom
(Scholastic, 2014). An updated version of an earlier biography of Mandela, this will go up to his recent passing. Aimed at grades 5-8, this is an in-depth view of Mandela's life for young people.
In addition to these, there are several graphic novels on Mandela, including: Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book
(2009) from the Nelson Mandela Foundation; Nelson Mandela: The Unconquerable Soul
, by Lewis Helfand, and manga-style Nelson Mandela (Great Figures in History series)
For middle school and high school students, as well as adults, I recommend:Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography
(Little Brown, 1996), an abundantly illustrated, abridged version (at a very manageable 200 pages) of Mandela's famous autobiography Long Walk to Freedom
On a lighter note, families will enjoy sharing Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktale
s, personally selected by Mandela. The stories come from all over Africa and are handsomely illustrated by a variety of artists.
I was fortunate enough to visit the beautiful country of South Africa two years ago and join all Mandela's countrymen in remembering and celebrating a great human being. Rest in peace, Madiba.
Recommended for adults.
Release date: January 23, 2014
Are you a a fan of Patrick Ness
' fantastic Chaos Walking
YA trilogy, or his more recent children's novel, A Monster Calls
? I am, and therefore was excited to have a chance to preview his new adult novel, The Crane Wife
(published in Great Britain in 2013, but due to be published here in 2014). The novel is loosely based on a Japanese folk tale of the same title, (and is also a title of an album by indie band The Decembrists
) but Ness' novel weaves its own unforgettable and unique spell of magic, yearning, love, and loss on the reader.
The main character, George Duncan, is a lonely, divorced middle-aged American living in the London suburbs. He finds his life transformed when he is awoken one night to a mysterious keening noise--a noise like nothing he's ever heard before. To his amazement he discovers in his back yard an injured enormous white crane, with an arrow shot through her wing. Somehow George manages to free the arrow, and the crane flies away into the night.
The next day in his printing store, the mystery continues when a beautiful young foreign woman, Kumiko, comes into his shop, seeking help with her artwork, enigmatic cuttings that seem to be made from pieces of white feathers. George falls hopelessly in love with her, and wants nothing more than to devote his entire self to her, but she remains an enigma, refusing to share with George the details about where she comes from and why she has come into his life. Will she disappear from his life just as suddenly as she entered it?
In order not to spoil the magic of this story, I won't go further into the details of the plot. Suffice it to say that the book mixes fantasy and reality in a bittersweet way. Where the two intersect is up to you--what is real and what is make believe? What is love? Read this magical novel to find out more!
The Inspiration Behind Ro, my Heroic Coyote
Guest Post by Helen Sedwick
|Author Helen Sedwick|
You might think a dog inspired me to create a coyote character, but actually it was a cat.
When I was writing COYOTE WINDS, a stray or feral kitten moved into our yard. About four months old, he darted past my window several times a day with a vole dangling from its mouth. He was thin, skittish and scruffy.
I put out cat food, and the kitten hid in the bushes until I stepped away. Then he raced to the bowl and ate as fast as he could. Every day, I stood closer to the bowl until finally the kitten had to let me touch him before he could eat. To my surprise, and probably to his, the kitten was as hungry for touch as he was for kibble. Within days, he was pressing hard against my hand, rolling his head so I could scratch his favorite spots, purring deeply. Reminded that even animals want to be loved, I was inspired to create Ro, the coyote of COYOTE WINDS.
At the opening of the novel, Ro, as a young pup, is caught outside in a dust storm. When thirteen-year old Myles finds him hours later, the pup is half-buried and limp from dehydration. So much grit has worked its way under one eyelid, it is swollen shut. Myles nurses the pup back to health, and they form the strong bond that so often connects a boy and his dog, or in this case, his coyote.
When I wrote the chapters in Ro’s perspective, I tried to observe the world simply and without judgment, as I imaged an animal would do. His motivations are immediate--hunger, fear and the need to belong. I wanted to capture the canine’s sense of play as Ro befriends the hog Spark Plug and “flies” in the back of the pickup truck.
But Ro, like any interesting character, struggles with conflicts. He straddles the worlds of nature and man, accepted by neither. As much as he loves Myles, when he hears the wild coyotes Ro’s heart aches for the physical romp of the pack--shouldering his brothers in fake battles and sleeping in bundles of fur. But wild coyotes see him as a rival and attack him. When Ro skirts the farms of men, he hears bullets hiss through the grass around him.
Mid-way through the novel, Myles drives Ro away because he fears the settled land has become too dangerous for the coyote. But Ro has nowhere else to go. He hovers nearby, watching as machines, fences, and dust take the place of grasses, mesquite and sage. He wants to warn the boy of a danger he senses, but doesn’t understand. Ro’s perspective gave me a way to observe the changing world without the overlay of human ambition to control it.
COYOTE WINDS is set on the western prairie in the years leading up to the Dust Bowl. Many people do not know that the Dust Bowl was one of the worse man-made environmental disasters in history. Believing in the modern technology of the tractor and fertilizers, farmers plowed up dry, marginal land the size of Ohio in the 1920s. When drought hit in the 1930s, those vast acres of turned soil were lifted by the prairie winds, and the Dust Bowl was born. Ro provide me a way to describe that history through different eyes.
The longer I worked on COYOTE WINDS, the more I fell in love with Ro. He embodies my themes about loyalty to a person, a family, and a dream, and whether loyalty has limits.
By the way, coyotes have been successfully tamed in real life. Shreve Stockton, a writer and photographer in Wyoming, has a wonderful website about Charlie, her coyote which she adopted when he was ten days old.
About that little kitten in our yard. He has grown into a Budda-bellied, lushly-coated lap-lover who tolerates our dog’s overly enthusiastic affection and sleeps inside on cold nights. And he reciprocates our love by leaving slightly munched voles on the front steps. His name is Tomas.
Helen, thanks so much for contributing a guest post to The Fourth Musketeer. I will think of Ro every time I see a coyote roaming around our Southern California neighborhood!
Recommended for ages 10 and up.
I live in a very urban area of Southern California, but one with a healthy population of coyotes. It's not at all uncommon to see one loping down the street while you're out walking your dog, no matter what the time of day or evening. And in the early evening, you can hear them calling to each other if you're in the right place at the right time. Although coyotes are common enough throughout the United States, there aren't many children's books about them. So I was intrigued to read Coyote Winds,
which combines two of my favorite genres, animal stories and historical fiction.
Helen Sedwick's novel alternates between the stories of two boys, Andy, a suburban kid in Evanston, Illinois, and his grandfather Myles, who grew up during the Dust Bowl on the Colorado prairies. Andy has grown up with grandpa's stories about growing up on a farm during the Depression, as well as his corny jokes; now that his grandpa has recently died, Andy wants to discover his grandpa's world. First he does so through a box of mementos and writings from his grandfather, and later first-hand by traveling to the old homestead.
Through Myles' story, Sedwick skillfully recreates the Colorado prairies, where farmers believed that with enough hard work and modern farming methods, they could realize the American dream of prosperity for themselves and their families. Or is the prairie the farmer's enemy, trying to take back what belongs to it? Myles' story starts in 1930, when as a thirteen-year old, he rescues a half-blind coyote pup who's lost in a dust storm, taking the coyote home to raise. Coyotes were the enemies of the farmers, who shot them if they caught them near their livestock. Nonetheless, Myles is determined to raise and tame the pup, much like his father is trying to tame the wild prairie landscape. Sedgwick occasionally switches gears to narrate the action from the point of view of the coyote, who she is careful not to treat as a human character, but instead as an animal who remains half-wild.
Sedwick's novel succeeds in capturing the imagination of the reader with appealing characters, the spirit of adventure in the West, and the adversity of life during the Dust Bowl. We see this through the eyes of Andy, Myles' grandson, who stands in for the young reader. It's a novel I had a hard time putting down.
Helen Sedwick's novel was inspired by her father's stories of growing up on the prairie in the 1930's. An excerpt from the novel can be found at her website.
|from The Daily Coyote (dailycoyote.net)|
For a novel offering a completely different take on a coyote's story, you might want to check out adult novelist Elmore Leonard's very funny children's novel, A Coyote in the House
, in which a coyote wants to trade places with a pampered German Shepherd movie star.
I am pleased to share with my readers today a charming new book just in time for Hanukkah, The Eighth Menorah
, written by Lauren L. Wohl and illustrated by Laura Hughes
. An autographed copy is available to one of my lucky readers courtesy of publisher Albert Whitman & Company (just leave a comment with your e-mail for a chance to win).
In this picture book, young Sam is looking forward to Hanukkah in a few weeks, but when he and his Hebrew school friends make homemade menorahs for family gifts, Sam is not sure what to do--his family already has seven menorahs at home. He's sure they have no need of another one! But by the first night of Hanukkah, Sam has found a perfect solution to his problem, one that involves his beloved Grammy.
Lauren Wohl has created a heartwarming story about family that many children will identify with. When I was growing up, we had only one menorah in our house, but in my own home, we have at least seven, including one shaped like a hippopotamus that I purchased as a Jewish museum in Cape Town, South Africa! So I can easily understand the dilemma for young Sam--how many menorahs does one family need? But a gift made with love will always find a home somewhere. The story includes a brief summary of the story of Hanukkah, as told by Sam's Hebrew school teacher Ms. Zuckerman; this background provides some context for non-Jewish readers. The colorful, child-like art work provides a perfect complement to the text.
For more great Hanukkah books, check out The Fourth Musketeer's top Hanukkah selections
from 2012 and Stacey Shubitz's post from The Nerdy Book Club
on her top 10 Hanukkah books. There's such a great selection these days--it's not for nothing that the Jews are known as The People of the Book! PLEASE ENTER BELOW TO WIN THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN HOME OR LIBRARY! A WINNER WILL BE SELECTED ON NOVEMBER 26, 2014.
It's my pleasure to welcome to my blog today author Vicki Wittenstein, whose new book, For the Good of Mankind? tells the difficult but important history of human medical experimentation in a format suitable for middle school or high school students. With the onset of the Common Core, Wittenstein's book is exactly the type of well-researched, provocative, and stimulating narrative non-fiction that teachers and libraries will be needing to put into students' hands. Vicki was kind enough to answer some questions about her new book for The Fourth Musketeer.
Please leave a comment below with your e-mail address for a chance to win this fascinating new book! (U.S. and Canada only, please)
1) What made you interested in writing a book for young people on the challenging topic of human medical experimentation?
Before writing for children and young adults I was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan. Injustices have always angered me, particularly when powerless people are taken advantage of, whether because of lack of education, poverty, mental capacity, race, sex—or as in the case with human medical experimentation, all of the above. The past ethical abuses of human medical experimentation inflicted pain, humiliation, and even death to so many people without a voice. I wanted readers to hear the voices, debate the issues, and never forget about these people.
I also enjoy writing and teaching about history. A discussion of human medical experimentation necessitates following a span of hundreds of years, from ancient times to the present. So readers can absorb important historical events throughout time. But alongside the facts, they can also gain an understanding of how society’s ethics and morals reflected the time periods and changed accordingly. For example, the brutal and inhumane experimentation of African Americans during the nineteenth century would not have occurred without the institution of slavery.
How can society learn from past mistakes? How will readers face present day ethical challenges, not only in science and medicine, but in whatever field they pursue? These are the questions I continue to think about and that inspired my writing.
2) In your book, you discuss the early history of medical experiments on humans, including research on slaves, children, prisoners, soldiers, and others. Many of these stories will surprise contemporary readers. Was there a particular experiment that you learned of during your research that you found most shocking?
Before researching the book, I had no idea about the secret U.S. government radiation experiments that occurred during the Cold War. Manhattan Project scientists furiously at work developing the atomic bomb didn’t understand the effects of radiation on the human body. They authorized hundreds of secret experiments on unknowing people. I was very disturbed by these experiments. Manhattan Project physicians injected plutonium into eighteen people who randomly ended up in hospitals under their care. Imagine how betrayed you would feel if you were one of those people or a family member! Hundreds of pregnant women at a Vanderbilt University clinic drank a tonic they thought was good for their unborn babies, but turned out to be laced with radioactive iron. And the list of abuses goes on . . . .
3) How would you compare the medical experiments done by Nazi physicians in the concentration camps to human medical research before that time?
Earlier experiments in the U.S. were most often part of a general quest for understanding. Doctors were desperate for cures and treatments for deadly diseases, like smallpox and polio. That being said, though, doctors often pushed the boundary between ethical and unethical practices, and many people were harmed.
In the nineteenth century, African American slaves were often bought just for the purpose of experimentation, and they suffered tremendous pain and humiliation. It’s incredibly difficult to even fathom this kind of degrading and inhumane treatment. And without a doubt, we continue to bear the scars in our collective conscious.
Yet, as tragic as many of the experiments were before World War II, the Nazi horrors raised the bar on inhumanity to unprecedented heights. Earlier medical experiments in the U.S. were never part of a government-sponsored program to annihilate an entire group of people. The Nazi goal of exterminating all the Jews and other so-called “inferior” people granted doctors the freedom to do whatever they pleased with concentration camp inmates. In fact, as far as the Nazi doctors were concerned, dead bodies were often more useful than live bodies: cadavers then could be dissected to observe the ravages from experimentation.
4) You point out in your book that despite legislation to protect the rights of human subjects, there are many possibilities for abuse, particularly in research done by American companies abroad, where there are typically fewer safeguards. After your research, do you feel the whole system is fundamentally flawed because it relies on the profit motive?
No question about it, the profit motive is a big issue. Pharmaceutical companies experiment abroad because it’s cheaper and because government officials don’t monitor clinical trials as closely as they do in the U.S. But I don’t think the system is fundamentally flawed.
The hallmarks of the Common Rule require that subjects give voluntary and informed consent, that experiments maximize the subjects’ benefits and limit their harm, and that subjects represent a diverse range of the population. Researchers are required to balance the individual’s right to be free from harm with the need for medical advancement. So ethical conduct hinges on how researchers and companies interpret and follow the enacted legislation and how the research is monitored. Fairness rests in large part with the companies who conduct the research, the Institutional Review Boards who authorize and set guidelines, and the watchdog government agencies. Given the thousands of clinical trials conducted every year, it’s amazing that the system even works as well as it does.
5) While reading your book, I couldn't help but wonder about your feelings about medical research on animals, who are unable to give consent but still are widely used in many drug experiments. Please comment.
This is a difficult question for me. I love animals, and personally, I could never inflict harm on animals or people. Yet, animal experimentation is critical for medical advancement, and is usually the first step before human experimentation. But experimentation on animals must be humane. Although my book doesn’t address animal experimentation per se, I did explain the role of antivivisectionists in the 1800s. They opposed experimentation on all living creatures, and their strong stance helped shape humane policies for ethical experimentation on people. Just as it was important to hear the voices of antivivisectionists then, it’s critical to listen to those against animal experimentation today. Ultimately, a balanced legal and ethical framework for animal experimentation (and all medical experimentation) stems from a continued debate on what constitutes humane practices.
Thanks so much, Vicki! For more on Vicki and her new book, check out her other blog tour stops:
I am delighted to participate in a special blog tour celebrating the launch of beloved British children's author Jacqueline Wilson's most recent titles in ebook format in the United States. As part of the launch, Random House is sponsoring a Rafflecopter giveaway to win a mini ipad! To enter, you can do one of the following: answer the question, "if you win, which of the new Jacqueline Wilson ebooks will read first? OR follow @JWilsonebooks on Twitter, OR Tweet "Win a mini iPad +10 ebooks from the UK's bestselling middle grade author Jacqueline Wilson @jwilsonebooks. Here's a link to the rest of the blog tour stops if you want to check them out as well.
Jacqueline Wilson is not nearly as well known in the US as she is "across the pond," so if you're not familiar with her, I'd like to tell you a little about her distinguished career in children's fiction. In Britain she's known as the most popular writer for girls aged 7-15, and she's sold over 35 million copies of her books in the UK alone. She served as the Children's Laureate from 2005-7 and was knighted by the Queen (or is it "damed" for a woman?) for her services to literacy in school. Her books feature universal themes such as family life, friendship, and bullying that make them appropriate for children all over the world, and her stories are noted for their unique blend of realism and humor.
While most of her stories are contemporary, Wilson has written a number of historical titles as well. Today I'm going to focus on her series of books which take place in Victorian England. They feature an indomitable foundling, Hetty Feather, who's starred in three novels: Hetty Feather
, Sapphire Battersea
, and Emerald Star
. (Links will take you to Wilson's new US website, which showcases new book trailers, excerpts from the books, and more).
Hetty's saga was partly inspired by Jacqueline Wilson's time as a fellow at the Foundling Museum, a museum telling the story of the Foundling Hospital
. Our heroine, Hetty, narrates her own saga in an unforgettable voice that immediately endears her to the reader. Although our story begins in London in 1873, with her bright red hair, fiery temper, and her romantic inclinations, Hetty has much in common with another beloved heroine of children's literature, Anne of Green Gables. Hetty, abandoned as an infant by her mother at the Foundling Hospital, was not to be at the hospital for long--stuffed into a large basket, she was carried away to the countryside, where she is raised as a foster child by kindly Peg and an assortment of foundling brothers and sisters. She's especially close to her big foster brother Jem. Jem even sneaks Hetty into a traveling circus, where we see Hetty's romantic nature in full force. Hetty meets Madame Adeline, a glamorous circus performer who Hetty becomes convinced must be her mother when Madame Adeline picks her to ride on her horse with her in the circus ring.
But at the tender age of five, Hetty meets her cruel fate--she is returned to the Foundling Hospital to be educated and raised there until she is old enough to secure a respectable job as a serving girl. Life at the hospital is hard--bullies abound, but Hetty learns to hold her own, and some of the staff are kind to her, especially the kitchen maid, Ida. On the day of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, Hetty and the other foundlings have a special treat in store--an outing to the festivities. For Hetty, it's a chance to see the Queen, and maybe to find Madame Adeline and her own mother. What adventures will our feisty heroine have...and will she return to the Foundling Hospital?
If you fall in love with Hetty Feather in her first book, as I know most people will, do not despair--you can follow her further adventures as she grows up in two sequels, Sapphire Battersea
and Emerald Star.
In Sapphire Battersea,
Hetty is 14, has discovered who her mother really is, and begins the life the Foundling Hospital has prepared her for--as a scullery maid. But fate has other things in store for Hetty--including a stint as a "pocket-sized mermaid" in a freak show. And in the third book of the trilogy, Hetty seeks out her father--and a place where she will finally feel at home. A companion novel to the Hetty Feather series, Diamond
, has just been released this year as well.
I look forward to recommending Jacqueline Wilson's books to young readers at my library. The Hetty Feather series is a great choice for anyone who enjoys a story filled with everything from humor, adventure, and friendship to sadness and loss. You will definitely be touched by her story!
Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Teenagers are fascinated by fame and the lure of Hollywood. This phenomenon, of course, is nothing new, and in this historical novel set in the 1930's, author Rachel Shukert recreates the golden age of Hollywood for today's teen readers. Our heroine, Margaret Frobisher, is a Pasadena debutante from a conservative old money family who loves going to the pictures and following the stars in the Hollywood gossip magazines. When she's "discovered" at a Hollywood drugstore counter and invited to come to the (fictional) Olympic Studios for a screen test, her dreams are about to come true, or so it seems. But things are not that simple--her parents are horrified at her decision and want nothing to do with her--proper society young ladies are certainly not supposed to make a career on the silver screen. So she moves into the studio system, where she gets a new name, Margo Sterling, lives at the studio with other underage stars, and meets celebrities she only dreamed of in the past, including the dashing Dane Forrest (who appears to have been modeled on Clark Gable).
Shukert does a great job of evoking the days of the great Hollywood studios, when plump young starlets were put on amphetamines to slim down and then sleeping pills to let them sleep, gay men had to be completely in the closet to protect their image, and studio chiefs were in charge of everything to do with the stars' lives, down to who they would date and even marry. Margo soon learns that fame is not all it's cracked up to be. Her idol, actress Diana Chesterfield, has disappeared, and Margo is cast in her place in a historical drama. But what has really happened to Diana? Several subplots are featured in this novel as well, including one involving a girl with a shady past as a paid escort who wants desperately to go "straight," and another subplot about Margo's studio friend Gabby (modeled on Judy Garland), who sinks into a world of drug abuse brought on by the studio bosses.
For those of us who grew up watching the great MGM musicals, many of these tropes will be familiar, but I suspect they are not familiar at all to today's teens, who will probably not even recognize the famous figures who are behind Shukert's fictional characters. This is clearly the first in a series, and should appeal to girls who'd like to explore the meaning of fame in another era--one without cell phone cameras and 24 hour news cycles.
Release date: September 24, 2013
Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Award-winning author Walter Dean Myers
returns to historical fiction in this riveting new war novel about the D-Day invasion. The novel opens in May, 1944, and Josiah Wedgewood and Marcus Perry are waiting in England for the invasion they know will come, but no one knows when. Both are from the small town of Bedford Virginia, and both are putting their life on the line. Josiah serves in the infantry and Marcus is in an all-black transportation unit. They're practicing over and over for the invasion, but when they leave for real, none of them could imagine the horrors awaiting them on the beach. Told in the first person by Josiah, this novel does not spare the reader in its descriptions of the horrors of war. And it's not only the terrors of the beach landing that we learn about, but what happens after--the terror doesn't end for those few who survive the landing. They still are fighting the Germans tooth and nail for every French village, and more and more of Josiah's comrades become casualties of the war. Will Josiah and Marcus ever make it back to their loved ones in Virginia?
In an author's note, Myers writes that he conducted extensive interviews with WWII veterans for this novel. Some of them wept when they described the 1944 invasion of Europe. War is not an abstraction for this author--his own brother was killed in Vietnam, inspiring his novel Fallen Angels,
and his son served as a military chaplain in Iraq during the Gulf War, which serves as the setting for his novel Sunrise over Fallujah
. Myers has woven the novels together by creating the character of Marcus Perry, father and uncle to characters in the other books in this trilogy. All are freestanding novels, and can be read independently.
I highly recommend this novel for young people interested in history, World War II, and the realities of war. The novel does contain swearing (consistent with soldiers' language) and violence fitting the theme. Its brief length (212 pages) and powerful story and writing also make it a good choice for reluctant readers.
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, by Kate Di Camillo, illustrated by K. G. Campbell (Candlewick, 2014)
Release date: September 24, 2013.
This new novel by Newbery winner di Camillo will not disappoint her many fans. The genre-busting story involves a lonely 10-year old girl, Flora, who is obssessed by superhero comics. Without giving too much away, she rescues a squirrel who's been vacuumed by her neighbor's high-tech powerful vacuum cleaner, named Ulysses. Flora adopts the squirrel, who gets named after the vacuum cleaner (with a wink to Greek super-heroes of yore). The squirrel has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts, transformed into a mini-super-hero himself, able to understand humans, lift up vacuum cleaners with one paw, and even write poetry. The unique friendship and adventures of Flora and Ulysses and their friends populate this delightful novel, which shines with a variety of perfectly realized characters. Kudos to di Camillo for her ability to create another small masterpiece of children's fiction. The pencil drawings by K. G. Campbell are pitch perfect as well, combining traditional illustrations with graphic novel style elements.
Elvis and the Underdogs, by Jenny Lee (Balzer + Bray, 2013).
This is a hilarious and touching story of a 10-year old boy, Benji, who has been sickly from birth. Because he has a tendency to faint without warning, he is given a choice between wearing a god-awful enormous helmet to protect him in case of a fall, or a therapy dog. Needless to say, he chooses the dog. The dog is not just your run-of-the-mill therapy dog, though--he's a 200 pound Newfoundland named Parker Elvis Pembroke IV whose whines and barks sound like spoken English to Benji--and only to Benji.. It turns out there's been a mix-up and Elvis was supposed to go to the White House to serve the president. Elvis is incredibly bossy and full of self-importance, but brings out the dog lover in everyone, bringing new friends and a whole new world to Benji. A real winner for middle-grade readers, this would also make a great read-aloud.
Recommended for ages 8-12.
There doesn't seem to be a genre of children's literature that Jane Yolen is not a master of. She has published over 300 books, from endearing picture books such as the best-selling dinosaur series with illustrator Mark Teague (including How do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon and many others) to serious historical fiction about the Holocaust such as The Devil's Arithmetic. She has won countless awards, and is beloved by parents, children, librarians, and teachers alike.
In this new book for a middle-grade audience, Yolen and co-author Adam Stemple (also Yolen's son) address the theme of bullying in a unique way. Our hero, Sammy Greenburg, is a nerd with no friends--at least until he meets a new student known as Skink. While trying to outsmart the local bullies, the two form a unique band that plays klezmer/jazz/pop/rock fusion, and who should join them but the cutest girl in their class, Julia (and Sammy's secret crush). But when the school bullies beat up Skink for humiliating them in the cafeteria, Sammy decides he needs more help to defend himself and his friend. Coincidentally, Sammy is studying for his bar mitzvah, and in the rabbi's study sees a book on golems, a mythical Jewish Frankenstein-type monster. Sammy can't resist "borrowing" the book, without the rabbi's permission.
Fortunately for Sammy, his dad is a sculptor, so Sammy has access to great quantitites of clay from which to sculpt the golem. But can he bring him to life? As you might have guessed, the answer is YES, and Sammy is thrilled when the golem goes to school with him and even becomes the drummer in their band. But too much power can be as much of a problem as being powerless--can the Golem be controlled or will he have to be destroyed? An original take on bullying, this is a terrific novel that could be enjoyed by boys or girls. And who can resist a klezmer/drum-playing golem???
And for more on golems, don't forget the stunning 1997 Caldecott winning picture book, Golem, by the late David Wisniewski, which retells the traditional legend about the golem created by the Rabbi of Prague in the 16th century to protect the Jews of the city.
Recommended for ages 8-12.
The heroines in Scholastic's Dear America
series seem to have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this new release, our heroine, Pringle Rose, moves from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Chicago right before the great Chicago fire of 1871. Pringle and her younger brother, who is disabled, are orphaned when their parents are killed in a mysterious carriage accident. Her father is a rich industrialist who has left her a fortune, but when Pringle overhears that her relatives are planning to institutionalize her brother, the two of them flee by train to a family friend in Chicago. Not only does the author weave a suspenseful story about the fire and its aftermath, she weaves in a number of other social history themes: the rise of the labor unions and labor unrest; women's rights; the treatment of disabled children at that period; and even the beginning of the animal rights movement. As usual with this series, there is extensive back matter with more historical background, historical illustrations, photographs, maps, and in this instance, even recipes.
In this newest round of Dear America releases, Scholastic has contracted with some of our best writers for young people, and this particular volume is written by Newbery honor-winning author Susan Campbell Bartoletti
. Bartoletti is best known for her many nonfiction works on American and European history, including her most recently published historical work, They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group (2010).
She has also written a number of historical novels for young people as well as some picture books.
While critics often give short shrift to series books, the Dear America series is an example of one series in which the quality continues to be very high and the educational content well integrated into the narrative. I hope Scholastic will continue to offer new entries in this series in the coming years.
Recommended for all ages.
In my new job as a children's librarian I am fortunate to have many new picture books cross my desk each week. While there are many that I like, there are few that I fall head over heels in love with. One of the few that has captured my heart recently is One Gorilla: a Counting Book, a new release by Anthony Browne for Candlewick Press.
Anthony Browne has long been a favorite of mine; the internationally renowned author and illustrator is a former British Children's Laureate and is especially known for books about monkeys and primates, among my favorite animals. But I don't hesitate to say that this new release is his most striking book ever. Indeed, this is one of the most stunning picture books I've seen this year. It's an oversized picture book, with brightly colored paintings of our primate cousins, including the well-known (gorillas, chimps, orangutans) and the lesser known (macaques, colobus monkeys). Browne's artwork is at once highly realistic and almost photographic and also fanciful, with a palette that exaggerates nature's colors. All of the primates are looking directly at the viewer or reader, connecting with us in an extraordinary way. The book ends by explaining that all these animals are primates..."all one family. All my family....and yours!" The book ends with a double page spread of humans from all different cultures, all colors and nationalities, stressing our commonality with our primate cousins. Below is an example of the gorgeous two-page spreads from this book. Don't miss it!
Recommended for ages 5-12.
What was life like for ordinary American Indian children growing up on the American plains? In this handsome new volume from independent publisher Wisdom Tales, editor Michael Oren Fitzgerald pairs quotations from Indian chiefs and elders who lived in the days before native people were forced onto reservations with rare sepia-toned photographs to conjure up a nomadic way of life that vanished long ago.
The book does not unfold in traditional narrative non-fiction style; instead the editor has compiled two page spreads complete with quotations, antique photos as well as modern photos of artifacts of Indian life. He covers a wide array of different topics relevant to children's lives. These include: mothers, play, story-telling, daily camp life, horses, great chiefs, and more.
Because there is no narrative from the editor as part of the text, the quotations and photographs together evoke a nostalgic view of the American Indian experience on the Plains. The editor emphasizes the native people's spiritual connections to the land as well as lighter topics. The book ends with beautiful color photographs of modern American Indian children at festivals, dressed in traditional garb, with the headline "But many traditions live on..."
An endnote provides more information about editor Michael Oren Fitzgerald, and a bibliography of his books for children and young adults. I would have liked to see appropriate websites and books by other authors offered as resources as well.
With the implementation of the Common Core, there is an increased need for excellent nonfiction books for young people. Children of the Tipi
would certainly make a strong addition to classroom and library collections about American Indian culture, but it's also a volume that parents would enjoy sharing with their children at home.
Note: Review copy provided by publisher.
For ages 6-12.
In this picture book for older readers, the author remembers growing up in the American midwest, in rural Indiana, at a time when there were few other Chinese families around. When she sees her Chinese cousins in Chicago, they have Chinese lessons, time to play, and lots of dumplings. While driving from Indiana to Chicago, they discover a farmer growing soybeans, a food they dearly missed from China. They are thrilled and a tradition is born. They pick soybeans from the befuddled farmer (at the time soybeans were grown only for pig feed) and take them home for their family's first soybean picnic. Over the years, the soybean picnic becomes an annual affair, with more and more Chinese families invited to share the treat. Soon the event grew so big it had to be held at a city park. An author and illustrator's note tells more about the author's family, and the tradition of the soybean picnic. The narrative is illustrated with charming paintings done on handmade porcelain plates, which were then fired. A heartwarming story about immigrant families adapting their culture in a new country.
|One of the ceramic plate illustrations|
Recommended for all ages
With Mandela apparently on his deathbed, it's an appropriate time to take a look at this moving new picture book biography of the iconic South African figure by celebrated African-American author/illustrator Kadir Nelson. Nelson's magnificent paintings complement the poetic text, which begins by evoking Mandela's bucolic boyhood in the South African bush. At the tender age of 9, he was sent away to continue his schooling, the only one in his family to be chosen for Western formal schooling. His intellect was apparent even at an early age, and we see Nelson (a name given to him by British teachers) growing into a fine young man, a lawyer for those who couldn't defend themselves. Kadir Nelson describes the cruel policies of apartheid in simple terms suitable to a young audience, in a lyrical text that resembles free verse. The outlines of Mandela's life are all here--Mandela protesting with his fist raised in the air, Mandela tried and imprisoned, his people fighting for his release over the long years of jail, his triumphant return and election to president. But as usual with Kadir Nelson's work, it is the illustrations which overwhelm us with their quiet power. Highly recommended for adults as well as children.
For more on Mandela for young people, check out his own picture book autobiography, Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (Flash Point, 2009). For older children and adults, I would also recommend the abridged version of Mandela's own autobiography, Mandela: An Illustrated Autobiography (Little Brown, 1996), a fascinating and accessible version of his much longer autobiography published in 1994.
Recommended for ages 4 and up.
Picture books about dogs are a dime a dozen, but picture books about dogs in Paris--ooh, la, la, that's a smaller group. I remember on my first trip to Paris, many many years ago, being flabbergasted that dogs were everywhere--including in restaurants, where they were treated with great respect. But what would it be like to be an American dog in Paris?
(a pun on the French word parisien
--OK, it took me a few minutes to get that one, and you have to pronounce Paris in French--par-ee
--for it to work!), we meet Hudson, an adorable Norwich terrier who has recently moved to Paris with his American owner. However, adjusting to a new culture is apparently as difficult for dogs as for people--Hudson didn't realize that French dogs spoke French rather than "dog"! But no worries, his owner enrolls him in French language classes, taught by Madame Vera--a French poodle. Soon Hudson is as happy as a clam--or maybe a baguette or croissant--in his new home, and even has a French girlfriend!
This is a delightful book that is sure to please dog lovers and Francophiles alike. The book is peppered with French phrases, which are translated in a "petit dictionnaire" in the back (although there is no phonetic translation, so the author seems to assume that the readers will already know a little French). Children and adults alike will enjoy the "fish out of water" story of Hudson adjusting to Paris, told with a gentle sense of humor. The gouache artwork is particularly charming, and the color palette and flat, stylized technique evoke 20th century French artists such as Matisse.
Author Jackie Clark Mancuso was inspired to write this book by her own experiences as an ex-pat in Paris. Hudson is a real dog, and you can learn more about him on his Facebook page
Recommended for ages 5 and up.
I am not much of a sports fan, but I do enjoy books about baseball players of long ago. Babe Ruth is such an epic figure in the history of sports, but one that I suspect kids today do not know that well. When I was growing up, I remember well when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record, which was a huge deal back in 1974. Of course since then, the record has been broken again by the controversial Barry Bonds, and now Ruth ranks 3rd on the home run king list. But given the much shorter seasons played in those days, being third doesn't really diminish Ruth's stature as one of the great home run kings!Matt Tavares
has written some wonderful baseball picture books, including Hank Aaron's Dream
and There Goes Ted Williams
Tavares' new picture book on Ruth is a wonderful addition to these prior books. It concentrates on Ruth's early years, when he was just a kid in Baltimore who got into trouble a lot. At the tender age of seven, he was left by his parents at a very strict reform school, St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys. Although to contemporary kids this must seem like a fate worse than death, it's not so bad for George, because he gets to play baseball almost every day. At school, he's taken under the wing of Brother Matthias, an excellent baseball player himself. While still at St. Mary's, George is signed by the minor league Baltimore Orioles. His teammates nickname him "Babe" since he is only sixteen and amazed by everything outside the gate of St. Mary's! Starting out as a pitcher, Ruth is quickly traded to the major leagues, where he becomes a star pitcher for the Red Sox--at least until 1920, when he is sold to the Yankees for the huge sum of $125,000--the biggest fee ever paid at that time for a baseball player!
But Tavares shows us another side of Ruth--his compassion for orphans and kids from the wrong side of the tracks. When his boyhood home, St. Mary's is destroyed by fire, Ruth invites the school band to tour with the Yankees to raise money to rebuild the school. He even invites them to ride the train with him and treats them to ice cream sundaes in the dining car!
Tavares' oversized illustrations capture the jumbo personality of Babe Ruth, who became the biggest celebrity in America. Tavares writes "He wears fancy clothes, custom tailored just for him. He drives fast cars and throws wild parties. He eats enormous amounts of food. He does whatever he wants. And he clobbers the baseball like nobody ever has."
Back matter includes an author's note with additional biographical information on Ruth, as well as his pitching and hitting stats and a brief bibliography. Highly recommended!
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I am delighted to be a stop on the blog tour for author Jennifer Angus, debut author of a delightful and innovative historical fantasy for middle grade readers, In Search of Goliathus Hercules. Set in 1890, this novel features an appealing young hero, ten-year old Henri, who discovers an incredible talent--he can communicate with insects! This ability allows him to train an amazing flea circus and communicate with ordinary houseflies and butterflies. But there is more afoot--with shades of Kafka, Henri discovers he is becoming more insect-like by the day! And can he solve the mystery of his father's disappearance into a far-off jungle, never to be heard from again?
Her novel definitely channels the wry humor of British authors Roald Dahl and Eva Ibbotson and features the most charming insect characters I have encountered since James and the Giant Peach. It's a real treat to read, with a quirky sense of humor and many endearing characters.
In this guest post, I asked her if she would reflect on her lifetime interest in insects.
Perhaps you have walked on a warm summer evening and seen fireflies dancing in the sky. There is something magical about the sight. I’ve often wished I could be part of the festivities and the mystery. That desire might seem childish which brings up an observation that children’s literature is populated with wonderful six legged characters such as the insect companions in James and the Giant Peach or the fabulously glamorous cockroach in La Cuchuracha Martina. I was interested to discover that what is considered the first children’s story in the English language which was not a moral tale or fable is The Butterflies Ball and The Grasshoppers Feast by William Roscoe dating from 1808. In the Victorian era, both adults and children were introduced to the natural world through a large number of educational publications in which insects were anthropomorphized so as to have greater appeal to the general reading public. Voracious collecting of all manner of plant and wildlife was extremely popular at that time.
Through second to fifth grade my family lived in Niagara Falls, Canada. On a rainy Saturday or Sunday my parents would give my brother and me money to go to a museum. Our favorites were the Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the Houdini Wax Museum and the Niagara Falls Museum. The latter was an old Victorian style museum that was old, musty and near the end not even heated. On the top floor were the animal “oddities” – things like the 2-headed dog or the five-legged calf. On that floor I remember seeing insect collections that were put into words and patterns. These early experiences have very much informed both my art exhibitions and my writing.
I am best known for my “insect wallpapers” but as my thinking as progressed I have made my own cabinets of curiosity in which Victorian poems are etched on to the backs of metallic beetles, and shadow boxes containing insect samplers that spell out nursery rhymes. For my exhibition “Insecta Fantasia” at the Newark Museum I created dioramas in which insects appear to enact scenes from famous fairytales such as Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel.
Typically a diorama creates a realistic scene however in mine the insects inhabited a monochromatic brown world of beeswax. The subdued landscape is both surreal and provocative. The dioramas inspired further works in which vintage style dollhouses were covered in wax along with the furniture too. Again insects appear to live and carry out activities in these spaces. The houses with their 6-legged occupants are reminiscent of the work of Walter Potter (1835-1918), the celebrated taxidermist whose Kitten Wedding included 20 felines taxidermied and dressed for the occasion. The Rabbit School saw 48 bunnies posed at desks and studiously note taking upon slates.
Likewise in children’s literature animals are often anthropomorphized so that the reader can relate thus giving both insight and empathy. Author Beatrix Potter turned the tables so that despite the fact that Peter Rabbit naughtily gorged himself on Farmer McGregor’s crops the reader cheers for Peter rather than the aggrieved farmer. In the “Tale of Two Bad Mice,” the aforementioned rodents create mayhem and destruction in a dollhouse yet all is forgiven when they offer restitution of sixpence and a daily cleaning service.
Similarly I seek to rehabilitate the image of insects through my artwork and “In Search of Goliathus Hercules”.
Giveaway: Albert Whitman & Co. has kindly made available a give-away for The Fourth Musketeer blog readers. If you would like to win a copy of this unique novel, please leave a comment below with your e-mail address! The winner will be chosen by June 15th through a random number generator.