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The Horn Book editor's rants and raves. Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996
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1. Solve the Outbreak app review

solve the outbreak menuWork your way up the Center for Disease Control’s ranks from trainee to master “disease detective” by uncovering the causes of disease outbreaks in Solve the Outbreak (CDC, 2013).

Every chapter presents background on a fictionalized outbreak and five clues, each followed by a multiple choice question to narrow down the outbreak’s source. The clues are supplemented with patient profiles and charts of data, notes on the diseases’ characteristics, tips for avoiding the featured disease, maps and stock photos, and clear definitions of unfamiliar terminology. After each chapter’s fifth Q&A, receive the “results” with your points and achievement badges — and hopefully a promotion! There’s also an opportunity to read about the real case(s) that inspired that chapter’s outbreak mystery.

As you investigate the cases, you’ll learn about specific diseases — culprits include E. coli, lead poisoning, West Nile Virus, Legionnaire’s disease, and norovirus — and their transmission as well as methods for tracking and containing outbreaks. The tone is light and engaging (e.g., snappy CSI-worthy chapter titles such as “Up Sick Creek” and “Connect the Spots”) without minimizing the dangers of disease epidemics or the importance of preventative measures.

solve the outbreak spring break

Earn a perfect score solving the twelve outbreak cases in level 1 (don’t worry; you can do-over as much as needed) to access the four cases in recently added level 2 and earn specialist honors.

A few of the Q&As are gimmes; here’s an example from “Midterm Revenge,” the case of college students with a stomach bug:

“What should you do now?

  • Tell the sick students to stop partying so hard and go to class
  • Keep the sick students in the same area until their symptoms are gone
  • Find out if others are sick as well”

But overall, the information is solid, the mysteries are satisfying, and the format promotes both critical thinking and understanding of the scientific method. An “About the CDC” section and interspersed links to the CDC’s website provide additional health tips and contextual information on the CDC’s mission and programs.

If (like me) you liked American Museum of Natural History’s The Power of Poison app, give this one a try. Solving the cases will have you feeling like legendary disease detective George Soper — or possibly just feeling a little more germophobic than before.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 6.0 or later), for Android devices, and on the web; free. Recommended for intermediate users and up.

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2. Jack and Hazel

Jack-the-lad

Jack-the-lad

WHY I have to go to Chicago to see Jack Gantos when he lives only a mile away from my office is a question I’ll happily ignore to hear his Zena Sutherland Lecture at the Chicago Public Library tomorrow night. Join us if you can; otherwise you can read Jack’s speech in the Horn Book this fall. I’m also looking forward to brunch with Hazel Rochman, or, as Milton Meltzer once referred to her, “that damned Hazel Rochman,” the lady having incurred his ire for insisting, in a far-reaching and lastingly influential Booklist editorial, that nonfiction writers for the young cite their sources. Now it’s hard to imagine that they didn’t!

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3. Signs of springtime: construction

A late addition to our “signs of springtime” list: ’tis the season for construction!

construction

This is right near our office on The Fenway, but cranes are popping up like crocuses all over Boston.

Here are some recent construction books for preschool- and early primary-aged kids (particularly vehicle-obsessed ones!), recommended by The Horn Book Magazine.

building our houseJonathan Bean draws on his childhood memories to demonstrate the process of one family building its own house in his 2013 BGHB Picture Book Award–winning Building Our House. A little girl narrates the engaging and warm account; the steps are broken down into captions for half-page panels, while moments of greater import, such as setting the corners for the foundation, receive full- and double-page spreads. Family and friends make not just a house but a cozy home. (Farrar, 2013)

dotlich_what can a crane pick upWhat can a crane pick up? According to Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s What Can a Crane Pick Up?, anything and everything. Dotlich’s energetic, smoothly rhyming text is well matched with Lowery’s childlike mixed-media illustrations. The images of happy, friendly-looking machines (and animals, planets, and underpants) are irresistible; the playful hand-lettered verse is full of silly surprises. Mike Lowery’s subdued palette balances the wacky scenes of smiley cranes taking on the challenges. (Knopf, 2012)

fleming_bulldozer's big dayOn his “big day,” Bulldozer practically flies across the construction site; he can’t wait to invite all his friends to his party. He starts with Digger: “Guess what today is!” But everyone appears too preoccupied with work to guess the answer to Bulldozer’s question. Poor Bulldozer: “‘No games.’ He sniffed. ‘No friends. No party.’” Of course, there is a party; everyone has secretly been working on constructing a giant birthday cake, which Crane hoists up, candles blazing. Birthday surprises, cake, and construction vehicles — little bulldozers will lift their blades up high for Candace Fleming and and Eric Rohmann’s Bulldozer’s Big Day. (Atheneum, 2015)

harper_go go go stopCharise Mericle Harper’s quirky Go! Go! Go! Stop! stars two traffic lights and a fleet of construction vehicles. Little Green shouts “GO!”, and Bulldozer, Dump Truck, Mixer, and friends get to work. But without a way to not go, things threaten to spiral out of control. Then a red “stranger” rolls onto the site, and disaster is averted — eventually. Harper’s action-packed illustrations feature cheerful trucks in colorful cartoonlike scenes. Lively dialogue adds to the storytime fun. (Knopf, 3–6 years)

low_machines go to workIn Machines Go to Work by William Low, each of six small vignettes introduces one or two machines (e.g., TV news helicopter); pose a question (“Is there an accident ahead?”); and, through foldout flaps, offers a (reassuring) answer (“No, a family of ducks is crossing the road”). This design, along with terrific sound effects, encourages listeners to join in. Digital art brightly colors each page with slightly impressionistic tones. (Holt, 2009)

machines go to work in the cityMachinery-loving preschoolers are first introduced to a particular situation involving vehicles, from a garbage truck to a tower crane to an airplane in companion Machines Go to Work in the City. What happens next? Lift a flap (which provides an extended scene of the problem at hand) and find out. Just as they did in Machines Go to Work, Low’s painterly illustrations display the drama and excitement of a bustling cityscape.

meshon_tools ruleA diligent T-square rallies its fellow tools to get to work building a shed in Aaron Meshon’s Tools Rule! One helpful illustration shows the tools, strewn about the lawn, but with captionlike arrows to identify what’s what. Meshon’s lively text is full of tool-centric wordplay; a detailed note describes his process for creating the digitally colored mixed-media illustrations of smiley tools with a can-do attitude. (Atheneum, 2014)

demolitionIn Sally Sutton’s Demolition, a demolition crew tears down an old building, sorts scraps of material, and hauls the debris off to make room for a new construction project, revealed at the end to be a playground. The rhyming text, full of onomatopoeia and muscular action words, captures the excitement and energy of big trucks hard at work. Brian Lovelock’s meticulous illustrations give the job site a suitably dusty patina. (Candlewick, 2012)

sutton_constructionSutton and Lovelock offer a builder’s-eye view of a construction project with Demolition companion Construction. The rhyming text’s onomatopoeia and action verbs capture the site’s sounds; cleanly rendered illustrations feature heavy machinery, tools, and men and women hard at work. Listeners will enjoy guessing what the new building will be before the reveal: “The library’s here for everyone. / Ready… / STEADY… / READ!” (Candlewick, 2014)

 

sturges_construction kitties_300x300Four indisputably cute overall-clad kitties don hard hats and hop into colorful earthmovers to dig, move, push, and smooth dirt at a construction site in Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges’s Construction Kitties. Shari Halpern’s irresistible gouache illustrations do the heavy lifting here, channeling Byron Barton’s style (strong black lines, rich hues) but with more subtlety of color. With its bold images and straightforward text, this book would make a good storytime choice.

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4. Not-so-new New Yorkers

I know this is not news, but, boy, there are a lot of New Yorker covers lately that were done by people (men) who are also illustrators. (Because my husband never throws them away, we’ve got a lot lying around.) Here’s an array.

(Top) Kadir Nelson and Harry Bliss; (Bottom) Christoph Niemann and Liniers.

(Top) Kadir Nelson and Harry Bliss; (Bottom) Christoph Niemann and Liniers.

Three covers by Barry Blitt.

Three covers by Barry Blitt.

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5. Review of The Boy in the Black Suit

reynolds_boy-in-the-black-suitThe Boy in the Black Suit
by Jason Reynolds
Middle School, High School   Atheneum   257 pp.
1/15   978-1-4424-5950-2   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-5952-6   $10.99

High-school senior Matt wears a black suit because he has a job at Mr. Ray’s funeral home (setting up chairs and food for services), but also — metaphorically — because he himself is in mourning, for the mother who died just before the book begins and the long-on-the-wagon father who has returned to drink. Although his work responsibilities end when the funerals begin, Matt finds himself sticking around to find “the person hurting the most,” hoping that his or her expression of grief will perhaps help him deal with his own. While all this sounds like heavy problem-novel territory, it isn’t. Matt is a good kid with a good best friend, Chris; their Bed-Stuy neighborhood is gritty but also a place of true community. There’s even a sweet romance between Matt and a girl he meets at her grandmother’s funeral. With When I Was the Greatest (rev. 1/14) and now this book, Reynolds writes about urban African American kids in a way, warm and empathetic, that the late Walter Dean Myers would have applauded.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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6. Spring has sprung (at last!)

In Boston we’re still having as many chilly days as nice ones, but spring is indisputably (finally) here… and the the winter of our public transit discontent is a distant-ish memory. (The MBTA kindly gave free rides all day Friday to thank passengers for their patience during the winter. For more on that mess, see Shoshana’s hilarious Bostonian dystopia, “Diverted.”)

Two more signs of spring spotted near our office:

geese

geese (and the ubiquitous goose poop) in the Simmons quad

sailboats on the charles

sailboats on the Charles River

Here are all of our “signs of springtime” posts (with recommended books):

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7. The Writer’s Page: In the Time of Daily Magic

eager_halfmagic_coverI have come to believe that the books that influence us most are the ones we read at the impressionable ages of eight to twelve, the time when readers are most open to imagination and possibilities. It’s 
the time, too, when our worldview is being formed, not only by experience but also by our readings. Who you become as a reader deeply affects who you become as a person and, for some, as a writer. My first introduction to literary magic was through the work of Edward Eager, which I was lucky enough to find when my life was falling apart in the real world as my parents divorced. I stumbled upon Half Magic stored on a dusty shelf at the Malverne Public Library one summer day when I still had all the time in the world. Was I looking for a way out of the sorrow that surrounded me? Absolutely. But I was looking for more. I was looking for instructions on how to live one’s life, something that was especially unclear to me at the time. Back then, no one recommended books to a child-reader, at least not to me, and finding a book that spoke to you all on your own, turning those first few pages and entering into another world, was pure magic.

Eager, who was a lyricist and dramatist, is a dry, witty, adult sort of writer who fell into children’s books accidentally (isn’t that how all good magic stories begin?) when he discovered E. Nesbit’s work while searching for books to share with his son, Fritz. His droll, self-effacing essay “Daily Magic,” published in The Horn Book Magazine in October 1958, celebrated both E. Nesbit and Eager’s own delight in finding magic. He wrote for children through his own adult sensibility in the time 
of real-life Mad Men, cocktails and trains home to Connecticut, but he was an adult who remembered what children loved most. At the same time, he never spoke down to his readers, something I very much appreciated and had previously found only in fairy tales. Eager predicted the flowering of magical realism, suggesting that the core of a good magic book was the dailiness of its magic: “So that after you finish reading…you feel it could happen to you, any day now, round any corner.” It’s the very ordinariness of both setting and characters that makes the magic all the more believable. It’s a lesson learned from fairy tales, wherein an ordinary girl can sleep for a hundred years and a perfectly normal brother and sister discover a witch’s house in the woods and beat her at her own game. The best magic, after all, is always woven into the facts of our everyday lives.

Eager insisted that his own books could not have existed without E. Nesbit’s influence. He thought of himself as a more accessible and lesser author, and referred to himself as “second-rate E. Nesbit.” But for American readers his magical worlds may be more relatable than Nesbit’s magical books, which can seem old-fashioned and stuffy to modern children. Eager’s books maintain a timelessness that allows current child readers to be as enchanted as I was when I discovered his books in the sixties. Because Eager is a lover of puns and jokes, his books are both entertaining and adventurous. But behind the fun there is more: the sense that an adult is telling important facts about issues of family loyalty and love, and of course Eager always includes a lesson concerning the love of reading and books. Behind the adventure there is the wise reminder that, even while growing up, it’s still possible to see the world as a place of enchantment and to not lose what we had as children: the power of imagination.

Eager’s theory of magic is that it can and will thwart you whenever possible. For children, well aware that the adult world often thwarts childhood itself, the contrary rules of magic come as no surprise. At last, someone is telling the truth: the world around us often doesn’t make sense, and we have to do our best to figure it out. Magic is playful and unreliable, and that’s half the fun of it, especially when it’s doled out in halves or discovered in a lake on a summer vacation. The participants have to figure out the rules as they go along, as they would a puzzle or a game with rules that may shift and change. They make mistakes — some amusing, some dangerous — and in many instances they have to tame the magic and take control of it lest it take control of them. Is this not the deepest fear and wish of every child? That he or she will manage to take charge of a world that is chaotic and unfathomable? As every child reader knows, especially those with unhappy childhoods, the first exit out of the dreariness and difficulties of one’s real life is through reading. All books make for a good escape route, although novels are always preferable, and, as one of the characters in Edward Eager’s bookish and wonderful Seven-Day Magic asserts, “the best kind of book…is a magic book.”

* * *

Eager’s magic series totaled only seven in number due to his untimely death at the age of fifty-three. Still, seven is the most magical of numbers, just enough books to last through a summer. One of the best summers I remember with my own son was the summer of Edward Eager, a glorious time when we read all of the books in the series aloud, often in a hammock, beside a pond that some people said was enchanted. Half Magic begins the series, with a troublemaking talisman found on the sidewalk that grants only half wishes, including a cat that can half-talk in a hilarious half-language. O, unpredictable magic, wise enough to make certain that the adults in the picture remain unaware of its powers! Children can see what adults cannot, in life and in Eager’s book. The novels that follow — Knight’s Castle, Magic by the Lake, The Time Garden, Magic or Not?, and The Well-Wishers — lead up to the final book, the brilliant Seven-Day Magic, which gets to the heart of Eager’s enchantments. Here, a library book that can be checked out only for seven days creates literary enchantment. When I read it I couldn’t help but think: how does Mr. Edward Eager know this is what happened to me in my library, on my summer vacation, when I first discovered Half Magic on the shelf? And then I understood what the best novels do: they know how you feel before you do.

hoffman_practical magicMy own work for children has been influenced by Eager and his creation of what I call suburban magic, and my aptly titled Practical Magic is a book for adults who can still remember what magic was all about. No enchanted woods, no brothers who turn into swans, no vine-covered cottages, but rather small towns where nothing unusual ever happens — until one day, it suddenly does. The suburbs would seem the least likely place in the world to find magic, and yet such places turn out to be rife with enchantment. Here every bit of enchantment matters, and each firefly counts. My own magical books for children occur in small towns and suburbs, often in the summer, often involving the characters who most need magic in their lives: the lonely, the unloved, the secret-keeper, the fearful, the outsider that most of us were at some point in childhood.

Here is the best thing about magic: you never know if it’s real or imagined. But as Eager suggested, “The next best thing to having it actually happen to you is to read about it…” As a child I found solace in books in a way I couldn’t in the real world. I understood, in some deep, immutable way, that even the powerless have power through imagination. That is the gift of magic and of Edward Eager’s books. All you have to do is walk out the door on a July afternoon and turn the corner, and magic will be waiting for you. All you have to do is read.

From the May/June 2015 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Transformations.

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8. Review of Meet the Dullards

pennypacker_meet the dullardsstar2 Meet the Dullards
by Sara Pennypacker; illus. by Daniel Salmieri
Primary   Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins   32 pp.
3/15   978-0-06-219856-3   $17.99

The tradition of Bottner’s The Scaredy Cats (rev. 3/03) and Allard’s Stupids books (The Stupids Die, rev. 8/81) lives on with the Dullards, a family of five engulfed in ennui. The Dullard parents are horrified when they catch their children Blanda, Borely, and Little Dud reading books, asking to go to school, and even trying to play outdoors. Though the parents try to nip this revolt in the bud by moving to an even more boring house, they are challenged when a welcoming neighbor brings over a cake made with chunky applesauce (“so unpredictable”) and speaks enthusiastically (“‘Please don’t use exclamation marks in front of our children,’ said Mrs. Dullard”). And so it goes until, while watching paint dry (a mix of beige and gray labeled “Custom Dull”), the children finally escape out a window and make their own fun. Close readers will no doubt notice that the books the children were reading in the first pages of the story inspire both their imaginative play and the final circus scene. Pennypacker’s droll, deadpan text is matched by Salmieri’s flat and hilarious illustrations; the characters, with their elongated limbs and prominent eyes, might remind readers of Gru in the movie Despicable Me. The big, wide world is painted in bright reds and blues, while the Dullard parents stick to their predictable oatmeal-colored world, “secure in the knowledge that their children were perfect bores.” Not.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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9. Week in Review, April 20th-24th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

From the May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine: “Apples to Elephants: Artists in Animation” by Betsy Bird (aka Fuse #8)

Children’s Books Boston is now on Facebook — come say hi!

Over at YouTube, Roger talks about attending the ALSC/CBC Day of Diversity

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: Selfie Sweepstakes Reviews: Between the Osprey & the Gar

Out of the Box:

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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10. Book & Me intro

Book & Me by Charise Mericle HarperWhat’s it like to be a children’s author? An author with your name on a book. Sometimes people ask me this. I never know what to say. I don’t blog, I rarely tweet, but I do like to make comics. So, maybe it’s time I spilled the beans — my beans. Other authors may have similar beans, but about that I know nothing. Book & Me is part true and part fantasy, but I’m not saying which is which. I hope you like it.

Read the first five Book & Me comics in the May/June Horn Book Magazine Special Issue: Transformations. Then visit hbook.com/book-and-me for all the installments, starting Monday, May 4.

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11. WWF Together app review

wwf together menuWith Earth Day‘s 45th anniversary celebration yesterday, it seems a good time to review the World Wildlife Fund’s lovely awareness-raising app WWF Together (2013).

The app introduces sixteen endangered species from around the world, each characterized with a quality emphasizing its uniqueness: e.g., panda (“charisma”), elephant (“intelligence”), marine turtle (“longevity”), tiger (“solitude”). Each animal receives its own interactive “story,” comprised of stats (population numbers in the wild; habitat; weight and length; and “distance from you,” the user, if you enabled your iPad’s location services), spectacular high-def photos, information on threats to its survival, and conservation efforts (particularly WWF’s). Tap an info icon at a photo’s bottom corner to trigger a related pop-up fact — did you know gorillas live in stable family groups, or that bison have been around since the ice age? Many of the stories also include “facetime” (close-up videos with narration) and/or educational activities. At the conclusion of each animal’s section is an opportunity to share it via email or social media and to explore symbolic adoption options.

wwf jaguar menu

wwf together jaguar stats

In addition to truly gorgeous photographs and video of these endangered animals, a cool animated-origami design element illustrates the text throughout. Disappointingly, every time I tried to access the (real-life) origami folding instructions from the app, it crashed — which may well be the fault of our iPad. But they’re easy enough to find and download (for free, although email registration is required) on WWF’s website.

From an unobtrusive menu along the left side, you can access a globe — also with a “folded paper” look — which shows locations of all of the featured species for a global perspective and supplies information on additional endangered species. A news section frequently updates the app with current information. Soothing acoustic music by Copilot rounds out this informative and moving app.

Available for iPad (requires iOS 6.0 or later) and Android devices; free. Recommended for intermediate users and up.

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12. Review of Trombone Shorty

andrew_trombone shortyTrombone Shorty
by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews; illus. by Bryan Collier
Primary   Abrams   40 pp.
4/15   978-1-4197-1465-8   $17.95

In New Orleans parlance, “Where y’at?” means “hello.” As an opening greeting (repeated three times, creating a jazzy beat), it also signals the beginning of this conversational and personable 
autobiography. Andrews, a.k.a. Trombone Shorty, concentrates on his younger years: growing up in Tremé, a neighborhood of New Orleans known for its close-knit community and commitment to music; making his own instruments before acquiring and learning to play the trombone; practicing constantly; appearing onstage with Bo Diddley; and finally forming his own successful band. Collier’s expressive watercolor collages layer and texture each page, creating a mix of images that echo the combination of styles Andrews uses to create his own “musical gumbo.” Strong vertical lines burst from his trombone like powerful sounds, while circular shapes float through the pages like background harmonies spilling out of homes and businesses. Hot colors reflect the New Orleans climate, while serene blues are as cool as the music Trombone Shorty produces. An author’s note adds detail to the text; two accompanying photographs of Andrews as a child reinforce the story’s authenticity. Collier discusses his artistic symbolism in an illustrator’s note. Read this one aloud to capture the sounds and sights of Trombone Shorty’s New Orleans.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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13. Review of How Jelly Roll Morton 
Invented Jazz

winter_how jelly roll morton invented jazzHow Jelly Roll Morton Invented Jazz
by Jonah Winter; 
illus. by Keith Mallett
Primary   Porter/Roaring Brook   32 pp.
6/15   978-1-59643-963-4   $17.99

Much like jazz itself, Winter has created a book filled with ebbs and flows, rhythm and rhyme, darkness and light, shadow and sunshine. Opening with a dreamy spread set in a dimly lit New Orleans with the city on the right-hand page and a small house on the left, the hushed second-person narration begins, “Here’s what could’ve happened if you were born a way down south in New Orleans, in the Land of Dreams a long, long time ago.” Facts about Morton’s life are sprinkled into the gentle prose: a stint in jail — as a baby! — when his godmother was arrested (he would not stop crying until the incarcerated men “commenced to singing”); a disapproving great-grandmother; and later the audacious claim, by Jelly Roll himself, that he invented jazz. Textured acrylic-on-canvas illustrations are punctuated by musical notes that create rivers and roads of music, allowing readers to imagine the beats, blues, and marvelous improvisation that were such a big part of the birth of jazz. Performers in silhouette — cornet-playing Buddy Bolden and Jelly Roll at different ages — add to the dreamy feel. An informative author’s note provides some (age-appropriate) background information and is written in the same loose conversational style as the book. This is a beautiful tribute to one of the parents of jazz (sorry, but Morton can’t claim sole ownership!) — and a fitting introduction for a new generation of jazz lovers.

From the May/June 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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14. Happy Earth Day!

schrefer_endangered199x300It’s Earth Day! To celebrate, we’ve updated our Earth Day reading list with new books about the beauty of our world and ways to help protect it, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine. Check ‘em out, then let us know what you’re reading today in the comments.

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15. Updated Earth Day reading

The books recommended below were reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

 

Picture books

Suggested grade level listed with each entry

The Promise written by Nicola Davies, illus. by Laura Carlin (Candlewick)
A girl, “mean and hard” as the city she lives in, survives by stealing. When one of her targets says she may keep the bag she’s taken if she promises to plant what’s in it, the girl commits herself to a lifetime of planting to transform bleak city landscapes. Grade level: 1–3. 48 pages.

Two Little Birds by Mary Newell DePalma (Eerdmans)
Two adorable bird siblings (based on the orchard oriole of North and Central America) hatch and begin their first year of life. Simple sentences explain the birds’ actions and underscore the instincts that drive each behavior. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.

Sophie Scott Goes South by Alison Lester (Houghton)
On an Antarctic adventure with her boat captain father, Sophie spots penguins, seals, and whales; one night she’s dazzled by the southern lights. Sophie’s scrapbook-style journal is written in a conversational style with appealing childlike art. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid (Whitman)
“There is more than one way to picture a tree.” A series of vibrant Plasticine compositions focus readers’ attention on the shapes, colors, and textures of trees; parallel to these tree portraits are interlinked human stories. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)
Retired subway car Jessie is dismantled and dumped into the ocean, where she happily resides as an artificial reef, home to myriad sea animals. The theme of reuse and recycling emerges naturally from a fine tale. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

 

Younger fiction

Suggested grade level for each entry: 1–3

Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan (Greenwillow)
The mayor of Neatasapin bullies everyone into inordinate tidiness and forbids all things wild. After lonely Emmaline befriends a wild bunny, she enlists her parents to invite wildlife back into the community. 101 pages.

Just Grace Goes Green by Charise Mericle Harper (Houghton)
In Grace’s fourth book, the third grader and her classmates are passionate about going green. While sneaking in information about recycling and reusing, Harper knows how to keep the story moving: amusing lists and sketches will keep her fans entertained. 178 pages.

 

Intermediate fiction

Suggested grade level for each entry: 4–6

The One and Only Ivan written by Katherine Applegate; illus. by Patricia Castelao (HarperCollins/Harper)
In this 2013 Newbery Award winner, Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a circus mall. When a new baby elephant arrives, Ivan taps into his creative side to help them both escape their restrictive environment. 307 pages.

Crunch by Leslie Connor (HarperCollins/Tegen)
When a severe fuel shortage strands their parents, the five Marriss children hold down the fort — and the family’s bike business. With fewer cars on the highway, the now-growing shop is about to overrun the kids’ abilities. Connor’s narrative ambles pleasantly along. 330 pages.

Toby Alone written by Timothée de Fombelle; illus. by François Place (Candlewick)
The world of the Tree, a society of miniature people, is threatened when a gangland boss/evil property developer grabs power. It’s up to thirteen-year-old Toby to save his parents, the Tree, and the day. 384 pages.

Blue Mountain by Martine Leavitt (Farrar/Ferguson)
Mankind encroaches upon the bighorn sheep’s habitat; wolf and puma feed on their dwindling herd. Biggest lamb Tuk must save the herd by finding a way west to “blue mountain,” a place he sees in visions and may not be real. 163 pages.

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Abrams/Amulet)
Julian caught up in the conflict between his uncle and Robin, who is trying to protect a redwood forest from Uncle Sibley’s voracious investment company. French works in many facts about redwoods without losing the story’s focus on its characters. 355 pages.

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf)
Wahoo Cray’s pop, a well-known South Florida animal wrangler, can’t work after an injury, so a lucrative offer seems like a godsend. Expedition Survival!, a TV program featuring a bumbling, egomaniacal star, wants to use their backyard zoo and faux Everglades pond. 290 pages.

 

Older fiction

Suggested grade level for each entry: 7 and up

H2O by Virginia Bergin (Sourcebooks/Fire)
Years after an asteroid almost collides with Earth, dust from the asteroid infects water molecules with an alien virus that kills humans on contact. Alone and thirsty, teen Ruby Morris holds tightly to the unlikely hope that her father is still alive. 331 pages.

Breathe by Sarah Crossan (Greenwillow)
In an environmentally ravaged world with four percent oxygen in the air, people live inside glass domes (and pay for air) or struggle to survive outside. Privileged Quinn, his poorer friend Bea, and rebel Alina travel outside of the dome and are stranded there. 373 pages.

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne (Feiwel)
Environmental disasters including a devastating hailstorm, an earthquake, and a chemical spill lead to a school bus of kids (teens and younger) seeking refuge in a superstore — with abundant resources and no adult supervision. Sequel: Monument 14: Sky on Fire. 296 pages.

The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd (Holiday)
London teen Laura chronicles in biting journal entries the first year of Britain’s new, stringent carbon rationing points system. She balances big-picture fears (blackouts, riots) with everyday issues of crushes and friends, and her punk band. Sequel: The Carbon Diaries 2017. 330 pages.

Endangered by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic)
When Sophie, fourteen, visits her Congolese mother’s animal sanctuary, she becomes attached to a baby bonobo. When the political situation destabilizes dangerously and she’s scheduled to be airlifted back to Miami, she can’t bear to leave him behind. Companion book: Threatened. 264 pages.

My Chemical Mountain by Corina Vacco (Delacorte)
Jason and his friends roam the industrial zone near their neighborhood, swim in the toxic creek, and ride their dirt bikes around a landfill they call Chemical Mountain. This thought-provoking modern-day dystopian novel is plausible and action-packed. 186 pages.

 

Nonfiction

Suggested grade level listed with each entry

It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden written by George Ancona; photos by the author (Candlewick)
Full-color photographs and no-nonsense prose (perfect for new readers) chronicle a year in the life of an elementary school garden; students compost soil, water plants, raise butterflies, and sample edible delights. Grade level: K–3. 48 pages.

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm; illus. by Molly Bang (Scholastic/Blue Sky)
Bang and Chisholm explain the production and consumption of fossil fuels, along with the consequences: climate change. The sun narrates the relationship between photosynthesis/respiration and energy; a slight imbalance produces fossil fuels. Grade level: K–3. 48 pages.

Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People Who Track It [Scientists in the Field] by Loree Griffin Burns; photos by Ellen Harasimowicz (Houghton)
The Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), an invasive species, threatens “the entire northeastern hardwood forest.” In Worcester, Massachusetts, scientists hypothesize that destroying all of Worcester’s infected trees — i.e., the ALB habitat — will eradicate the beetle. Grade level: 4–6. 64 pages.

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard written by Loree Griffin Burns; photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (Holt)
Detailed accounts and handsome color photography introduce four scientific projects — studying monarch butterflies, birds, ladybugs, and frogs — which enlist regular people in data collection. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick)
In this introduction to birdwatching, the author/illustrator and birds (portrayed in cartoons with speech balloons) poke fun at themselves and one another while teaching basic bird identification: color, shapes, behaviors, songs, habitat, range, and migration. Grade level: 4–6. 64 pages.

The Bat Scientists [Scientists in the Field series] written by Mary Kay Carson; photographs by Tom Uhlman (Houghton)
With deft description and careful explanation, Carson profiles Bat Conservation International (BCI) as it researches the misunderstood title creatures. Clear text debunks “Batty Myths” while highlighting BCI’s conservation efforts. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

Island: A Story of the Galápagos by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Witness the six-million-year evolution of the Galápagos, from “birth” through “childhood” to “old age” and beyond. Gorgeous illustrations include sweeping double-page spreads and panels arranged to show dynamic changes. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Redwoods by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook/Flash Point/Porter)
In a fantastical visual narrative paired with a straightforward nonfiction text, a young boy waiting for the subway finds an abandoned book about redwood trees. He finds himself in a redwood forest, learning all manner of things about them. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge [Magic School Bus series] written by Joanna Cole; illus. by Bruce Degen (Scholastic)
Ms. Frizzle’s class gathers information for a play about climate change. Cole and Degen are straightforward about the seriousness of global warming but focusing on day-to-day changes individuals can make. Throughout, humor keeps readers engaged. Grade level K–3. 40 pages.

Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World by Marfé Ferguson Delano (National Geographic)
Beginning with examples of changes seen by scientists, this well-written narrative then moves to thorough explanations of the underlying science and explores the ecological consequences of climate change. Grade level: 4–6. 64 pages.

In the Rainforest [Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science] by Kate Duke (Harper)
This tour through the rainforest describes the special features of the area and defines unfamiliar vocabulary. Cheerful mixed-media illustrations show visiting children climbing trees (with ropes and clamps), journaling, and exploring the ecosystem. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleishman (Candlewick)
A wake-up call about the environmental crisis, this book homes in on five “key fronts” — population, consumption, energy, food, and climate — and explores historical and sociological contexts. A refreshingly opinionated approach to informed action. Grade level: 7 and up. 204 pages.

Wild Horse Scientists [Scientists in the Field series] by Kay Frydenborg (Houghton)
Researchers are attempting to control the horse population on Assateague Island by developing a contraceptive vaccine that limits mares to a single foal per lifetime. Relevant and clear color photographs show both horses and scientists in situ. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

The Buffalo Are Back by Jean Craighead George; illus. by Wendell Minor (Dutton)
This compact ecodrama documents the buffalo’s slaughter to decimate the Native Americans and open the prairie to settlers, then turns to the reversal: the discovery, instigated by President Theodore Roosevelt, of three hundred remaining wild buffalo. Grade level K–3. 32 pages.

Galápagos George by Jean Craighead George; illus. by Wendell Minor (HarperCollins/Harper)
The life cycle of a single female Galápagos tortoise, Giantess George, is extrapolated to the development of the entire species. She and other tortoises are transported to different islands in a storm; over thousands of years, they evolve into different subspecies. Grade level K–3. 40 pages.

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose (Farrar)
One rufa red knot known as “Moonbird” has flown some 325,000 miles in his lifetime. Lucid, graceful prose (with glorious photographs) details the birds’ characteristics, profiles scientists and activist kids, and explores long-term prospects for survival. Grade level: 4–6. 148 pages.

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever written by H. Joseph Hopkins; illus. by Jill McElmurry (Simon/Beach Lane)
Kate Sessions, the first woman to graduate from Berkeley with a science degree, was responsible for populating San Diego’s Balboa Park with lush, green trees, just in time for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. Grade level K–3. 32 pages.

Can We Save the Tiger? written by Martin Jenkins; illus. by Vicky White (Candlewick)
This volume provides a gracefully organized overview of several endangered species. Jenkins’s narrative voice is engagingly informal. White’s pencil and oil paint illustrations fill the large pages. A stunningly beautiful book as well as an eloquent appeal. Grade level K–3. 56 pages.

The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth by Steve Jenkins (Houghton)
This thoughtful book begins with a survey of the animal kingdom, then covers “Family,” “Senses,” “Predators,” and “Defenses.” The paper-collage art is taken from Jenkins’s previous work, each image recontextualized to serve the book’s purpose. Grade level: 4–6. 208 pages.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World written by Laurie Lawlor; illus. by Laura Beingessner (Holiday)
From the naturalist’s early fascination with wildlife to her determination to finish her landmark work, Silent Spring, before her death, this accessible account folds a commendable amount of significant information into picture book format. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsy Lewin (Lee & Low)
On Iceland’s Heimaey island, children take part in a generations-old fledgling puffin search-and-rescue tradition. As they tour the island with researchers, the Lewins capture the beauty of the landscape and the awkwardly amusing appeal of the birds. Grade level: K–3. 56 pages.

The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species [Scientists in the Field series] by Peter Lourie (Houghton)
Scientists Fernando Rosas (Brazil), John Reynolds (Florida), and Lucy Keith (West Africa) investigate manatees in the wild and in captivity. The text and photographs capture the science and politics of animal conservation and the scientists’ dedication. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

The Polar Bear Scientists [Scientists in the Field series] by Peter Lourie (Houghton)
Lourie takes us to Alaska to observe biologists researching a subpopulation of polar bears, then to the lab where the data is processed and stored. Crisp photographs capture the animals and the equipment needed to do research in such extreme conditions. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.

The Chiru of High Tibet: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin; illus. by Linda Wingerter (Houghton)
The antelope-like chiru of northern Tibet were hunted nearly to extinction for their soft wool. Wildlife champion George Schaller hoped to save the chiru by protecting their birthing ground — but first he had to find it. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
Journal-style text and striking photographs introduce Laurie Marker and her team of conservationists at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. Of special interest is Tiger Lily, a cheetah who has spent her life at the CCF as an “ambassador.” Grade level: 4–6. 79 pages.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
Montgomery and Bishop trek to Codfish Island off New Zealand’s coast to bring us a marvelous account of the efforts of naturalists to save the kakapo. In-depth descriptions and glorious photographs cover all aspects of the conservation effort. Grade level: 4–6. 74 pages.

The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
In the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil, scientist Patricia Medici and her team study the lowland tapir. Montgomery’s dramatic account of tracking the elusive animals is interspersed with scientific information about tapir species. Grade level: 4–6. 74 pages.

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola (Farrar/Foster)
Earle’s intimate knowledge of the creatures she’s spent over half a century observing permeates this biography illustrated with exquisite watercolors. An author’s note explains why we all need to help curtail the threats of overfishing, climate change, oil spills, and pollutants. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Leopard & Silkie: One Boy’s Quest to Save the Seal Pups written by Brenda Peterson; photographs by Robin Lindsey (Holt/Ottaviano)
The Seal Sitters is a Pacific Northwest watch group that educates human beachgoers and protects harbor seals when they come ashore to give birth to and care for their young. Newborn seal Leopard is fortunate to have “kid volunteer” Miles on the case. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World written by Margi Preus; illus. by Rebecca Gibbon (Holt/Ottaviano)
This gallery of impressive trees offers substantive information on what makes each specimen unique. Friendly folk art–style paintings bustle with life, including birds and squirrels in the branches and people in the shade. Conservation tips are appended. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie written by Phyllis Root; illus. by Betsy Bowen (University of Minnesota)
There’s not a lot of prairie left in the U.S.; this book encourages readers to reverse this trend by planting native plants in their own backyards and watching what animals are attracted by each plant species. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Parrots over Puerto Rico written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore; illus. by Susan L. Roth (Lee & Low)
This gorgeously illustrated history of the endangered Puerto Rican parrot underscores the consequences of human populations on animal species. With stunning paper-and-fabric artwork, the book is laid out vertically to give a sense of height. Grade level: K–3. 48 pages.

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands by Katherine Roy (Roaring Brook/Macaulay)
This account of great white sharks off the Northern California coast examines fascinating details about the predator. The main narrative describes a shark hunting; information-rich sections tell more about shark biology and about the scientists who study them. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! written by April Pulley Sayre; illus. by Annie Patterson (Charlesbridge)
Very few sea turtles survive to adulthood. This turtle is one of the fortunate ones, thanks to the volunteers who protect turtle nests and hatchlings. Readers will be drawn in by Turtle’s newborn awkwardness, captured by softly colored realistic illustrations. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer; illus. by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle)
The concept of quantity is examined in the context of animal lives. Schaefer presents the number of times an animal “performs one behavior” in its lifetime, from the single egg sac spun by a spider, up to the thousand babies carried by a male seahorse. Grade level: PS, K–3. 40 pages.

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature written by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Beth Krommes (Houghton)
Scratchboard illustrations, vividly depicting spirals in nature, suffuse every page with color, shape, and movement. Each spread offers a treasure trove of details that will captivate the youngest readers. The simple text is powerful and poetic. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.

Dolphins by Seymour Simon (HarperCollins/Collins)
Simon draws readers beyond initial captivation with dolphins’ appearance and intelligence into deeper discussions of species, life cycles, and social organization. Vivid full-page photographs are well-matched to the text. A note on conservation is appended. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

Global Warming by Seymour Simon (HarperCollins/Collins)
With straightforward prose, Simon leads novices through such tricky concepts as greenhouse gases and the differences between daily weather and long-term climate change. The book ends with the reassurance that we can help reverse the rate of change. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young; illus. by Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge)
Stewart and Young explain where chocolate comes from: working backward from cocoa beans (dried and processed by humans) to cocoa pods (from cocoa flowers pollinated by midges) to monkeys dropping cocoa seeds on the rainforest floor. Full-bleed ink and watercolor illustrations show each step along the way. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

The Sea Turtle Scientist [Scientists in the Field] by Stephen R. Swinburne (Houghton)
The Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) studies the sea turtles in the Caribbean and works for their preservation. This series entry follows Dr. Kimberly Stewart, a.k.a. the “turtle lady,” who lives and works with WIDECAST on the island of St. Kitts. Grade level: 4–6. 65 pages.

Project Seahorse [Scientists in the Field series] written by Pamela S. Turner,; photographs by Scott Tuason
Readers follow conservation group Project Seahorse in its efforts to preserve seahorses, coastal reefs, and the fishing-based livelihood of Handumon, in the Philippines. Interspersed are details about seahorses, portrayed beautifully in underwater photography. Grade level: 4–6. 57 pages.

Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas F. Yezerski (Farrar)
This ecological history of Meadowlands of New Jersey captures the complex relationship between humans and the environment. Each double-page-spread illustration is bordered by tiny images with a wealth of taxonomical information (and sly humor). Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard written by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld; illus. by Priscilla Lamont (Knopf) 
Alice and her family have a plot of land upon which they grow edible plants, raise chickens, and enjoy their interactions with the variety of living things in their backyard ecosystem. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

 

Poetry

In the Wild by David Elliott; illus. by Holly Meade (Candlewick)
Full-spread woodcut and watercolor art captures both the essences and habitats of fourteen worldwide animals: a jaguar prowling the jungle floor, a polar bear immersed in a blue-green sea, etc. Deftly composed verses include paradoxes and wry thoughts. Companion books: In the Sea and On the Wing. Grade level: PS. 32 pages.

UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Simon/Beach Lane)
Florian evokes the world of bees with repetitive patterning that cleverly references honeycombs, flowers, and the bees themselves. His humorous rhythmic verse, too, echoes bee behavior. A paragraph of more straightforward facts elucidates each spread. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.

All the Water in the World written by George Ella Lyon; illus. by Katherine Tillotson (Atheneum/Jackson)
Lyon celebrates the essence of life itself in a lyrical poem about the water cycle. In sweeping, digitally rendered art resembling watercolor and collage, Tillotson creates luxuriant ocean swirls and pelting streaks of rain. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.

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16. Selfie Sweepstakes Reviews: Between the Osprey & the Gar

[As an experiment last fall, I invited self-publishers to submit their best new titles for review. About a dozen heeded the call, and I am reviewing their books in this space.]

ospreyBetween the Osprey & the Gar; written and illustrated by Trahern Cook. Studio Campfire Books, 2014. 32pp. Paper ed. ISBN 978-1500876265. $11.99

As Grandfather tells it, there’s a legend: deep at the bottom of the lake lies the “innocence purse,” said to bring youth to its finder.  So when Grandfather becomes too frail to escort the eleven cousins on their nightly cruise to watch the osprey feed, they decide to retrieve the purse and make the old man young again. This précis is rather easier to follow than the actual text of the picture book itself, which is overstuffed with tangents, flourishes, exclamation points, and cousins. (A few more commas, however, would not have gone amiss.) The acrylic illustrations employ a good range of rich tones in black outline to provide the spooky and magical aura aimed at by the overworked text. R.S.

 

[This review may be distributed freely and excerpted fairly; credit to “Read Roger, The Horn Book Inc., www.hbook.com.”]

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17. Apples to Elephants: Artists in Animation

dicamillo_bink & gollieChildren’s book geekery comes in many forms. My own most recent example came while watching Disney’s The Little Mermaid with my daughter for the first time. After skipping all the scary sea-witch scenes (which incidentally makes for a remarkably short film), we were watching the credit sequence roll when suddenly I started jumping up and down and pointing. “Tony Fucile! I just saw Tony Fucile’s name! Tony Fucile!” That’s the price any kid has 
to pay when Mama is a children’s 
librarian — having to deal with intemperate enthusiasm about anything and everything related to children’s books.

It is safe to say that never before have so many artists from the world of animation made the pilgrimage to books. In an era when pundits predict the death of print, it seems ironic that people who often have a background in computer-generated effects are seeing a future in this supposedly dead, paper-based medium. Publishing has seen its fair share of changes, but animation studios have undergone some major changes as well. (For example, today’s feature films are more often computer animated than hand drawn.) Artists who have worked in animation bring to their books experience that affects every element of their works’ look, style, and pacing, leading to illustrations that can incorporate the best of both worlds.

flora and the flamingoThe first thing one learns when talking with artists with animation backgrounds is that just because someone worked in animation in some capacity, it’s not to say that they have all have performed the same jobs. In the filmmaking process, different departments fulfill different tasks. First there are animators who create the key drawings, alongside the character designers who create the look and feel of animated characters. Then there are concept or visual development artists, who do everything from designing characters and environments to illustrating moments from the script, and background or layout artists, who often break down 2D storyboards into 3D shots. The job of the “inbetweener” (in the words of Caldecott honoree Molly Idle, who started out as one) is to “create the drawings that go in between the key drawings in a scene.” And just to confuse matters further, there is a fair amount of overlap among these departments. Still, due to the myriad responsibilities, the best way to refer to these people might just be to call them artists in animation. The umbrella term animator does not actually apply.

Such artists are hardly new to the children’s book scene. Since the dawn of Disney (and possibly before, if you consider Winsor McCay, creator of “Gertie the Dinosaur,” a children’s illustrator thanks to his Little Nemo comic strip), there have always been artists with animation backgrounds working in the field of children’s literature. Mary Blair, illustrator of the Ruth Krauss Little Golden Book I Can Fly, was a longtime Disney art supervisor. Bill Peet, author-illustrator of more than thirty books including The Whingdingdilly, was a story writer for Disney Studios. Even Swedish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren’s The Poky Little Puppy was influenced, according to Leonard S. Marcus’s Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way, less by “the guileful elves and trolls of Swedish folklore than [by] the uniformly endearing Disney Seven Dwarfs, in whose creation Tenggren himself was deeply involved.”

They have always been with us. Still and all, have there always been so many animation experts in publishing, or are their numbers greater today? “I’ve seen it grow and grow over the past ten years,” confirms Laurent Linn, art director for Simon & Schuster. Why? A combination of elements has contributed to the uptick. Significant among them has been the animation studios’ move from 2D animation to 3D. Former layout artist LeUyen Pham (illustrator of the Alvin Ho, Princess in Black, and Bo at Ballard Creek books, along with Freckleface Strawberry and many others) spent some time “helping to shepherd in the transition to 3D from traditional layout. It’s complicated to explain, but I was basically a bridge between the old way of animating and the 3D world that was coming through.” As traditional animation jobs have changed (and grown scarcer), the focus of former animation artists has widened. Linn speculates, “As more of them see others in the animation world doing books, it’s become an option that most of them hadn’t considered before.” Additionally, the opportunity to work on your own characters can be alluring. Says artist Kelly Light (Louise Loves Art), “I came home from [a] book tour drunk on the experience of being with kids who like my characters. Not Bugs Bunny or Mickey or Snoopy or SpongeBob (they did ask me to draw SpongeBob)…but I got to share my own artwork and got to talk to kids about making their own art.”

santat_adventures of beekle“I actually find the craft of animation extremely time-consuming to tell a story, though I greatly admire anyone with the diligence to create frame by frame of film,” says 2015 Caldecott Award winner Dan Santat, author-illustrator of The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. The creator of the Disney animated television series The Replacements, Santat knows all too well why so many people have made the shift to picture books. “Working creatively with a large corporation and numerous executives was rather frustrating because there was a feeling that there was a process of homogenization to try to appeal to as many kids as possible.” The result is a subsuming of personal style. As Bink & Gollie’s illustrator Tony Fucile, a man who has worked on everything from Disney’s Aladdin to the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out, says, “On large features animators work toward a goal together; it’s a team sport…You need to row that giant boat as one.” That can make working on your own books a freeing, almost frightening process. “Editors don’t want you to draw like someone else. They want you to be you. We’re not used to that.” Santat agrees. “[Book] publishing is you, an editor, and an art director all working together to bring your ideas to life in their purest form.”

Historically, publishers as well as teachers and librarians might have written off picture book art with a “cartoonlike” style. After all, cartoons were seen as lowbrow and literature, high. Yet with the proliferation of high-quality graphic-novel and comic-book elements in children’s books comes a wider acceptance of similar forms in picture books. Says Laurent Linn, “I think more animation/cartoon styles are accepted and wanted in trade picture books. A lot of parents/librarians/
editors/art directors/etc. now (like us) were raised in a time when animation wasn’t seen as…the opposite of fine illustration, but as an art form.”

Whether they’re winning Caldecott recognition or simply producing top-quality bestsellers, artists in animation have attained a level of critical acclaim little known to their predecessors. One might think that, having worked in studios where individual creativity was subsumed for the greater good of the whole, these artists’ styles might look too similar to one another. Yet it is their range that sets them apart. True, some illustrators look like they have an animation background right off the bat. Pick up Bink & Gollie and note how elastic Tony Fucile’s characters’ facial expressions are. Flip through Caldecott Honor Book Flora and the Flamingo and see how Molly Idle imbues the characters’ motions with an enviable fluidity.

Yet other former animation artists are harder to spot. In I Want My Hat Back Jon Klassen’s hatless bear stands with a stalwart steadiness that belies his creator’s motion-picture background. Aaron Becker’s books Journey and 
Quest construct intricate worlds that have more in common with David Macaulay’s painstaking attention to detail than with Becker’s own animation work on the Cars spinoff, and yet that is a part of his background experience. What then is the connective thread among former animation artists?

GreenWhen asked how their background has influenced their art, most illustrators with animation backgrounds speak to the way in which their storytelling techniques have been honed. “I think that my background in animation is absolutely invaluable,” says two-time Caldecott Honor winner Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Green, First the Egg). “It taught me about timing and pacing and the importance of identifying the ‘key frames’ in storytelling. To make a 
storyboard — which is the very important first step in the animation process — is to make a picture book, basically.” Fellow Caldecott Honor winner Molly Idle agrees. “Both are sequential, visual, storytelling mediums.” In her case, the language of filmmaking informs her every decision. “A page turn is like a scene change. A series of spot illustrations can function as a montage. A double-page spread can be used like a pan (the camera move, not the crockery). As I’m thumbnailing sketches I’ll ask myself…should this illustration be an establishing shot or a close-up?”

“There is no doubt that my pacing, character design, and technique come directly from the 100+ shorts I animated for TV and for festivals,” says Mo Willems, multiple Caldecott Honor winner. However, more important than those elements, to him, is the fact that the anonymity of that storytelling allowed him to hone his craft. As a result he was able to work on and improve his storytelling ability, “before having to slap my name on the cover of one of my efforts.”

willems_don't let the pigeon drive the busWillems, however, would disagree with the thinking that animation and picture book creation are all that similar. “Comparing animation and books is like comparing apples and elephants. In cartoons you are stuck with a specific aspect ratio, but you control the duration, rhythm, voices, and volume of the piece. In a book you give away a great deal of control to your readers; they determine the voices, the pacing, and the way in which it is consumed, which requires a greater respect for your audience paired with trusting your work enough to let go.”

For former animation artists, it’s a big shift from trying to please everyone as a cog in a larger machine to trying to please an audience as only yourself. Suddenly the spotlight isn’t just shining on the work. It’s shining on you as well. The interesting thing is that so many artists refuse to say which medium they love more. Both forms of storytelling exert a firm hold on the people involved. You can take the artist out of animation, but you’ll never take the animation out of the artist. “That’s the thing about animation, it’s magic you make with a pencil,” says Kelly Light. “I think if you learn it and love it, it has a lifelong hold on your heart.”

A Sampler of Illustrators with Animation Backgrounds

Chris Appelhans (Sparky!, written by Jenny Offill): Worked at LAIKA and DreamWorks

Aaron Becker (Journey, Quest): Worked on the film adaptation of The Polar Express and provided backgrounds for PIXAR’s Cars Toons series

Vera Brosgol (Anya’s Ghost): Designer at LAIKA

Peter Brown (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild): Painted backgrounds for The Venture Bros. on Cartoon Network

Peter de Sève (The Duchess of Whimsy): Designs for Blue Sky

Tony Fucile (Bink & Gollie): Animator for Disney, PIXAR, Warner Bros., and others

Carter Goodrich (Say Hello to Zorro!): Designs for Blue Sky, PIXAR, and others

Molly Idle (Flora and the Flamingo): Worked as an inbetweener and breakdown artist for DreamWorks

William Joyce (Rolie Polie Olie): Various, including conceptual characters for Disney/PIXAR, and co-founder of Moonbot Studios, an animation and visual effects studio

Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet series): Animated for Shadedbox Animations

Jon Klassen (I Want My Hat Back): Concept artist and illustrator on films including Coraline and Kung Fu Panda 2

Dan Krall (The Great Lollipop Caper): Designer at DreamWorks

Kelly Light (Louise Loves Art): Animator with Animotion, Film Roman, and other studios. Character artist

Bill Peet (The Whingdingdilly and many 
others): Story writer for Disney Studios

LeUyen Pham (Freckleface Strawberry, written by Julianne Moore): Worked as a 2D, 3D layout artist and concept designer at DreamWorks

Christian Robinson (Gaston, written by Kelly DiPucchio): Graduated from CalArts’s character animation program

Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle): Created the animated television series The Replacements

Julia Sarcone-Roach (Subway Story): Attended RISD and studied animation

Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Green, First the Egg): Animated openings for NBC shows and specials, FOX-TV, ABC’s 20/20, and others. Animated “Pete Seeger’s Family Sing-A-Long”

Divya Srinivasan (Octopus Alone): Animation work with music videos, movies, and book trailers

Bob Staake (Bluebird, this issue’s Horn Book Magazine cover): Animation design for Cartoon Network and Little Golden Books

Doug TenNapel (Cardboard): Created Earthworm Jim, Catscratch, and VeggieTales in the House

Mo Willems (Elephant & Piggie books): Animator for Sesame Street, creator of “The Off-Beats” and Sheep in the Big City

Dan Yaccarino (The Birthday Fish): Worked on Oswald and The Backyardigans

From the May/June 2015 special issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Transformations.

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18. T for two

Reading through the fiction reviews section of the May/June Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Transformations, I’m struck by the sudden urge for tea. One lump or two, protagonists?

teacup_dots

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff: “I didn’t do it on purpose, obviously,” says twelve-year-old Trent Zimmerman. “Kill Jared Richards, I mean.”

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge: “Eleven-year-old Triss Crescent wakes up confused after a terrifying accident.”

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman: “Twig Fowler and her mother keep to themselves so that their neighbors in Sidwell, Massachusetts, won’t discover their secret.”

Dear Hank Williams by Kimberly Willis Holt: “On the first day of school, September 1, 1948, eleven-year-old Tate P. Ellerbee learns that her class will be writing to pen pals.”

Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr: “Young narrator Trille’s best friend is his next-door neighbor, Lena, almost nine, perhaps best described as a more-realistic Pippi Longstocking.”

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente: “He lives an unhappy, bewildered life as ‘Thomas’ until Tamburlaine, a fellow Changeling, reveals her magical abilities and encourages him to find his own.”

t logo

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19. Mock book award results | 2015

mockawardwinners2015

Committee results from left to right: the two Caldecott groups, Geisel, and Sibert.

My children’s lit students just met for the last time, and we spent most of our three-hour class in mock book award groups. I had been thinking about trying mock awards in this short six-week module for a few years, but this year Maleka Donaldson Gramling, the terrific course TF, thought it would be worth reconfiguring some tried and true aspects of the course to make room for this lengthy process. I am happy to report that it was worth it. The students had lively and informed discussions and proved that they really have learned a few things over the past few weeks.

In working out the logistics, I relied heavily on advice from Calling Caldecott readers. With 23 students and a handful of auditors, we ended up with four committees: two for Caldecott and one each for Geisel and Sibert. Each student nominated one or two books and tonight they completed the project, meeting in committees (we separated the two Caldecotts into two different rooms), presenting each book, discussing, and voting. You can see a photo of the results above. Here is the full list.

Caldecott committee #1 had an even number of members and after several ballots were still in a dead tie. The final decision was made by coin toss:

  • Winner:
    The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat
  • Honor Book:
    The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Caldecott committee #2 had a more traditional experience:

  • Winner:
    The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre
  • Honor Books:
    - Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo
    - The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Geisel committee choices:

  • Winner:
    You are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant
  • Honor Book:
    Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilly Carré

And the Sibert committee — the largest group — chose:

  • Winner:
    Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins
  • Honor Books:
    The Right Word by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
    The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre

The deliberations were fueled by snacks and each group had an instructor t0 help keep discussion focused on award criteria. I am so grateful to Maleka for moderating the Geisel group and to Lauren Adams (unofficial discussion facilitator and Adolescent Lit instructor) who oversaw the Sibert group. I bounced between the two rooms and helped the Caldecott groups.

What do you all think? Students? Other blog readers? Do you like their results? After all, part of the real committee experience is dealing with the post-decision social media fallout.

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20. Week in Review, April 6th-10th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

Starred reviews coming up in the May/June 2015 Horn Book Magazine

April’s Notes newsletter: 5Q for Nikki Grimes, primary poetry, bird picture books, grrl-power intermediate fiction, and gritty YA starring teen boys

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger: A new 5Q series kicks off with author T. A. Barron: “What ELSE Do You Do?

Out of the Box:

Lolly’s Classroom:

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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21. Megan Dowd Lambert Hubbub booklist

Books in the Home, from My Home to Yours
Megan Dowd Lambert megan.lambert@simmons.edu
Boston Book Fest Hubbub, The Four Seasons, Boston, MA 4/14/2015

Selected Books about Books and Reading

Bottner, Barbara Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I Don’t), illustrated by Michael Emberley

Gerstein, Mordicai A Book

Gravett, Emily Again!

Klausmeier, Jesse Open This Little Book, illustrated by Suzy Lee

Lehman, Barbara The Red Book

Mack, Jeff Look!

Novak, B.J. The Book with No Pictures

Seeger, Laura Vaccaro Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories

Smith, Lane It’s a Book and It’s a Little Book

Stein, David Ezra Interrupting Chicken

Stewart, Sarah The Library, illustrated by David Small

Willems, Mo Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator!

 

Dr. Seuss’s I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!

Willems, Mo We Are in a Book

Scieszka, Jon Summer Reading Is Killing Me, illustrated by Lane Smith

 

Selected Over- and Under-the-Radar Chapter Books
I’ve Loved Reading Aloud with My Kids

Cleary, Beverly Ramona the Brave

dePaola, Tomie 26 Fairmont Avenue

Gantos, Jack Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Gannett, Ruth Stiles My Father’s Dragon

Lai, Thanhha Inside Out and Back Again

Palacio, RJ Wonder

Wilder, Laura Ingalls Little House in the Big Woods

 

Babbitt, Natalie The Search for Delicious

Cassedy, Sylvia Behind the Attic Wall

Cooper Susan The Magician’s Boy

Jarrell, Randall The Animal Family

LeGuin, Ursula Catwings

Rhodes, Jewell Parker Ninth Ward

Schlitz, Laura Amy The Night Fairy

****

A senior lecturer in children’s literature at Simmons College, Megan Dowd Lambert writes and reviews for Kirkus Reviews and the Horn Book. For nearly ten years she worked in the Education Department of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, and in 2015 she published her debut picturebook, A Crow of His Own, illustrated by David Hyde Costello. Her book, Reading Picturebooks with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See, which introduces her Whole Book Approach storytime method, will be published by Charlesbridge Publishing on November 3, 2015. Megan lives with her family, including six children, in Amherst, MA.

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22. Review of Fiete: A Day on the Farm app

fiete on the farm menuIn Fiete: A Day on the Farm (German developer Ahoiii, December 2014), children help sailor Fiete — star of his own previous, self-titled app — and his farmer friends, Hein and Hinnerk, throughout their busy day. The home screen shows the three in a boat. The sky is blue, the hills are rolling, the birds are chirping. Entering the app, it’s early morning; there’s a lit lighthouse in the background, and the boat is gently rocking. Touch the large alarm clock icon and you’re taken to the sleeping men’s bedroom — it’s time to wake them up (their gentle snores are audible along with the ticking alarm clock and birds; it’s really quite peaceful). There are no instructions, so you have to figure out what to do. Swiping at each farmer a couple of times seems to do the trick — each wakes up smiling and ready to start the day. First task completed!

You’re taken back to the early-morning landscape where, swiping horizontally, the sun rises in the background and a rooster crows. The farmers are outside and on the dock (they give you a wave).

fiete on the farm dawn

Touch the rooster to complete the next task: gathering eggs. Swipe a hen to get her to stand up, then use your finger to guide the egg down into an outstretched farmer’s hand (if you miss, the egg falls, crack, but to no ill effect).

Next it’s activities such as virtually pulling carrots, shearing sheep (fun!), sawing a tree trunk with Fiete (really fun!), picking apples (and rescuing a cat from the apple tree), milking a cow (in all honesty, a little weird), and, finally, loading each of the items into its proper delivery truck at the end of the day before settling in around a campfire.

fiete on the farm sheep

There are no written instructions anywhere in this “intuitive interactive app,” but it’s pretty easy to get the hang of things. It’s all very low-key and low-stress; the sound effects are quiet nature noises, and background movement is generally of the gentle swaying-in-the-breeze variety. The visuals are all rounded shapes and subdued colors (until the glorious pink sunset); it looks like the digital equivalent of cut-paper collage, with a bit of European edge to keep things from being too sleepy and bucolic. Wherever Fiete goes next, digitally, little kids will likely want to follow.

Available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch (requires iOS 4.3 or later), and Android devices; $2.99. Recommended for preschool users.

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23. Update: Francisco and Robert Jiménez School

jimenez_the circuitBack in February I interviewed my mom Gretchen, who’s an instructional aide in Southern California’s Santa Maria–Bonita School District, about her campaign to name the district’s newest elementary school in honor of Dr. Francisco Jiménez. Dr. Jiménez is an author, recipient of a 1998 BGHB Award, and an alum of the area’s schools. And, as he has poignantly chronicled in his book The Circuit and its sequels, he was a migrant farmworker child, like many of the district’s current students.

Who better, my mother asks, to recognize as a champion for these children than someone who has walked in their shoes?

Last night the school board’s naming committee met to hear spoken arguments for the three names on the short list of proposals, narrowed down from about eighty. The nomination for Dr. Jimenéz was combined with that for his late brother, Robert Jiménez — who also attended SMBSD schools and was a beloved employee of the district for decades. Bill Libbon worked with the Santa Maria Boys and Girls Club for forty years and recently retired from his position as its executive director. Santa Maria police officer Mark Riddering, who died of ALS in 2008, was instrumental in bringing the D.A.R.E. drug prevention program to Santa Maria schools. Choosing which of these influential community members to honor must have been difficult, but ultimately the committee unanimously voted to christen the new elementary school “Francisco and Robert Jiménez School.” The school will open in August.

Given that the school will have a dual immersion English/Spanish program, it seems especially fitting to name it after the Jiménez brothers. As Spanish speakers in English-only schools, and with their education spotty due to their many moves, their English bilingualism was hard-won.

It’s also good timing to celebrate both brothers, honoring the memory of Robert Jiménez (who passed away in December) and the literary accomplishments of Francisco Jiménez (whose fourth memoir series entry, Taking Hold, pubbed last week.)

Congratulations to the Jiménez family!

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24. Week in Review, April 13th-17th

Week in Review

This week on hbook.com…

Rebecca Stead will be back for the 2015 BGHB award announcements at BEA!

Pam Muñoz Ryan Talks with Roger

Not on our site, but worth a read: author Marion Dane Bauer on “The Payoff of a Lonely Childhood” (inspired by Roger’s March/April 2015 editorial “The Difference That Made Them“)

Reviews of the Week:

Read Roger:

Out of the Box:

Events calendar

See overviews of previous weeks by clicking the tag week in review. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to keep up-to-date on our articles!

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25. Review of Shadow Scale

hartman_shadow scaleShadow Scale
by Rachel Hartman
Middle School, High School   Random   600 pp.
3/15   978-0-375-86657-9   $18.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-96657-6   $21.99   g
e-book ed. 978-0-375-89659-0   $10.99

With the dragon civil war closing in on Goredd, Seraphina (Seraphina, rev. 7/12) begins an uncertain mission: she and Abdo, a fellow half-dragon, embark on a journey to recruit other ityasaari like themselves, hoping that if they can learn to thread their minds together, they will be able to defend Goredd by forming a trap to stop a dragon in flight. Seraphina has misgivings — what if the attempt leads to another ityasaari taking over her mind? Jannoula, a half-dragon whom Seraphina contacted telepathically in a time before she knew there were others like her, once usurped Seraphina’s consciousness, and it was only by great effort and luck that Seraphina managed to fight her off. However, as Seraphina and Abdo travel through the neighboring lands, they are horrified to learn that Jannoula already controls the other ityasaari. The author’s generous and self-assured world-building effortlessly branches out to the different cultures the pilgrims encounter, unveiling fresh customs and new folklore with consummate ease. A subplot involving Seraphina’s hopeless romance with Kiggs, the man affianced to her friend and monarch, Queen Glisselda, takes on a love-triangle twist that most won’t see coming. From graceful language to high stakes to daring intrigue, this sequel shines with the same originality, invention, and engagement of feeling that captivated readers in Hartman’s debut.

From the March/April 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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