- Savage, Stephen. 2015. Supertruck. New York: Roaring Brook.
- Sayre, April Pulley. 2015. Raindrops Roll. New York: Beach Lane.
In preparation for an upcoming 4-week club for kids that I'll be hosting, I created a book trailer for A Dog Called Homeless, winner of the 2013 Middle Grade Schneider Family Book Award, The Schneider Family Book Awards "honor an author or illustrator for the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences."
A Dog Called Homeless is written by Sarah Lean and published by Harper Collins. I hope you enjoy it.
I haven't been posting much lately, but it's not because I haven't been busy. Here's what I've been doing:
"Life's most persistent question is: What are you doing for others?" Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.And, oh yeah, it's Nonfiction Monday! Check it out.
I've been goofing off for a few weeks, enjoying some family time while my oldest were home from college for the holidays. Now it's time to get back to business.
As the years go by, I get less and less comfortable choosing “best of” books at year’s end. There’s no way that I can read all of the deserving books, and what I may find moving or amusing may not resonate with others. However, with that being said, and in no particular order,
here are my personal favorites of 2014:
Sheinkin, Steve. 2014. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. New York: Roaring Brook.
The Port Chicago 50, as they became known, were a group of African American Navy sailors assigned to load munitions at Port Chicago in California, during WWII. The sailors' work detail options were limited; the Navy was segregated and Blacks were not permitted to fight at sea. The sailors worked around the clock, racing to load ammunition on ships headed to battle in the Pacific. Sailors had little training and were pressured to load the dangerous cargo as quickly as possible.
After an explosion at the port killed 320 men, injured many others, and obliterated the docks and ships anchored there, many men initially refused to continue working under the same dangerous conditions. In the end, fifty men disobeyed the direct order to return to work. They were tried for mutiny in a case with far-reaching implications. There was more at stake than the Naval careers of fifty sailors. At issue were the Navy's (and the country's) policy of segregation, and the racist treatment of the Black sailors. Years before the Civil Rights movement began, the case of the Port Chicago 50 drew the attention of the NAACP, a young Thurgood Marshall, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Through the words of the young sailors, the reader of The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights relives a slice of history as a Black sailor in 1944.
Steven Sheinkin combines excellently researched source materials, a little-known, compelling story, and an accessible writing style to craft another nonfiction gem.
Read an excerpt of The Port Chicago 50 here.
I have been busy lately with review and blogging obligations, as well as work and preparation for the holiday season, but I did take time out to read a copy of Elizabeth Rusch's graphic novel, Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Thanks to the hard-working intern who brought it to my attention and supplied me with a copy.
Rusch, Elizabeth. 2014. Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel. Illustrated by Mike Lawrence.
Max lives in the aptly-named suburban town of Marsh Creek. In addition to the marsh on the outskirts of town, mud is everywhere in town as well, making it almost impossible for the child of neat-freak parents to stay clean! Max becomes suspicious of his parents'secretive habits, frequent trips to the marsh, and fanatical obsession with his cleanliness. When he accidentally discovers that mud gives him superpowers, he and his friend Patrick become determined to figure out exactly what is going on in Marsh Creek.
This is an easy-to-read graphic, sci-fi novel that should be popular with younger kids and reluctant readers. The panels are easy to follow, with simple, but expressive drawings in muted browns and grays that reflect the book's muddy locale. Hopefully, future installments will add some dimension to the Max's female friend. Not willing to completely divest herself of her nonfiction roots, Rusch adds some real science about mud and its denizens in the back matter.
I predict that more than one member of my book club will want to take this one home. I'll have to place some holds on library copies.
GIBBS, Stuart. Space Case. 6 CDs. 6:28 hrs. S. & S. Audio.
2014. $29.99. ISBN 9781442376397. digital download.
Gr 3–7— The year is 2040. Dash, his sister, and their scientist parents are inaugural inhabitants of Moon Base Alpha (MBA), Earth's extraterrestrial colony. Housing only a few dozen people and governed by a strict commander, MBA is not exactly a barrel of laughs for a 12-year-old boy. However, when one of MBA's scientists dies suspiciously and a supply ship brings new residents (including a girl his age), life in space becomes much more intriguing. Though the story has many humorous moments—especially involving the insufferable wealthy space tourists—it also has some plausible science. Each chapter is preceded by a reading from "The Official Residents' Guide to Moon Base Alpha," NASA's part propaganda/part instruction manual, containing such riveting topics as "Exercise" and "Food." Narrator Gibson Frazier keeps the story moving at a good pace, conveying suspense without melodrama. Rather than create pitched character voices, he relies on intonation to differentiate among the large cast. His own voice is deep and clear but boyish enough to suit Dash. The narration flows smoothly, broken only by the humorously intended commercial quality of the "Official Resident's Guide." Space Case should appeal to a broad range of listeners but especially space enthusiasts.
Miles awoke with a sense of dread. He opened his eyes and stared at his blank ceiling. Last night he'd dreamed it had all been a dream, and now he wished he were still dreaming.
Miles shut his eyes tight. He tried to fall back asleep, but downstairs he could hear his mother shuffling around the kitchen, preparing breakfast. Breakfast smelled like eggs. And cows. Although that might have just been the cows.
Miles ate his eggs. They tasted like dread, although that might've just been the dread.
Welcome to Yawnee Valley, an idyllic place with rolling green hills that slope down to creeks, and cows as far as the eye can see. There's one now.The Terrible Two has more than just humor. There are some intricate pranks woven into the plot, and there are well-developed characters in Miles, Niles, and Principal Barkin - all of whom are sure to reappear in future installments. It's got more text and fewer illustrations, but this series should be popular with Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans.
Richards, Keith. 2014. Gus & Me: The Story of my Granddad and my First Guitar. Hachette Audio.
Keith Richards, the rough-edged, raspy-voiced, Rolling Stones guitarist, is hardly the man that comes to mind for a picture book writer and narrator, but then again, who better to tell the story of his first guitar?
Richards wins the listener over immediately with his folksy, working class Estuary English accent (think dropped h's and "intrusive" r's) and unmistakable fondness for his topics - his first guitar and his beloved Granddad, Gus. It was the musically talented Gus who introduced a young Keith Richards to the guitar, teaching him how to 'old it, and suggesting the classical Malagueña(r) as the pinnacle of guitar mastery.
I have yet to see the print version of this story, but I don't believe it could surpass the audio book. A story with music at its heart needs music to be understood. Richards plays bits from Malagueña in appropriate spots throughout the story, and during a visit to a music shop in London, we hear Steve Jordan on drums. Once, the listener even hears a little chuckle - not musical, but surprisingly sincere. Richards collaborated with other authors, but this is obviously his story, and he delights in telling it.
(Run time: about 7 minutes)
My review of Gus & Me for AudioFile Magazine appears here with a small excerpt. Take a listen!
Levine, Kristin. 2014. The Paper Cowboy. New York: Putnam.
In the seemingly idyllic, 1950s, town of Downers Grove, Illinois, handsome and popular 12-year-old Tommy Roberts appears to be a typical kid. He lives with his parents, older sister Mary Lou, younger sisters Pinky and Susie, and a devoted family dog. He and his older sister attend Catholic school, his father works for Western Electric, and his mother stays at home with the younger girls.
Amidst the backdrop of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, Tommy's discovery of a Communist newspaper in the town's paper drive truck, and a horrific burn accident to Mary Lou, begin a chain of events that uncovers secrets, truths, and lies in his small town populated with many Eastern European immigrants.
Perhaps the biggest lie is Tommy's own life. Though he never gets caught, Tommy is a bully, picking on kids at school, especially Little Skinny. When he plants the Communist newspaper in a store owned by Little Skinny's immigrant father, he's gone too far - and he knows it. Now it's time to act like his cowboy hero, The Lone Ranger, and make everything right, but where can he turn for help? His mother is "moody" and beats him relentlessly while his father turns a blind eye. His older sister will be hospitalized for months. He has his chores and schoolwork to do, and Mary Lou's paper route, and if Mom's in a mood, he's caretaker for Pinky and Susie as well.
It's hard to understand a bully, even harder to like one, but readers will come to understand Tommy and root for redemption for him and his family. He will find help where he least expects it.
I couldn't tell Mrs. Glazov about the dinner party. Or planting the paper. But maybe I could tell her about taking the candy. Maybe that would help. "There's this boy at school, I said slowly, "Little Skinny."Author Kristin Levine gives credit to her father and many 1950s residents of Downers Grove who shared their personal stories with her for The Paper Cowboy. Armed with their honesty and openness, she has crafted an intensely personal story that accurately reflects the mores of the 1950s. We seldom have the opportunity (or the desire) to know everything that goes on behind the doors of our neighbors' houses. Levine opens the doors of Downers Grove to reveal alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, disease, sorrow, and loneliness. It is this stark realism that makes the conclusion so satisfying. This is not a breezy read with a tidy and miraculous wrap-up. It is instead, a tribute to community, to ordinary people faced with extraordinary problems, to the human ability to survive and overcome and change.
"I didn't like him. I don't like him. Sometimes, Eddie and I and the choirboys, we tease him."
"Ahh," she said again. "He laugh too?"
I shook my head. I knew what Mary Lou would say. Shame on you, Tommy! Picking on that poor boy. And now she would have scars just like him. How would I feel if someone picked on her?
"What did you do?" Mrs. Glazov asked, her voice soft, like a priest at confession. It surprised me. I'd never heard her sound so gentle.
"I took some candy from him," I admitted.
"You stole it."
"It's not my fault! If Mary Lou had been there, I never would have done it!"
Mrs. Glazov laughed. "You don't need sister. You need conscience."
I had the horrible feeling that she was right. I wasn't a cowboy at all. I was an outlaw.
Angleberger, Tom. 2014. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus. Recorded Books.
Sometimes you get lucky. I've had the opportunity to meet Tom Angleberger several times (including a Skype visit with my book club), I've had an enthusiastic group of Origami Yoda fans that frequent my library, and most recently, I won a copy of Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus from Recorded Books (more on that in a minute).
Since the first time I read and reviewed The Strange Case of Origami in 2010, I've been a fan, and so have legions of kids. In addition to the fact that Tom Angleberger's writing style is perceptive, relevant, and flat-out funny; he, himself, is a great part of his success. Just check his website, or his presence on Twitter (@origamiyoda). He is unfailingly polite, positive, and accessible. Kids love him and he loves them right back.
"The end this is not,"however, this is the end of the series. And yes, you will find out if Origami Yoda is indeed real.
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.
Despite the title, Brown Girl Dreaming is most certainly not just a book for brown girls or girls. Jacqueline Woodson's memoir-in-verse relates her journey to discover her passion for writing. Her story is framed by her large, loving family within the confines of the turbulent Civil Rights Era.
Sometimes a book is so well-received, so popular, that it seems that enough has been said (and said well); anything else would just be noise. Rather than add another Brown Girl Dreaming review to the hundreds of glowing ones already in print and cyberspace, I offer you links to other sites, interviews and reviews related to Brown Girl Dreaming. And, I'll pose a question on memoirs in children's literature.
First, the links:
Davis, Kathryn Gibbs. 2014. Mr. Ferris and his Wheel. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Illustrated by Gilbert Ford.
George arrived in Chicago and made his case to the construction chief of the fair.The chief stared at George's drawings. No one had ever created a fair attraction that huge and complicated. The chief told George that his structure was "so flimsy it would collapse."George had heard enough. He rolled up his drawings and said, "You are an architect, sir. I am an engineer."George knew something the chief did not. His invention would be delicate-looking and strong. It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal—steel.
George was a steel expert, and his structure would be made of a steel alloy. Alloys combine a super-strong mix of a hard metal with two or more chemical elements.
|Ferris wheel at the Chicago World's Fair c1893.|
Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division[/caption]
Just some odds and ends for a Wednesday ...
If you'd like the short review of Egg & Spoon, click here to read my review for AudioFile Magazine. However, if you want to hear more about this wonderful book, read on!
September, National Library Card Sign-Up Month, is almost over, but if you're still looking for a good book to share, here are two new ones:
|See this and more interior artwork at the publisher's website.|
CLEMENTS, Andrew. The Map Trap. 2 CDs. 2:29 hrs. S. & S. Audio. 2014. $14.99. ISBN 9781442357013. digital download.
Gr 3-6 -- Alton Ziegler is crazy about maps. He particularly loves the way they can visually display any manner of information in a variety of ways. Surreptitiously, he collects data and creates humorous maps detailing such trivia as the popularity of lunchroom tables (depicted as a topographical map of the cafeteria) or a weather map of a teacher's clothes. Striped tie today? Look out -- the probability of a pop quiz is high. He never meant for anyone to see his collection, but when it's "mapnapped," there's no telling where the road might lead. Keith Nobbs is perfectly cast as the narrator. He creates a pensive Alton that fits the mood of the story. Clements's (In Harm's Way) use of subjective third-person narration is interesting in that the listener is privy to the inner concerns not only of Alton but of his teacher Miss Wheeling as well. Rarely is a teacher's perspective presented with such honesty and clarity in a middle grade novel. Though Nobbs's voice sometimes cracks when portraying female characters, his delivery, nonetheless, is still pleasing and believable. The Map Trap is a thoughtful, holistic look at the middle school environment that will have wide appeal.
My family often wonders about my propensity to jump from one seemingly unrelated topic to another, often within seconds. What they usually don't realize is that in my mind, the topics are connected; I've merely forgotten to fill them in on the links.
With that in mind, I offer you three new books on Russia that in my mind, are dramatically different and yet completely complementary. A young adult nonfiction book, a young adult fantasy, and a children's picture book —a microcosm of Russia in history, magic and dance.
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Candace Fleming's, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of the Imperial Russia (Random House Audio, 2014). My review and an audio excerpt are linked here.
You can read my review or any number of stellar reviews, but I will sum up by saying that whether you listen to the audio book or read the print copy, The Family Romanov is a fully immersive experience into the final years of tsarist Russia - the time, the place, and the tragically doomed family.
I was happily mulling over this excellent book when I immediately received an opportunity to review Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire (Brilliance Audio, 2014). I had received a galley copy of Egg & Spoon in the spring. I thought it looked intriguing, but hadn't had time to read it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it is a folklore fantasy that takes place - of all places - in tsarist Russia. I couldn't believe my good fortune. The book was enhanced by my recent reading of The Family Romanov. With the history of modern tsarist Russia fresh in my mind, the location and historical setting was vivid, leaving me more time to ponder the story's underpinning of Russian folklore, of which I was mostly ignorant. I knew little of the witch, Baba Yaga and her peculiar house that walks on chicken legs, and I knew nothing of the magical Russian firebird.
My reviews are linked here and here. Again, you can read my review or any other, but I will sum up by saying that Egg & Spoon is grand and magical - a metaphoric epic for readers from twelve to adult.
I was so happy to have read these excellent books in tandem and was recommending them at every turn, when I happened to hear an interview with Misty Copeland on the radio speaking about her experience dancing in the Russian ballet, The Firebird. What a coincidence, I thought - the firebird flies again in my milieu. A greater coincidence ocurred at work when I received my new copy of Misty Copeland's, Firebird. (Putnam, 2014) Reading Egg & Spoon gave me an historical context for The Firebird ballet, and Misty Copeland tied it all together - a modern and immediate manifestation of history's struggles and stories - all rising like the mystical firebird.
So there you have it, my serendipitous encounter with Russian history, folklore and culture. As our two countries struggle with our relationship, may we always remember that there is more to a country than its leaders and politicians. There is always us, the common people. And as Egg & Spoon and Firebird will show you, there is always hope.
I'll say one thing for zombie hamsters. They don't move as slowly as their human counterparts. ...
Snuffles had curled up and was rolling down the stairs like a bouncing ball. I raced after him.
He bolted along the wall. Dad was carrying a huge pile of firewood inside so the front door was wide open. I tried to get ahead of Snuffles to slam it shut, but I tripped on one of the stupid throw rugs Mom insists on leaving everywhere and landed on my stomach.
I pushed myself to my knees just in time to see Snuffles dart through the door and out into the front yard.
Was it my imagination, or did I hear a little undead squeak of triumph as he did so?
I emailed Charlie and told her to come over. I couldn't keep it a secret any longer.At 208 pages, this is a quick read, but despite the adorable cuteness of the cover, it's a suitable choice for older kids, too. My Zombie Hamster should appeal to grades 3-7. McCreely does a great job of combining the fear factor with humor. Matt and his friends are believable middle-schoolers - a little bit snarky, funny, sure of themselves, and prone to making poor choices. This is the first in a series that should have wide appeal.
"So let me get this straight," she said after I'd explained it to her. "Your dad bought you a hamster from a sleazy store and now it's turned into a zombie?"
"And it's escaped?"
"And you called it Snuffles?" she asked, trying not to laugh.
"I didn't call it Snuffles! The name sort of came with the hamster. But now he's called —" I paused dramatically.— "Anti-Snuffles."
HM: The name is Irish in origin, so the correct amount of syllables for authentic pronunciation is eight. (Or nine. It depends if you have all your own teeth or not.) But for our purposes, three will suffice.2. I can find little about you on your “official” bio, other than “Teller of Tall Tales. Adventurer. Swordsman. Discoverer of the Fountain of Youth. Author of many great works, the latest of which is My Zombie Hamster.” Did your discovery of the Fountain of Youth pique your interest in longevity, thus inspiring your interest in zombies, or did another path bring you to zombies? I’ve drunk from your Fountain of Youth, by the way. It tastes terrible. One does wonder though, what would be the effect of the Fountain of Youth on a zombie?
HM: Many good questions there. My discovery of the fountain of youth is a story that would put Indiana Jones to shame. And perhaps it will one day be told. Many are the times I’ve thought about writing down my own adventures in a series of easy-to-read volumes aimed at the younger audience. Thrilling is not the word. Well, it’s one word. But there are many others. Exciting. Dangerous. Death-defying. Amazing. (For instance, there’s the time I took up with the traveling circus as they crossed the planes of Africa. This is where I saved one of my young protégés from a life of mind-numbing boredom cleaning up after hippogriffs. Then there’s the time I saved an entire city from the Witch King of Mallidar. And this is where I saved my second protégé. They booth accompanied me on my many adventures and were with me when I discovered the fabled city of Shangri-La (which lead directly to my discovery of the fountain of youth.) Perhaps someday these tales will be told.
As to the taste, yes, I agree. Like rusted metal filtered through an old sock in which cabbage has been boiled. It’s not pleasant.
Finally, as to my discovery of the fountain possibly inspiring my interest in zombies, yes. You are indeed correct. The fountain was guarded by a village of zombies who had all drunk from the fountain. It brought back their minds and consciousness (but did not repair their bodies.) That was where I got the idea of my little twist on zombies.3. And of course, the most important question, what will Anti-Snuffles do next?
HM: Never fear, he will be back. I have recently put down my fountain pen and completed the second book in the series, Attack of the Zombie Clones. It features everything from the first book, but bigger, better, and undead-er.