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As a child, I remember the Olympics mainly as an opportunity to root against the Eastern Bloc countries. That may seem petty, but my family has/had relatives in the former Czechoslovakia, and that's what we did. In our family, a loss by an Eastern Bloc country was a win for democracy - as if beating East Germany in pole vaulting could somehow make things better. In reality, for the people of the Eastern Bloc, losing likely made their miserable lives worse - if they even knew about it at all.
There are many historical fiction books about wartime Germany. A Night Divided
deposits the reader in post
-WWII Germany — in Berlin, on the wrong
side of the wall.A Night Divided
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
(Scholastic, 2015)In A Night Divided
, 12-year-old Gerta, narrates the dangerously oppressive lifestyle into which she was unwilling thrust,
It was Sunday, August 13, 1961, a day I would remember for the rest of my life. When a prison had been built around us as we slept.
Erected without warning, the fence (and later, the wall) that separated East Germany from West Germany sprang up overnight - a night when Gerta's father and brother had been visiting the West. Gerta is trapped in the East with her resigned mother, and her rebellious older brother, Fritz. Rebellion in East Germany is costly, and the price can be your life.
"We will never be able to leave," Mama said. "The sooner you both accept that, the happier you will be."
I nodded back at her. But I new I could never again be happy here. And I refused to accept my life inside a prison."
This is a deeply affecting novel that does not gloss over the reality of living under the constant watchful eyes of the police, the Grentztruppen
or border police, and the brutal secret police, the Stasi
. In 1960s, East Germany, even a casual comment to a neighbor can be life-threatening.
Each chapter is introduced with a quote or German proverb that sets up the rationale for Gerta's continued, secretive resistance. "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. — Albert Camus, French novelist"
Gerta Lowe is a character that the reader will cheer and remember. A Night Divided
is a chilling and riveting book, balanced by the hope of one family's love and courage.
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This edition of the Picture Book Roundup features three funny books, a hilarious cautionary tale, and a sweet bookish story to melt your heart. Enjoy!
Review copies of Night Animals
by Gianna Marino (Viking, 2015) and In! Over! and On!
by Ethan Long (Penguin, 2015) were provided by the publishers at my request. The Good Little Book
by Kyo Maclear (Tundra, 2015), Everyone Loves Bacon
by Kelly DiPucchio (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2015), and Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook
by Anne Vittur Kennedy (Candlewick, 2015)
If you can't access the slide show with reviews below, you can see it on RiffleBooks at this link. [https://read.rifflebooks.com/list/185319
The Death Knell for Show-and-Tell
For Library Card Sign-Up Month
, I visit every Kindergarten class in town. I talk about all the great reasons to have a library card, drop off applications for each student, and read a book - preferably a funny one. Because I visit at least 12 different classrooms, I usually bring an assortment of books so I don't get bored reading the same one in each class.
If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't
(2015, Little, Brown) is a new book that I find hilarious. A little girl brings her alligator to school for show-and-tell, and all havoc breaks loose. I thought it would bring some giggles to Kindergarten kids. At my first visit, I asked the teacher if the kids had begun show-and-tell yet. I wanted to make sure they would get the joke. I was told that the new, more rigorous Kindergarten curriculum did not allow the time necessary for the rather lengthy process of show-and-tell. The teacher suggested that the book would be best shared with preschoolers as they are the only ones with time for show-and-tell. How sad.
This isn't an individual teacher's decision, it is a by-product of strict, standards-based education. I get it. I truly do, but I am glad that I am not a child today. Today's body of knowledge is so much greater than it was when I was in school, and the process of educating children has moved to a business-like model. These factors combine to remove much of the joy of early learning - free play, music, art, and show-and-tell.
If you're a parent or librarian or teacher with a few minutes of free time, spread some joy wherever you can. Life is hard - even in Kindergarten.
If everyone adhered to this great advice from Dav Pilkey, there would be no need to call attention to Banned Books Week
! Grab a good book and celebrate your freedom to read.
The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser (Candlewick, 2015)
Seventeen-year-old Ishmael has volunteered for a dangerous assignment - a vaguely outlined stint on Cretacea, where he will work with other adventurers in an untamed environment, harvesting resources bound for Earth. Only the dismal outlook on Earth makes this option seem appealing. Stripped of its natural resources, covered in a perpetual shroud, and dangerously low on breathable air, Earth holds few attractions for Ishmael. His foster family is his only concern, but his foster brother is now headed for assignment, too, and Ishmael hopes to earn enough money on Cretacea to pay for passage from Earth for his foster parents.
On Cretacea, a prophetic warning from an old neighbor haunts Ishmael as he works onboard the Pequod under the command of the mad Captain Ahab who has set the ship's course to capture the Great Terrafin, a deadly sea creature of near mythical proportions. For Ishmael and his onboard companions, adventures abound in this cleverly crafted homage to Moby Dick. References to Moby Dick (for those familiar with them) are plentiful; however, despite its similarities to Melville's classic, The Beast of Cretacea is a sci-fi book for the modern age. The Beast of Cretacea confronts modern issues of environmental degradation, resource depletion, wealth and privilege, scientific possibility, and of course, the transcendent coming-of-age issue. Breathtaking excitement is measured with thought-provoking ideas, a rich plotline, and occasional flashbacks. At least one great twist awaits.
For ponderers, sci-fi enthusiasts, and adventure fans seeking a little something extra. Best for ages 12 and up.
On a shelf near you 10/13/15
Members of my monthly book club recently Skyped with Todd Strasser. They were impressed by his perseverance (only a summer's worth of reading kept him from repeating the 3rd grade!) and the sheer volume of his work (more than 140 books!). They appreciated his affability and willingness to delay an afternoon of surfing to accommodate us. As an added bonus, when his daughter (who created the beast on the book's cover) accidentally passed in camera view, he introduced us and gave us a short lesson in the evolution of a book's cover art.I have two copies of The Beast of Cretacea. One was provided at my request from Todd Strasser, and the other was subsequently provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers. Both will given to members of my book club who cannot wait to read it!! The Beast of Cretacea
More fun Beast of Cretacea content:
A Beast of Cretacea Quiz
created by the author:https://www.goodreads.com/quizzes/1115313-do-you-know-the-beast A humorous video trailer:
from todd strasser
Each year, I try to do something new for Hispanic Heritage Month at the library.
This year, I fell in love with Susan Middleton Elya's, Little Roja Riding Hood (Putnam, 2014), so I based a program around that title. We had a fun time retelling the classic story as we knew it, recreating it with felt board pieces, reading Susan Middleton Elya's version, using the globe to find Spanish-speaking countries, playing a game of Color, Colorcito, and finally some free play with the felt board pieces and a rojo coloring page.
Below is a slide show with reviews of other bilingual favorites that I've used for storytime. I also have a list of fun preschool songs, music, and activities for Hispanic Heritage Month. Feel free to ask me about them. If you have trouble seeing the slideshow, you can access it on Riffle. [https://read.rifflebooks.com/list/181065]
Here are two #YAlit audiobooks that I recently reviewed for AudioFile Magazine
. I am not permitted to reprint the reviews here, but have provided the links (which include audio excerpts). Both books offer a unique viewpoint of the adolescent male experience - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
through the medium of film making, and 100 Sideways Miles
through the medium of abstract concepts.
But now I've had my fill of angsty boys for a bit. Time for a change of pace. Up next: Sci-fi and a new picture book roundup.
Read by Thomas Mann, R.J. Cyler, Keith Szarabajka, Hillary Huber, Kirby Heyborne, Abigail Revasch, Adenrele Ojo
I didn't see the movie, but the audio book was fantastic! Here's the link to my review:
Read by Kirby Heyborne
If you're looking for a change of pace, this may be the one for you. It's quirky in a good way.
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I can't republish certain reviews that have already appeared in print or elsewhere online, but I can point you to where you might find them.Diary of a Mad Brownie
The Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville. (Listening Library, 2015)
Suggested for ages 8-12. 298 minutes.
is the first book in Bruce Coville's new series, The Enchanted Files
. I listened to the audio book, and I can tell you that it was the most fun I've had listening in a long time. And it's read by a full cast!
The annual Summer Reading Club season at the public library is winding down, and it's time to head out for my annual "take the kids back to college" road trip.
See you in two weeks!
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Today I'm happy to share in the celebration for the publication of Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles
, written by Susanna Reich
, illustrated by Adam Gustavson
, and published by Macmillan.
Author Susanna Reich has written an inspiring book chronicling the early years of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Each is highlighted in turn with a focus on the events and people that shaped his future and his interest in music.
The final pages feature the band's early successes. Readers will be impressed by the boys' dedication to their musicianship and their ability to overcome family tragedy, illness, and in John Lennon's case - a lack of musical training and a guitar that his mother taught him to tune like a banjo.
John attacked the guitar, strumming as fast he could. He didn't give a fig about wrong notes.
Eventually Paul traded in his trumpet for a guitar. From then on, his brother said, "he didn't have time to eat or think about anything else."
At school, George sat in the back and drew pictures of guitars. But when it came to practicing, no one was more serious.
Back home, Richy [Ringo] couldn't stop his hands from tapping. Listening to all kinds of music—country and western, jazz, blues, skiffle—he'd rap on the back of a chair, bang on a box, or pound an old bass drum with a piece of firewood.
The text is small and in simple font on a plain background, leaving ample room for Adam Gustavson's stellar illustrations in "oil paint on prepared paper." It is a difficult task to render likenesses of these four men who are known and revered the world over. Gustavson has done a remarkable job in capturing their youth, signature expressions, and intensity of mood. In quiet acknowledgement of the post-war era that engendered the rise of rock and roll, the book opens with double-spread illustration of "a dark October night in 1940," the night when John Lennon was born in the midst of war with Germany. The final double-spread is the one that appears on the book's jacket. More illustrations from Fab Four Friends are on the publisher's site.
Rounding out Fab Four Friends
are an Author's Note, Glossary (I'm sad that phonograph needs to be in the glossary!)
, Notes, and Sources.
I asked only one interview question of author Susanna Reich. With so many songs to choose from and her obvious love of her topic, I knew it would be a tricky question:Q: "What's your favorite Beatles tune?"
It sent her to her headphones for an hour of listening. Her final answer:A: "Let it Be."
It's certainly hard to argue with that.
The publisher's site lists a suggested age range of 6-10. I think older kids, particularly those with musical inclinations will be interested in this one as well.
A book's case and jacket are often (usually) the same. Library books are typically processed with protective coating on the jacket that secures it to the cover. So, if you're a librarian, or a library user, you may never see the books' case. If possible, however, take a peek under the jacket of Fab Four Friends
. The front cover features individual portrait style paintings of Paul, John, George, and Ringo. They appear youthful and suited and are presented in square frames reminiscent of yearbook photos or 1970s era Beatles posters. They are joyful and boyish - four fab friends.
My copy of Fab Four Friends
was provided by the publisher. You can find yours on a library or bookstore shelf, beginning today, August 18, 2015.
Follow the blog tour for Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles.
Tomorrow, the tour will stop at UnleashingReaders.com .
Happy book birthday to Fab Four Friends!
Higginbotham, Anastasia. 2015. Divorce Is the Worst (Ordinary Terrible Things). New York:The Feminist Press at CUNY.
I didn't think I'd like this book, and I didn't; I loved it. It is honest; it is practical; it is a beautifully artistic rendering of a sorrowful event. If you know a child in need of a divorce book, look no further; this is it.
Please, do watch the trailer.
Bee Dance by Rick Chrustowski(Henry Holt, 2015)
Suitable for sharing with a story time group, Bee Dance is presented as a conversational entreaty to bees,
Waggle faster, honeybee! Buzz louder! Your dance points the way to the prairie."Bee Dance is lyrical nonfiction with large, bright, cut-paper illustrations. An author's note contains additional facts and the author's source material.
- You can watch an actual "waggle dance" below.
It's STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A handbook for girl geeks by Sam Maggs, 2015
Read by Holly Conrad, Jessica Almasy
Although it is essentially a book about fandoms of all types (Trekkers, Potterheads, cosplayers, and the like), The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy
it is also a motivational book that entreats young women to embrace their fangirl passions without apology.
I think I am predisposed to like anything done by Gianna Marino, so I requested an Advance Reader Copy of Night Animals, which is on shelves now. I was not disappointed.
. 2015. Night Animals.
New York: Viking.
Full bleed illustrations let the night sky offer an expansive and inky stage for highlighting a comical group of nocturnal animals that are afraid of noises in the night. The large illustrations clearly detail the animals' antics, wide-eyed fear, and varying reactions to things that go "aaaarrrrooo!" in the night. The skunk is often depicted with a noxious greenish cloud behind him (much to the dismay of Possum), while the possum (appropriately) plays dead,
"I'm not here."
Minimal text is presented in cartoon-style word bubbles,
"What are we hiding from?" "Night animals! Now keep QUIET!"
Bear, Wolf, Skunk and Possum run from the "night animals." It takes a bat to tell them the real
danger in the nighttime forest. Night Animals
will tickle the funny bone of any young child. This is a perfect book for sharing with a group. Possum is hilarious!
School will be starting before you know it!
Here are some new books that feature the first day of school.
(if you cannot access the slide show, reviews are below)
- First Grade, Here I Come! by Tony Johnston
A playfully rambunctious boy plans his first day of first grade, "For show-and-tell, no teddy bears. I'll bring my snake - oh joy! My friends will hold my boa up. (I call him Huggy Boy.)" For this scene, the playful illustrations show the teacher standing atop her desk while the kids hoist Huggy Boy. Cheerful, silly fun!
- Bob and Flo by Rebecca Ashdown
It's Flo's first day at preschool. Not only does she find her missing bucket, she finds a friend. Cute.
- ABC School's for Me! by Susan B. Katz
"Eating snack around the rug, Friends who share a hello hug." A cute, rhyming, and encouraging ABC book. Dad's First Day Mike Wohnoutka Here's a twist on "first day of school" books - it's Oliver's dad who has the first day of school jitters! (Picture Oliver's teacher carrying Oliver's crying dad outside.) "The teacher walked Oliver's dad outside." "Bye, Daddy!" But don't worry ... it all turns out OK.
- Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten by Marc Brown
In crayon-inspired illustrations, Marc Brown tells the story of a monkey worried about his first day at school. "What if his teacher doesn't like him? What if he gets on the wrong bus? What if he can't find the bathroom? ..." With time and patient help from his parents and friends, Monkey slowly gets ready for Kindergarten.
- Rosie Goes to Preschool by Karen Katz
Rosie's not worried about her first day of preschool. In fact, she'll tell you all about it! Happy, simple, and multicultural - this is a classic Karen Katz book.
- Not This Bear: A First Day of School Story by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
In this story of a bear's first day at school, author Alyssa Satin Capucilli shows that going to school does not mean giving up one's individuality. Bear clings to some familiar things and habits from home, but still fits in and enjoys himself at school. An interesting and reassuring take on "first day at school" books.
- Ally-saurus & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey
Is there room for a dinosaur girl in a school filled with princess girls? Of course there is! "Taking off her favorite dinosaur pajamas, Ally-saurus dressed in her brand-new first-day-of-school outfit. "Your pants are on backward," said Father. "That's so my dinosaur tail can stick out," explained Ally-saurus. Let's wear our pants the right way," said Father. "ROAR!" said Ally-saurus."
- Eva and Sadie and the Best Classroom EVER! by Jeff Cohen
Big sister Sadie tries to help Eva get ready for Kindergarten - but teaching her math and reading may not be the best way to help!
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As I do from time to time, I'm blogging at the ALSC Blog
today. Stop by if you want to read some humorous kids' book reviews, written by kids.
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When I was a small child, I read and sang folksongs like other children read books. One of my favorite songs to sing was "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, O." I was enthralled with my idea of gypsy culture. The images in my family's book of folksongs were of music and dancing and cards and horses. It all looked so wonderful. And so it was that I was thrilled to receive the story of The Lightning Queen from Scholastic. It was as enchanting as I'd hoped it might be. Middle grade readers will enjoy this finely crafted story of two outsider cultures - Mexico's indigenous people and the Roma, or gypsies. Look for it on shelves in October.
The Lightning Queen
by Laura Resau
. (2015, Scholastic)
Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher. Final version subject to changes.
Mateo travels with his mother every summer to visit his relatives on the Hill of Dust in Oaxaca, Mexico. This year, his grandfather Teo says that he needs young Mateo's help; he begins to tell Mateo a fascinating story of his youth,
As he speaks, his words somehow beam light onto an imagined screen, flooding the room with people and places from long, long ago. "Mijo, you are about to embark on a journey of marvels. Of impossible fortunes. Of a lost duck, three-legged skunk, and a blind goa - all bravely loyal. Of a girl who gathered power from storms and sang back the dead. Of an enchanted friendship that lifted souls above brutality.
He pauses, tilts his head, "Perhaps there will even be an itermission or two. But as of yet, there is no end. That, mijo, will be up to you." He winks, clears his throat, and begins.
"There once was a girl called the Queen of Lightning ..."
The story then retreats to the Oaxaca of the mid-1900s, a time when Mexico's indigenous Mixteco people crossed paths with the mysterious Roma in the hills outside Oaxaca.
Grandfather put his hand on my shoulder and said, "They are like us, outsiders in Mexico. Both our people have little voice in the government. City folk consider us backward. We live on the fringes, the wilds of our country. So it is with the Rom."
I looked at Esma and her grandparents, who were admiring the sawdust mosaic of the flowered caravan. And I wondered if the key to her people surviving had been separating themselves from outsiders - gadjés. Maybe that's what bonded them together as they danced around their bonfires, night after night for hundreds of years.
As was foretold by the fortune teller and against impossible odds, young Teo becomes "friends for life" with Esma, the young Romani singer. It is as if they are bound to each other by magic and music and the power of lightning - their destinies tied inexplicably to one another.
Teo reminisces to his grandson Mateo,
She could work magic. One moment, I'd felt hurt and angry. The next honored that she'd confided in me. And now, inspired, as though anything were possible, if I believed it enough.
She climbed onto the rock, raised her arms. "If you believe you're weak, you'll be weak. You're cursing yourself. Yet if you believe you're strong, you'll be strong. Give yourself a fortune and make it come true."
There is definitely magic between Teo and Esma, the indio
boy and the Roma girl, and there is magic in the pages of The Lightning Queen
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The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. Narrated by Phillip Hoose and Michael Braun. (2015, Recorded Books)
This is the heretofore little-known story of schoolboys who challenged the Nazi army even as their country's leaders collaborated with the Germans. Alternating first-person accounts of young saboteur, Knud Pedersen, with carefully researched narrative, Phillip Hoose tells the compelling story of these daring young boys who were willing to risk their lives to free Denmark from German occupation. Without their parents' knowledge, the boys raided, stole, and destroyed German property with nothing more than bicycles for transportation! Their heroic actions sparked the Danish resistance.
Michael Braun narrates the chapters containing Knud Pedersen's first-hand recollections of the events. While his delivery is weighty, it lacks personality. It is through the actions of Knud that the listener learns to like and admire him, rather than through his speech. Because the book is targeted at a young audience (ages 12-18) and Knud himself was only a teen at the time, a younger narrator may have been more appropriate. Author Phillip Hoose does an excellent job with the alternating chapters. He reads precisely and takes great care in the pronunciation of Danish names and places.
This is a well-researched, captivating story that proves the ability of individuals to effect change against overwhelming odds.
Review copy supplied by LibraryThing.
I cannot recommend this one enough. I hope you have time to read at least one version of this inspiring true story of a teenager who created electricity for his impoverished, starving village in Malawi with nothing more than garbage, an elementary education, an old borrowed Physics book (in a language that he did not speak or read!), and a will to make things better!
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (William Morrow, 2009)
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Dial, 2012)
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Penguin, 2015)
Here are William Kamkwamba's two TED Talks. They're short and well worth a listen.
I'm over at the ALSC Blog today with a post on my recent stint as a "virtual teacher." Please hop over and read it.
Enjoy a slide show version of this month's picture book roundup - a sampling of my new favorites!
If the slide show doesn't work for you, I've listed the books below with links to my reviews on LibraryThing
I don't review many early chapter books, but I requested this one from LibraryThing Early Reviewers. because it's published by Candlewick Press (always a plus), and Eliza Wheeler's cover illustration sealed the deal.Cody and the Fountain of Happiness
by Tricia Springstubb. Candlewick Press, 2015. Illustrations by Eliza Wheeler.
Here's why I like Cody and the Fountain of Happiness
- Cody's an average kid - Mom works in a shoe store, Dad's a truck driver, she argues with her older brother Wyatt, though it's clear that they love each other.
- Cody is positive and decisive.
- Her new found friend, Spencer, is an African-American boy with a super hip grandma. (The percentage of African American characters in early chapter books is rather slim, so this is a plus.)
- Cody's mom and dad are positive role models.
- Eliza Wheeler's illustrations are simple, soft, and expressive.
- Spoiler alert! Mom gets a promotion at the shoe store.
Here's an excerpt. Cody is waking her brother on their first day of summer vacation and refuses to be daunted by his grumpy mood.
"Want to go to the dog park and pick what dog we'd get if only we were allowed to get a dog?"
Wyatt put his hands over his eyes.
"No?" said Cody. "How about we look for rocks and have a rock stand and use the money to buy a skateboard?"
Wyatt slowly got to his feet. He was very tall and skinny. If he were a building, he'd be a skyscraper, but a droopy one.
"Silencio," he said. He toppled back into bed and pulled the covers over his head. "You are causing me pain. A big fat pain in my cerebral cortex."
"Do you want some tea?"
"No, Brain Pain. I want you to disappear. Preferably forever."
"I can't," said Cody. "I promised Mom to take care of you. I never break a promise."
Give Cody a try. Though you may wonder about her peculiar fondness for ants, I think you'll like her, her family, and her friends!
My Advance Reader Copy is 151 illustrated pages.
If you're looking for useful, fun, or educational websites to share with your children, students, or library patrons, I urge you to check out Great Websites for Kids
sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).
I'm off to the annual American Library Association Conference today! For conference news, updates, and insight, be sure to follow the ALSC Blog
. I (and many other ALSC members) will be live blogging from the conference on the ALSC Blog. If you prefer, follow the hashtag #alaac15 on Twitter.
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The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War by by David Almond, John Boyne, Tracy Chevalier, Ursula Dubosarsky, Timothee de Fombelle, Adele Geras, et al. | Read by Nico Evers-Swindell, JD Jackson, Gerard Doyle, Richard Halverson, Sarah Coomes, Nick Podehl
(2015, Brilliance Audio) is a powerful collection of short stories that view World Ward I and its repercussions from many different points of view.
The link to my short review for AudioFile Magazine is below. An audio sample is available at the link as well. Publisher recommended for grades 5 and up.
I'm still working on a follow-up post to my trip to the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco. It was a great experience.