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1. Audiobook reviews

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

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

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



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




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

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2. Thoughts for a Thursday

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

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

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

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3. Who Was Harriet Beecher Stowe? a review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rounding out the book are time lines and a bibliography.

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


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

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

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


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4. Picture book roundup - more funny ones!

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

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


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


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



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

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




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

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5. The Sittin' Up - a review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advance Reader Copy provided by








A reminder: Today is Nonfiction Monday.

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7. Picture Book Roundup - new or coming soon!

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

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

 

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


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

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


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

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



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


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

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8. Women's History Month and other things

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


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


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

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9. Tricky Vic - a review

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



Two reminders for this first Monday in March:

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



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


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10. Echo: A Novel - a review

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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11. Feathers: Not Just for Flying

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 Copyright © 2015 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
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14. The Pied Piper of Hamelin - an audiobook review

BlogWithIntegrity.com 
I often read books that I don't like, but over the years, I've posted fewer and fewer negative reviews here.  I recognize that a good deal of effort by many people goes into every published book. In many instances, a book is more than someone's dream realized; it is also a livelihood.  Here at Shelf-employed, I prefer to focus on books that I consider to have value.  If I review books I dislike for a magazine, website, or journal, my honest review will normally stay within the pages of the entity that requested my opinion.

All that aside, I feel an impulse to share my recent review from the February, 2015, issue of School Library Journal. It was the most peculiar, off-putting book I've reviewed in a long time.


BRAND, Russell. The Pied Piper of Hamelin: Russell Brand's
Trickster Tales. 1 CD. 45 min. S. & S. Audio. 2014.
$9.99. ISBN 9781442377325.
Gr 4–7-- In this retelling of the medieval German folktale, the hubris-filled residents of Hamelin are overrun by a polygamous, narco-egalitarian, rat collective of the worst order. Only "gammy-legged" Sam and his mother possess any measure of humility and kindness (for which they are later rewarded). As in the original, the citizens agree to pay the curious, almost otherworldly piper if he can remove the rats. When they later renege on their promise, the piper removes the children of Hamelin as well. As the musing, interrupting narrator, Brand quietly and thoughtfully delivers asides and astute observations as to the character of Hamelin's citizens, who include Fat Dave and Sexist Bob. As the piper, Brand's voice has an almost mesmerizing quality, like the legendary piper's music, lulling the listener into a contemplative state. Sadly, occasionally brilliant phrasing and subtle commentary are sandwiched between overly exuberant character voices and crass jokes. One can write a children's book with wryly amusing social commentary; one can write a children's book replete with poop and fart jokes. It is nearly impossible to balance the two. VERDICT It will be difficult for this book to find an audience outside Brand's existing fan base. Too bad. It had promise

 Copyright © 2015 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
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Coming Monday: a recent audiobook review of a book that I really liked!

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15. The Last Song - a review

Wiseman, Eva. 2012. The Last Song. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra.

Some locations and eras appear regularly in historical fiction  - the US during the Civil War, the Midwest during the Dust Bowl Era, the British Isles in the medieval period, Europe during the Holocaust, the list goes on ... but seldom does it include Spain during the Inquisition.

In this first-person, chronological account, teenager Doña Isabel learns her family's deepest secret - her parents are not devout Catholics as she was raised to be.  Secretly, they practice the Jewish faith - a practice punishable by death under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella, and their Grand Inquisitor, Tomás de Torquemada.  Set in Toledo, Spain, 1491, Isabel is the daughter of the King's physician, a position that has always kept the family in wealth and privilege.  As the Inquisition grows more brutal, suspected heretics are forced to wear sambenitos (sackcloth), they are beaten, tortured, murdered, and burned alive at autos-da-fé.

I looked around to keep awake.  The church's walls were festooned with the sambenitos of the heretics who had been burned alive at the stake during different autos-de-fé. 

"So many sambenitos," I whispered to Mama.  "They should take them off the wall."

She rolled her eyes. "They are supposed to be reminders to the families of the condemned heretics.  They are warnings to them not to follow in the footsteps of their relatives," she whispered.  "They are a warning to us all."

 Her words filled me with fear.

Her parents decide that to keep Isabel safe from the Inquisition, they will promise her in marriage to the son of the King and Queen's most trusted advisor. Luis is loathsome, however, and instead of Luis, Isabel falls in love with Yonah, a young Jewish silversmith, Soon the lives of the entire family are in danger.

If Isabel abandons her lifelong faith a little too easily and if Eva Wiseman paints Isabel's future a little too brightly, this is a small price to pay for a book suits an older, middle-grade audience and draws attention to a terrible period of religious persecution that is not often covered for this age group, grades 6 and up.



Spoiler:
Ironically (in light of today's current political, social and religious climate), Isabel and her family leave Spain counting Moorish refugees as their friends.  Together they head to Morocco in search of freedom and a better life. How much has changed; and yet, how much remains the same.  We learn so little.


Note:
My copy of The Last Song was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I'm sorry that I did not get to it sooner.

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16. The Accidental Highwayman - an audiobook review

Tripp, Ben. 2014. The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides. New York: Tor Teen.


Can I tell you how much I like this book?  I reviewed it several months ago for AudioFile Magazine and could hardly wait until they published my review so that I could freely blog about my affinity for it!  Although "swashbuckling" is the term I've seen most often in reviews of The Accidental Highwayman, I would characterize it as a mix of daring deeds and derring-do, of historical fiction and magical conviction.  You can read my official review here, I listened to the audio version, but would guess that the printed copy is equally enjoyable.

To summarize:

Amidst a grim 18th century English setting arises the accidental highwayman, Whistling Jack.  Teenager Kit Bristol makes the unlikely yet unavoidable transformation from circus performer to manservant to famous highwayman tasked with the rescue of a mysterious princess from an enchanted coach.  Narrator Steve West employs the English "standard accent" for his presentation of the gallant robber.  He delivers non-stop action and suspense while maintaining an air of wise contemplation suited to this retrospective narrative of daring deeds from a magical past.

This is the first in an expected series. Judging from the effort expended on the series' official website, http://kitbristol.com , they knew right out of the gate that this one would be popular!  Enjoy the goofy trailer (there are two more on the site).

 

Note:
As a fledgling ukulele player myself, I love that Ben Tripp plays the ukulele in this trailer.

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17. Picture Book Roundup - January 2015 edition


Some new picture book favorites!  A fairytale, a toddler book, and poetic nonfiction.  Enjoy!


A beautiful princess, a pony, a red umbrella and red tights.  This is the girls' empowerment fairytale that you've always wanted. Be who you are; love who you are. If the illustrations in this one do not enchant you, you have no magic in your soul.  (So glad that this one made the leap across the pond!)




While tow truck and fire truck are out performing rescues, mild-mannered and bespectacled garbage truck "just collects the trash." It takes a snowstorm and an attachable snow plow to turn him into Supertruck! Simply told and simply illustrated for a young audience, this is a story of doing your job simply because it's the job that needs to be done. I like it! 

Note: Despite its snowstorm theme, this one should be popular for the 2015, "Every Hero Tells a Story" summer reading theme.


A beautifully photographed, poetic look at rain - what it does and where it lands and how we see it. Simple, gorgeous science,

It thuds.
Makes mud.
It fills.
It spills.

Have a great week, and don't forget to check out the posts on the Nonfiction Monday blog.

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18. A Dog Called Homeless - a book trailer

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'll be adding this to my Multimedia Booktalks page.

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19. The Terrible Two - a review

Barnett, Mac and Jory John. 2014. The Terrible Two. New York: Amulet.



Miles is moving away from his beloved home at the beach to Yawnee Valley, where the slogan is "Come Look at our Cows."  Miles Murphy, the best-known prankster at his old school, will be attending the Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy,

     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.

When he's paired up with the insufferable school helper, Niles Sparks, Miles thinks things can't get worse, but they do. Someone else in school is a prankster, and whoever it is, he's outpranking Miles.

What's the best part about pulling a great prank?  Getting away with it, or getting credit for it?  Miles is about to find out!

This illustrated novel is the first in a series that's sure to appeal to middle-grade jokers and pranksters.  The writing style is conversationally funny with great black-and-white illustrations that add to the humor, A goofy, cud-chewing cow with a bell stands in a pasture adorning half of page one, which reads,

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.


Note:
I have to add that this book had the best Advance Reader Copy promotion ever!  I was totally pranked!  I received a large box in the mail marked "Perishable."  Inside was the big milk carton, and inside the milk carton was my copy of The Terrible Two, a coffee cup featuring cartoon images of the authors, and a signed certificate from The International Order of Disorder proclaiming the holder to be "a distinguished member of the International Order of Disorder."  I will raffle this off to the members of my book club.  Someone is going to be as happy as a cow in a cornfield!

Advance Reader Copy supplied (with coffee cup and milk carton) by the publisher.

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20. Space Case - an audiobook review

Below is my review of the audiobook Space Case by Stuart Gibbs, read by Gibson Frazier, as it appeared in the December 2014, issue of School Library Journal.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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.

Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.

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21. Muddy Max - a graphic novel review

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.



A Teacher's Guide to Muddy Max is available here.


Elizabeth Rusch is also a talented author of nonfiction. Last year I reviewed her book, Volcano Rising.


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22. The Port Chicago 50 - a review


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.

Contains:
  • Table of Contents
  • Source Notes
  • List of Works Cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Picture Credits
  • Index
See today's Nonfiction Monday roundup at http://nonfictionmonday.wordpress.com 



Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher.



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23. Favorites of 2014

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:


Juvenile Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
Adult Fiction
Juvenile Nonfiction
Picture Books
Audio Books
Graphic Novels

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24. Valentine's Day storytime - love is in the air!

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.

Roses are red. 
Violets are blue. 
Here is advice 
I offer you:

Winter is dark; 
Weather is drear. 
But story time kids 
always bring cheer.

Valentine's Day - 
and books will delight. 
One happy child 
can banish the night.

© L Taylor

I tried something new today.  I put my favorite, rhyming Valentine's Day books for story time in a Riffle list that should allow for scrolling.  I'll put my favorite Valentine's Day rhymes and songs below.  Enjoy!



"A Kiss"  (a fingerplay, prop story, felt board, or song)

There's something in my pocket,
Could it be a moose?
Could it be a train with a bell and a caboose?
Could it be a snake or some sticky glue?
Right here in my pocket is a KISS from me to you! (blow kiss)

I have a photo of a moose glued to a popsicle stick, a train whistle, a bell, a plastic, jointed snake, and glue.  I pull them all out at the appropriate times.

Credit: King County Library System

A Valentine fingerplay:

Show children how to put the "heels" of their palms together and then curve fingers around , meeting on top to form a heart. The rhyme goes like this:

"I put my hands together,
this is how I start;
I curve my fingers right around
and I can make a Heart!"

Credit: Everything Preschool

"Skidamarink" or "Skinnamarink"
You can find this favorite online if you don't already know it.

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25. Monday Morning Miscellany v.8

I haven't been posting much lately, but it's not because I haven't been busy.  Here's what I've been doing:


I'm a Round 2 Judge for Nonfiction -Early & Middle Grades. The finalists are listed below. A winner will be announced on February 14, 2015.  Stay tuned and check out the finalists in all the other categories on the Cybils site.  I can't discuss the books, but you are free to comment on your favorites.

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
by Russell Freedman
Clarion Books
Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cat 
by Sy Montgomery
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Feathers: Not Just for Flying
by Melissa Stewart
Charlesbridge
Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey 
by Loree Griffin Burns
Millbrook Press
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Harry N Abrams
The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats: A Scientific Mystery
by Sandra Markle
Millbrook Press
When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses
by Rebecca L. Johnson
Millbrook Press

I'm honored to be the 2015 Co-Chair of the ALA/ALSC Great Websites for Kids Committee.  If you've never taken advantage of this great resource, I urge you to check it out at http://gws.ala.org/.

The site is continually updated with new sites added and outdated sites deleted. Suggestions and comments are always welcome.  In December, we announced the seven newest sites to be added:

And last but not least,

This year will mark the fifth anniversary of the KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month celebration.  Each year, fellow librarian, Margo Tanenbaum and I, gather writers, illustrators, librarians and bloggers to highlight and celebrate and raise awareness of great books for young people that focus on women’s history.  This year's celebration kicks off in March. Please, stay in touch with us and support the inclusion of women's history in books for young readers! Follow our blog, KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month.

 You can also find us on:
 Below is a sneak preview of the authors and their books that will be featured this year.  


See? I told you I've been busy! Have a great week!  Let it start with a reminder from MLKDay.gov,
"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.

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