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Daniel Harmon has been working in book publishing since 2003—first developing history projects at Greenwood/ABC-Clio, then acquiring pop culture books for Praeger Publishers, and most recently overseeing the publishing program at Zest Books, an independent publisher of nonfiction books for teens and young adults.
Since joining Zest in 2012, Daniel has acquired Zest’s first book to sell in excess of 25,000 copies, developed Zest’s first three projects to receive starred reviews, and launched Pulp, a new imprint for older readers. He is also the author of the book Super Pop! (which Kirkus called “weird, witty, and endlessly entertaining”).
Daniel shares that the Zest approach to publishing is
from cover to last word, working to keep teen readers interested.
He speaks of how they've moved into doing more middle grade, and doing books for all ages. Their tagline is
Books for young adults of all ages.
Explaining what "all ages means," he says
Doing books explicitly for teens is a great way to make sure you get no teen readership.
They're trying to create books teens will want to pick up and adults will want to pick up, too.
He explains their efforts to add art (primary source materials, photos, infographics...), try to figure out where their books will be placed in bookstores, if it's librarian-bait or more tailored for the gatekeeper/blogger world, their new imprint Pulp that's aiming more new adult, their teen advisory board and much more.
Talking us us through a variety of Zest's titles, he explains that
"You don't need to dumb things down to make it teen-friendly."
Two upcoming titles:
Unslut the author's middle school diary of being bullied and shamed for being the school "slut" alongside her contemporary perspective, and
Plotted A literary atlas, literary maps of treasured books, like Huck Finn and Watership Down.
"Really what we're trying to do is stay surprised ourselves. Doing a book that actually adds something."
The Armstrong Girl: A Child for Sale: The Battle Against the Victorian Sex Trade. Cathy Le Feuvre. 2015. Lion. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
I loved, loved, loved Cathy Le Feuvre's The Armstrong Girl. I think you might love it too.
Do you enjoy reading nonfiction? Do you enjoy biographies? Do you enjoy reading about the Victorians--fiction or nonfiction? Do you love history books RICH in primary sources? Do you like to read about law cases and the legal system? Looking for a good--true--story about women's rights? Have an interest in journalism, reporting, and publishing? Have an interest in learning more about the history and/or origins of The Salvation Army? Do you enjoy compelling narratives? How about complex ethical dilemmas?
The Armstrong Girl is set in England around 1885. One man--with a good amount of help--sets out to right some wrongs. He is upset--and rightly so--that young girls--young virgins--are being sold into prostitution and sometimes even trafficked out of the country into foreign brothels. He wants to prove that it is relatively easy to find a young girl--thirteen or so--to buy for immoral purposes. He goes undercover himself to prove that this is so. Now, for the record, his intentions are to save her once he's bought her. To place her safely among friends in The Salvation Army so that she is not sold again. Who is he? He's William Thomas Stead of the Pall Mall Gazette. His series of stories about child prostitution and sex trafficking were called The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. His big goal was to strongly encourage--compel, force--parliament to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16. Here is how he 'warned' his readers:
Therefore we say quite frankly today that all those who are squeamish, and all those who are prudish, and all those who prefer to live in a fool's paradise of imaginary innocence and purity, selfishly oblivious to the horrible realities which torment those whose lives are passed in the London Inferno, will do well not to read the Pall Mall Gazette of Monday and the three following days. The story of an actual pilgrimage into a real hell is not pleasant reading, and is not meant to be. It is, however, an authentic record of unimpeachable facts, "abominable, unutterable, and worse than fables yet have feigned or fear conceived." But it is true, and its publication is necessary.
The first half of the book focuses on the articles he wrote and the legislation that resulted from his reporting. The second half of the book focuses on the legal aftermath of his reporting. He is arrested and placed on trial. Others who helped him--knowingly or unknowingly--are put on trial as well. Will he be found guilty? How about the others, will they be found guilty as well?
I loved this book. I found it fascinating. It was well-written. It was compelling--complex and detailed, full of oh-so-human characters. It was rich in primary sources: excerpts from the articles, testimonies from the trial, journal entries and letters from some of the participants, etc. It was just an absorbing read.
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.
Dot The number of dots on a ladybug's wings tells us what type of beetle it is. How many do you count? Line Look at the pigeons on the telephone line. Together they take a break from flying in the sky. Curve Snakes curve from side to side as they slither along.
Premise/plot: A nonfiction concept board book for young(er) children. The focus this time is on shapes found in nature. Readers are introduced to the following shapes: dot, line, curve, round, triangle, square, rectangle, diamond, oval, semicircle, coil, spiral, crisscross, star, pentagon, hexagon, ball, and trapezoid. These 'shapes' are found in photographs.
Spiral The chameleon can twirl its tail to grab on to branches. See the spiral as it sits in a tree?
My thoughts: I like this one. I do. I enjoyed it just as much as Homes. Both books are definitely worth seeking out. It's never too early to start sharing good nonfiction titles with your children!
“…Finally, she steps onto the stage alone … and sprouts white wings, a swan. She weaves the notes, the very air into a story. All those sitting see. They stare—Anna is a bird in flight, a whim of wind and water. Quiet feathers in a big loud world. Anna is the swan.” (Click to enlarge spread)
This morning over at Kirkus, I’ve got some French picture book imports. That link will be here soon.
* * *
Last week, I wrote here about Laurel Snyder’sSwan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Chronicle), coming to shelves in August 2015. Today, I’ve got some spreads from it.
“…The story unfolds. A sleeping beauty opens her eyes…” (Click to enlarge spread)
“…and so does Anna. Her feet wake up! Her skin prickles. There is a song, suddenly, inside her.” (Click to enlarge spread)
After a brief, thankfully, lupus flare-up, I am pleased to bring you a wonderful picture book from the talented team of Ellen Fischer and Laura Wood. I think you will smile and enjoy a laugh with this wonderful follow-up to If an Armadillo Went to a Restaurant.
Written by Ellen Fischer Illustrated by Laura Wood Mighty Media Kids 8/11/2015 978-1-938063-61-9 32 pages Age 3—7
“Would an elephant learn the ABCs if she went to school? No way! She would learn how to use her trunk as a nose, a straw, a hand, and a hose! Through a series of questions and answers, readers learn about animals and their unique behaviors. And in the end, you might find yourself asking what you would learn.”[press release]
Review If an Elephant Went to School utilizes ten different animals to showcase what each would not learn in school, and then what it might learn based on that animal’s abilities, needs, and nature. The back cover asks:
“If a platypus went to school, would she learn to play the violin? NOT LIKELY! But what would she learn?”
“A platypus can’t play a violin,” young readers are bound to say. But what would a platypus learn in school?
“A platypus would learn to dive to find her food. NO SNORKEL NECESSARY.”
Kids will love learning what these animals—elephant, owl, zebra, frog, eel, bee, skunk, caterpillar, and platypus—would learn in school, while laughing at what it would not—could not—learn. Each “not learn” is something that a child will learn in school. For preschoolers, If an Elephant Went to School is a wonderful introduction into what they will encounter when kindergarten and first grade roll around. Older children will enjoy learning about these animals and poking fun at their own education.
If an Elephant Went to School is a wonderful read a-loud book that encourages listener participation. With its winsome illustrations, If an Elephant Went to School is a funny, delightful read that children will want to go through on their own after a first reading. I think this charming follow up to If an Armadillo Went to a Restaurant, will have kids wanting to read—or listen to—If an Elephant Went to School several times. Reading this enjoyable, educational, and entirely humorous picture book should not press on any parent’s nerve while reading multiple times. If an Elephant Went to School—a truly fun giggle-book—should be a wild bullseye for booksellers.
I have not had the privilege of reading If an Armadillo Went to a Restaurant (book 1 in the series), though I would love to do so. I am also hoping that this picture book series from Mighty Media Kids (formerly Scarletta Kids), will continue with its fun pokes at the wild kingdom, while teaching youngster about wildlife. For me, If an Elephant Went to School earns an A+!
Wait, you say I only listed 9 animals, not 10?! You are correct. The tenth animal is YOU!
Full Disclosure: If an Elephant Went to School, by Ellen Fischer & Laura Wood, and received from Mighty Media Kids, (an imprint of Mighty Media Press), is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
This is one of those books that always shows up on 1000 Books to Read Before You Die lists. It's been on my radar in that capacity for a long time, but at the same time, it's a series of letters between a writer and New York and a used bookstore in London. And it's not fiction. Really, 1000 Great Books?
But, I finally picked it up and read it.
Oh my God you guys... GO READ THIS BOOK.
First off, it's short. I mean, it's 112 pages long and the letters are short, so there's lots of white space. I read it in under two hours, and that was with a crazy 4-year-old running around me.
Second off, it's HILARIOUS. I mean, check out of how the letter from November 18, 1949 starts. There is no salutation, just the date and:
WHAT KIND OF A BLACK PROTESTANT BIBLE IS THIS?
Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They'll bur for it, you mark my workds.
It's nothing to me, I'm Jewish myself....
I enclose $4 to cover the #3.88 due you, buy yourself a cup of coffee with the $.12
Eventually through her book orders and resulting criticism, she becomes friends with everyone in the shop and starts sending regular holiday care packages with eggs and meat and other things that are still scarce due to post-war rationing.
I love the October 15, 1951 letter
WHAT KIND OF A PEPYS' DIARY TO YOU CALL THIS?
this is not pepys' diary, this is some busybody editor's miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepys' diary may he rot.
PS. Fresh eggs or powdered for Xmas?
The letters keep original capitalization and punctuation. It's a great love letter to bookstores and books and a wonderful friendship and story that evolves. It's funny and heart-warming and utterly charming in a non-twee way.
GO READ IT.
Book Provided by... my local library
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I enjoyed reading Miss Patch's Learn to Sew Book. I had no idea that Carolyn Meyer wrote a book on sewing. I love her best for her historical fiction. In particular, White Lilacs, but also her series of young royals: Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary Anne, etc.
Did you grow up sewing? I did. I didn't learn from a book, or at least this book. But it felt very familiar all the same. I think I've done similar projects myself. What kinds of sewing projects are included? pillows, pillowcases, drawstring bags, scarves and aprons, quilt squares, skirts and slips, toys, and doll clothes. Some of the projects have you making your own pattern out of newspaper, and other projects have you copying patterns from this book. The instructions, for the most part, are simple and straightforward.
This is how to thread a needle: Cut a piece of thread as long as your arm. Then poke the end of the thread through the "eye" of the needle. It will go through more easily if you wet it on the tip of your tongue and then squeeze it. Now try to hit the eye. Pull the thread through until the ends are even and make a knot. This is how to make a knot: Wet your finger a little on the tip of your tongue. Wrap the thread around your finger once. Roll it off with your thumb. Pull it tight. The knot should be small and neat. If it isn't, don't worry. You can hide it so no one will see it, and the next time you do it, it will look much better.
The book is step-by-step, which is an absolute necessity in my opinion.
“We saw magnificent Masai warriors, called Marons, and women mantled in beautiful beadwork.” (Click to enlarge)
Last week at Kirkus, I chatted with Betsy and Ted Lewin about their new book, How to Babysit a Leopard: And Other True Stories from Our Travels Across Six Continents (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, June 2015). That Q&A is here.
Today, I follow up with a bit of artwork from the book.
“At last we stopped for lunch at a small hotel above Kasese. Sitting at a table on an open patio, and still keeping a wary eye on the mountains, we heard the screech of brakes, slamming car doors, and gruff, muffled voices. We jumped up and ran to the steps where I nearly collided with a soldier the size of a refrigerator in camouflage, a green beret, and green jungle boots. He glared at me, stone-faced. …” –Ted and Betsy in Kasanai, Uganda, December 1997
“She was as sleek and graceful as a ballerina as she tiptoed along the branch of a huge jackalberry tree. Then she lay down, back legs straddling the branch. She peeked demurely at us through the leaves. …” –Ted and Betsy in Xakanaxa Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana, May 2007 (Click to enlarge)
“Painting for Peace in Ferguson is the story of a community coming together, hundreds of artists and volunteers, black and white, young and old, to bring hope and healing to their community using the simplest of all tools—a paintbrush. Written in child-friendly verse, the actual artwork painted on hundreds of boarded up windows in Ferguson, South Grand and surrounding areas illustrates the story. The art ranges from simple, childlike drawings of love and peace to challenging and compelling calls for social change. The effect on the town’s landscape and its people was remarkable: turning fear into hope, frustration into inspiration, and destruction into creation. . . . when people reach out to each other across lines that divide us and work together, remarkable things happen. A single paintbrush can paint one picture but thousands working together can transform a community.” [back cover]
The paintbrush became a tool of hope in Ferguson. Artists young and old, amateur and professional, armed with a paintbrush came together to transform the boarded up windows of a community that had imploded upon itself in grief and anger. Painting for Peace in Ferguson captures those mostly now gone images inside a children’s book that is not, and should not be just for children.
The images range from simple black and white messages of hope to murals compelling a need for social change. From single boarded up windows to complete storefronts, (and the broken windows and doors of City Hall), told the story of Ferguson, Missouri uniting behind strong ideals: loving one another and coexisting in peace.
With over 140 artworks painted over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the images in Painting for Peace in Ferguson are powerful testaments to the human spirit and resiliency. Children likely find the events of Ferguson confusing. Painting for Peace in Ferguson possesses the wonderful ability to help foster understanding and discussion, not just with children but also with adults, many of whom are also struggling to comprehend the events that disrupted their lives and communities.
300 artists and volunteers created paintings in the City of St. Louis’s communities of Ferguson, Dellwood and South Grand. Such a gargantuan effort showers inspirations of hope, peace, and love among those communities and all who read Painting for Peace in Ferguson.
If there is any drawback to Painting for Peace in Ferguson it is the text, with inconsistent rhyme patterns and the occasional slanted rhyme. The attempt to rhyme may be based on a false belief that children’s books need to rhyme to attract and hold a child’s attention. The Ferguson story would have been better served in simple and straightforward prose. Still, the message of Ferguson is clear and not easily forgotten, nor should it be.
“In the small town of Ferguson In 2014 Some people did things that Were meaner than mean
“Some people were mad Some people were sad But everyone, everywhere Felt pretty bad :(
“But when morning came Folks took one look around And said we don’t like The looks of our town”
Painting for Peace in Ferguson has the power to ignite many a discussion from those with elementary children to those between adults. The symbol of hope and peace is one children should learn and embrace, but it began with the hundreds of artists who descended upon Ferguson in a united belief that Ferguson—and the country as a whole—can heal and grow.
In this regard, Painting for Peace in Ferguson is a picture book like no other and belongs on the collective landscape for years to come as a reminder that communities need not implode in anger and grief—though greatly justified—when there is a better, more productive and satisfying option of healing in hope and peace—as in South Carolina these past few weeks. Author Carol Swartout Klein is a native of Ferguson.
PAINTING FOR PEACE IN FERGUSON. Text copyright (C) 2015 by Carol Swartout Klein. Illustrations copyright (C) 2015 by Rachel Abbinanti, et al. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Treehouse Publishing Group, St. Louis, MO.
Purchase Painting for Peace in Ferguson at Amazon—Book Depository—Book’s Website. (Available in paperback 8/04/2015) **Proceeds from the sale of Painting for Peace in Ferguson are donated to youth arts and small business recovery in North St. Louis County.
Learn more about Painting for Peace in FergusonHERE.
Resources for Parents & Teachers can be found HEREand HERE.
Coloring Pages for Kids can be found HERE.
Full Disclosure: Painting for Peace in Ferguson, by Carol Swartout Klien, and received from Treehouse Publishing Group, (an imprint of Amphorae Publishing Group), is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Judging from my stats, there are still a lot of readers interested in books about WWII. Like me, most are interested in fiction and stories of courage and survival, whether they take place in countries under Nazi occupation/siege, near the front lines, or are stories about the home front. Not many really seem want to read the details of military strategy or battles fought. But sometimes a book like that comes along and the author has made it so interesting, it appeals to everyone. Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Atkinson is one of those writers who can bring major WWII battles to life, and adapting his adult books for young readers. He did it in D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944 and he has done it again in Battle of the Bulge.
By December 1944, it was looking pretty certain that Germany was going to lose WWII. Refusing to accept defeat, Hitler came up with a plan he called Herbstnebel (autumn mist). It was to be a surprise attack against Allied Forces in the forest of the Ardennes in Belgium, and Hitler ordered that nothing in the plan was to be altered, even though his advisers had grave doubts about the success of Herbstnebel.
And the surprise element of Hitler's last ditch Western Front offensive hit was indeed a surprise attack for the Allies. Unlike the D-Day invasion, the Allies did not have time for planning, so the surprise element of the attack resulted in one of the worst battles of World War II for them. How bad? According to Atkinson, in just one day of the fighting, December 19, 1944, 9,000 American soldiers were captured by the Germans.
The Battle of the Bulge began on December 16, 1944 and ended in German defeat on January 25, 1945. Much needed American reinforcements arrived on December 26, 1944 with General Patton, and proved to be a great boon for the Allies. It must have felt like a Christmas present to the soldiers already at the front.
Atkinson used the same format for Battle of the Bulge that he used in his D-Day book for young readers. There is plenty of informative front matter to help readers understand the main part of the book. This consists of maps, who the key players were, Allied and Axis Commands, and a timeline of the war. Atkinson's Back Matter is even more extensive and consists of many interesting topics, especially the kind that young readers might want to know about after reading the book and seeing the copious photographs he includes. Topics like what U.S. soldiers wore in a battle that happened during such a bitter cold, snowy winter (as you can see below), or what weapons were used, and even what happened after the Battle of the Bulge ended, even the use of dogs on the battlefield.
The book is divided into four sections, each section covering both Allies and Axis sides. The first section covering the Western Front form the beginning of the war to November 1944, for readers whose knowledge may need to be refreshed or for readers who know nothing about the war. Atkinson's second section focuses on Hitler's Plan; section three follows the events as they unfolded on the actual day of the German offensive; and finally the days following that.
In war, planning and fighting a battle are very complex parts of war, consequently, writing about a battle cannot possible be done as a linear narrative. For that reason, it sometimes feels as though Atkinson has simply cut and pasted parts of his adult book to make this a book for young readers. But this is meant to be an introduction to this important, pivotal battle and in that respect, I think Atkinson does a very good job. As always, his research in impeccable, and his writing clear and, while taking into account he is not writing for an adult, he does not condescend to his readers, either.
The Battle of the Bulge was never something I was particularly interested in after watching a old movie about it on TV when I was a tween. It was cold, and bloody and, not knowing anything about it before I watched the move, I didn't really understand it. Natuarlly, I never felt inclined to read anything about the battle of the bulge t before this book. I feel like I have a much better handle on the events of this offensive now and hope it will help kids understand its importance in the overall WWII events, too.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This was an EARC received from NetGalley
It's always fun to find a non-fic pick to recommend to you all. I saw this little treasure and am happy to share it.
Drawn to cats, artists over time have found them to be subjects for their works and companions for their late night creations. How about a collection of photographs of artists and their felines? From Andy Warhol to Georgia O'Keefe to John Lennon, it's a joy to see creators and their muses caught by the camera in Artists and Their Cats. Various backstory is included, enriching the imagery.
"Behind every great artist is a great...cat."
Consider this little gem as a gift to yourself or another cat-lover. Especially with all the Siamese included. :)
I have often wondered how to share the enormity of World War II with my children and students -- how to help them start to understand the enormity of the war, its complexities, and also its impact on individual people. My own family fled from German occupation of Czechoslovakia and Austria, and many who didn't leave were caught and killed.
I feel strongly that children should learn about the upheaval that World War II caused, but how do we do this in a way that they can absorb? As parents and teachers we need to consider children's developmental stages as we introduce the terrifying and tragic aspects of war.
In The Journey that Saved Curious George, Louise Borden shares the true story of how Margret and H.A. Rey escaped Paris two days before the Nazis invaded. It is one of the best introductions I have ever read with children to this tumultuous time period in European history.
Borden writes in her introduction that she had heard for many years about Margret and H.A. Rey's escape from Paris on bicycles in June 1940, just as the Germans were occupying France, but that no one could share many details.
"The story felt incomplete. I wanted to know more. I wanted real images. I was curious, just like the Reys' famous little monkey, George."
And so Borden embarked on her own journey, a journey of research reading the Reys' papers, notebooks and diaries, speaking to the Reys' friends and colleagues, and traveling to many of the places where the Reys lived between 1936 and 1940.
map showing the Reys' journey in 1940, escaping Paris by bicycle and train
Margret and H.A. Rey were both born in Hamburg, Germany in 1906 and 1898, respectively, to middle class Jewish families. Borden helps young readers understand the context of their lives, by combining clear text, photographs and illustrations. Readers immediately get a sense of Margret and Hans as young people, but also the times and places they lived.
The Reys returned to Europe for their honeymoon in 1936 and ended up living in Paris for four years. During this time, they began writing and publishing children's picture books. As the Nazis began invading European countries, the Reys became concerned. When the Germans invaded Holland, Belgium and then northern France, it became clear that the Reys needed to make plans to flee--and quickly.
I especially love how Borden shows actual visas, passports and pages from Hans' diary to help readers see how she found the information to piece together for their story. This helps create a palpable sense of being there alongside the Reys, especially as they frantically tried to prepare for their departure.
Alan Drummond's illustrations also convey the chaos, but the line drawings give more life and energy and the soft colors keep the mood from becoming too somber. The illustration below show how Margret and Hans eventually were able to flee Paris on bicycles--two days before Paris fell to the German invasion.
Through this story, children are able to get an appreciation for both the chaos that war brought to ordinary people throughout Europe, as well as the frightening experience of one couple. As Louise Borden writes,
"Everywhere there was confusion and noise: grinding gears of overheated cars and the frightening drone of German scout planes. Constant and relentless were the honking to speed up the crawling procession of the largest motorized evacuation in history.
More than five million people were on the roads of France that day. Among this sea of humanity were two small figures: Margret and H.A. Rey."
This is an excellent nonfiction for elementary students--especially those who profess disdain for nonfiction. The text is broken up into short lines, creating plenty of white space for the illustrations to tell their part of the story. The descriptions bring you right into the action, and the pacing keeps readers moving until the dramatic climax of the Reys' escape.
For more interesting information, definitely check out this Q&A with Louise Borden, from the publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
I purchased these review copies for my personal library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.
First Flight Around The World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won The Race. Tim Grove. 2015. Abrams. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Around 8:30 A.M., on April 6, 1924, three airplanes floating on the calm water of Lake Washington in Seattle taxied away from their moorings, revved their engines, and climbed steadily into the cold, gray sky.
Do you enjoy reading nonfiction? I do. Especially nonfiction written for young people. At 96 pages, this one is quite accessible, and yet it is packed with information, photographs, and illustrations such as maps and newspaper clippings. This is the first book I've read on the subject--I'd never really thought about who was first to fly around the world-- and it served as a great introduction to the subject.
The year is 1924. Several countries including the United States are trying to be the first to fly around the world. (Other countries making an attempt that year, or planning to make an attempt that year, include Great Britain, France, Portugal, Italy, and Argentina.) Which country will be the FIRST and get all the glory? Instead of sending one plane to make an attempt, there will be FOUR planes carrying eight men. Each plane is named after an American city: Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, and Seattle. The flight is chronicled step by step. Readers learn about the men making the trip, the troubles they encountered along the way, the places they stopped, etc. The book does a good job in providing context: what was the world like in 1924? flying was certainly still a novelty, for example, and it wasn't always easy to find places to land and all the supplies one would need. So planning was essential, and unexpected challenges were problematic!
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.
Why is it the books I love the most are the hardest to write about? It can’t be only because I want you to love them too. I was going to say that maybe it is because they are the rich ones filled with lots of good things to talk about but that isn’t always the case, sometimes a simple book can blow me away. Likely it’s some combination of factors I would have to think long and hard about. Whatever the reasons, I loved The Art of Daring by Carl Phillips so much I have put off writing about it for two weeks hoping that in that time I would be able to figure out what to say about it, how to explain the reasons it is so very good and why I loved it so much. But I am coming up empty. If I leave it any longer I won’t write about it at all and that won’t do. So I just have to tell you about it as best I can and hope you can make sense of it.
The Art of Daring is a small book of several essays. I wrote about the first one already in which Phillips discusses resonance and restlessness. He carries these two ideas into the rest of the essays and adds to them thoughts on desire, resistance, loss, love, mercy, and, of course, daring. Phillips is a poet and his writing tends to the lyrical. I know, lyrical nonfiction, not a common thing. He is meditative and circles round and round an idea, looking at it from different angles and in different lights. And then he layers them up and then he digs back down. He does this across the essays so that while each one can be read separately, they are so intertwined it would be difficult to break them apart.
This is a book of literary criticism but it is unlike nearly all you have ever read. Not entirely unique, but definitely not run-of-the-mill. It is not at all academic. It is meant for the thoughtful, general reader. And while Phillips demonstrates and advances his arguments with analysis of poems, what he says can be expanded out to include more than poetry.
And now I want to give you a sample, a quote, but something short won’t convey the full sense of this book. Something longer then, which means I can’t give you several quotes because your eyes will glaze over or you will just skip them. So one quote, but which one? One about uncertainty? Or maybe one about our fragmented selves? A beautiful one about how a poem is a form and act of love? No, while these all tie into the title they seem unhinged without context, so I give you something that reflects the purpose of the book but does not require context:
The deeper one gets into what eventually amounts to a career, the harder it becomes to incorporate daring and risk into it. As in life, if we’re lucky, we grow more comfortable, successful, and accordingly more aware that there is more to lose. So there’s a resistance to changing what’s in place already. Meanwhile, we’re aware also of there being daily less time left, which can bring fear. This issue of time, it seems to me, should spur us on to live even more adventurously — if not now, then when? — but mostly it doesn’t, or so it seems when I look around me. Why risk what it’s taken all our lives to at last get hold of? Or if we haven’t gotten it by now, why try, why bother? And yet for the artist I think an appetite for a certain recklessness is crucial, if the work is not only to extend itself, but also deepen, and meaningfully complicate itself.
Even though I said this is a book of literary criticism, it struck me a number of times while I was reading that it was also a kind of self-help book as you can pick out from the quote. It’s not the kind that tells you how to get ahead or organize your life or lose ten pounds or find your soulmate, it’s much more subtle than that. Because really, when you exam closely the ideas Phillips discusses and how he talks about them, you start to realize that it is about more than reading poetry and literature, it’s about life and how one might go about it. With Phillips it is definitely an examined life but not the kind of examination that keeps one in place. Instead it is one that creates a restless curiosity, a desire to know, a space for uncertainty, a willingness to dare — dare to be vulnerable, to try something new, to reach out past one’s carefully tended and comfortable borders.
I finished the book not only appreciating a particular aspect of poetry and art and literature in general, but also wanting to be more daring in my own life. Because we all are writing our own stories and when it comes to the end, I want to be able to say Wow! That was good!
As children we were both fascinated by a book called I Married Adventure by Osa Johnson. It’s about her and her husband Martin’s travels to wild places around the world. We both aspired to their kind of life, and our childhood dreams came true. Our book is the culmination of all our travels. … We wanted to make this a true representation of what it felt like to be in these places. It would be less than honest if we made all our adventures look like a piece of cake.”
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Over at Kirkus today, I talk to Betsy and Ted Lewin, pictured here, about their new book, How to Babysit a Leopard: And Other True Stories from Our Travel Across Six Continents (Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook, June 2015). That link will be here soon.
Next week, I’ll have a few of the watercolors from the book.
Follow Your Gut. Rob Knight with Brendan Buhler. 2015. Simon & Schuster (TED) 128 pages. [Source: Library]
Just how much microscopic life dwells inside you? If we're going by weight, the average adult is carrying about three pounds of microbes.
Follow Your Gut is reader-accessible science. The book is packed with information--what we know for sure, what we think we know, how much we just don't know quite yet, what we still need to spend time researching. The focus of the book is on microbes: the microbes living in us and on us. How every individual has their own unique combination of microbes. Our microbes can tell scientists where we live and how we live. Most of the book focuses on the microbes living in our guts. The book seeks to convey HOW VERY, VERY, VERY important it is to have good microbes in our gut. How essential gut health is to overall health, but, especially brain health.
Table of contents:
The body microbial
How we get our microbiome
In sickness and in health
The gut-brain axis
Hacking your microbiome
The book is packed with (basic) information. And I think it's information that should be more well known. I think knowledge is the first step, a good solid step in the right direction. I do wish the book was slightly more practical. Yes, it's good to know what microbes do or might do. But which strains of microbes are best for dealing with specific health issues? And how can one add/change one's microbes?!
Having watched a few of these, I then undid the “airlock” into our kitchen and they found this:
And the next hour was spent with M and J experimenting with recipes for meals we might be able to eat on the International Space Station. I (with hindsight: foolishly) promised I would eat anything they prepared for tea.
The velcroed packets of dried and / or powdered food available to the space chefs included:
Instant hot chocolate
Strawberry pudding powder (Angel Delight)
Instant porridge with golden syrup flavour
Dried fried onion bits
Dried coconut chips
Dried banana slices
A tube of tomato purée
A tube of garlic purée
A tube of vegetarian pate
Freeze dried strawberries
Basically I went to the supermarket and just chose a selection of dried and/or powdered foodstuffs, and a few interesting things in tubes…. It was quite eye opening to see what’s available. Alsp, as I couldn’t simulate all aspects of the International Space Station, I provided them with hot and cold water on tap to mix into their ingredients if they wished to.
And here are the final dishes they prepared for me:
Clockwise from top left: Golden syrup porridge and custard, pate and tomato paste tortilla with crunchy banana bits, hot chocolate strawberry pudding and tomato and garlic stew. (!!)
The girls loved measuring out and mixing up the ingredients, but most of all they loved making me squirm as I attempted to eat what they had made.
Do I love my children? Perhaps a funny thing to ask in the middle of a post about space travel, but it was a question I had to repeatedly put to myself as I ate their four course meal….
I do love my children, but eating their food was a challenge. There’s no other polite way of phrasing it… I don’t think I’m cut out to be an astronaut.
But at least once I’d had plenty of water to drink and brushed my teeth several times to get rid of the flavours, we had books to put us all to rights again.
100 Facts Space Travel by Sue Becklake, 100 Facts Stars and Galaxies by Clive Gifford and 100 Facts Solar System by Ian Graham recently arrived in our home and have been the spark for many curious conversations since then. “Mum, did you know that there’s an exoplanet which might be just one GIANT diamond, 4000 kilometres wide?”, “Mum, mum, mum, can I watch this film about a mission to Jupiter’s moon called Europa?”, “Mum, did you know you have to tie yourself to the toilet in space?!”….
An excerpt from 100 facts Space Travel
Each book groups facts around sub-themes. For example, in the book about space travel there are collections of facts to do with spacesuits, space tourists, and even space travel in books and films whilst in the book about stars and galaxies there are facts groups around themes such as the birth of a star, black holes, and the search for extraterrestrial life. A wide variety of images are used to illustrate the facts – photos, drawings, comic strips and even images of historic documents and artefacts, helping to create a collage or pin-board feel to the books. Peppered throughout the pages are mini-quizzes and the occasional practical activity, such as using a balloon to illustrate the expansion of the universe.
An excerpt from 100 Facts Solar System
Perfectly pitched to appeal to my 7 and 10 year old, these are great books for dipping in and out of. The short snippets of information make it easy to read “just one more”, and the range of information included plenty of facts which my kids were delighted by and hadn’t come across before, even though we’ve quite a few space books at home. These books would also, no doubt, work really well in primary schools.
An excerpt from 100 Facts Stars and Galaxies
Whilst we experimented with our space food we listened to:
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.
Gingerbread for Liberty: How A German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution. Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
First sentence: Everyone in Philadelphia knew the gingerbread baker. His honest face...his booming laugh...And, of course, his gingerbread--the best in all the thirteen colonies. His big, floury hands turned out castles and queens, horses and cows and hens--each detail drawn in sweet, buttery icing with the greatest skill and care. And yet, despite his care, there always seemed to be some broken pieces for the hungry children who followed their noses to the spicy-smelling shop. "No empty bellies here!" the baker bellowed. "Not in my America!"
Premise/plot: Gingerbread for Liberty is the untold, near-forgotten story of Christopher Ludwick, a German-born American who loved and served his country during the American Revolution in the best way he knew how: by baking.
My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, LOVED this one. I loved the end papers which feature a recipe for "Simple Gingerbread." I loved the illustrations. Never has a book's illustrations gone so perfectly-perfectly well with the text. The illustration style is very gingerbread-y. It works more than you think it might. At least in my opinion! I loved the author's note. I did. I loved learning a few more facts about Christopher Ludwick. It left me wanting to know even more. Which I think is a good thing. The book highlights his generosity and compassion as well as his baking talents.
But most of all, I loved the text itself, the writing style. The narrative voice in this one is super-strong. And I love the refrain: Not in MY America!
Text: 5 out of 5 Illustrations: 4 out of 5 Total: 9 out of 10
The Polar Bear Scientists. Peter Lourie. 2012/2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 80 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Curious about polar bears? Especially polar bears in the wild? Have an interest in science? Curious about what it is a scientist actually does day to day? Peter Lourie's The Polar Bear Scientist is a reader-friendly book giving readers a behind-the-scene look at several scientists who study polar bears--who have spent most of their lives studying polar bears.
I loved the photographs I did. Yes, the book is packed with information, but, it was the photographs themselves that held my interest. Personally, I found the layout to be a bit difficult on the eyes. Some pages were black text on top of light photographs--snow mainly--but, plenty were white text on a black background. Not every reader will mind this, but, it was hard on my eyes and probably kept me from fully engaging with this one.
Polar Bear Scientists is one of the books in the Scientists in the Fields series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
If You Were a Dog Written by Jamie A. Swenson Illustrated by Chris Raschka Farrar Straus Giroux BYR 9/30/2014 978-0-373-33530-4 40 pages Age 3—6
“If you could be any kind of animal, what would you be? Would you be a sod that goes ARRRROOOOOOO? Or maybe you would be a sharp-toothed dinosaur that can CHOMP, STOMP, ROAR! Perhaps you might want to be a hopping frog that goes BOING, BOING, RIBBET! But maybe you would want to be the best kind of animal of all. Can you guess what that is?”[inside jacket]
Review Using sparse text, including exuberant onomatopœia, and characteristics specific to the animal on the spread, Swenson asks young children how they would act if they were a dog, a cat, a bird, a bug, a frog, and a dinosaur. Each two-spread animal begins its question with a recognizable formula:
“If you were a . . . would you be a . . . ?”
For example, the first animal is the dog.
“If you were a dog, would you be a speedy-quick, lickety-sloppy, scavenge-the-garbage, frisbee-catching, hot-dog-stealing, pillow-hogging, best-friend-ever sort of dog?”
The following spread always asks one final question:
“Would you howl at the moon? Some dogs do.”
Youngsters will love the questions, especially each of the activity-type characteristics in If You Were a Dog. While not written in rhyme, the text flows nicely. The individual characteristics are ordered such that the similar suffixes following each other. Raschka’s illustrations are child-like in form, yet lively, and capture the text and the reader’s (listener’s), imagination. Young children will not only contemplate how they would act based on the given charactersitics, but are bound to come up with their own. I like anything that activates and stretches a child’s imagination and If You Were a Dog fits that bill nicely.
The final three spreads in If You Were a Dog acknowledge that we cannot become any animal we want, but we can imitate those around us. Besides, kids are told, the best animal to be is yourself.
IF YOU WERE A DOG. Text copyright (C) 2014 by Jamie A. Swenson. Illustrations copyright (C) 2014 by Chris Raschka. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers—an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, New York, NY.
Full Disclosure: If You Were a Dog, by Jamie A. Swenson & Chris Raschka, and received from Farrar Strauss Giroux BYR, (an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group), is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”