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1. New Jersey - The 50 States Fun Fact Blog Extravaganza!

New Jersey knows that it's the butt of jokes throughout the nation, but we also know that we've got a great state with unique features that no other state can match.  From the mountains to the shore, from the cities to the Pines, we've got a wealth of natural beauty, history, and culture.  It's like a well-kept secret.  But now, The Fifty States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps, written by Gabrielle Balkin and illustrated by Sol Linero (Quarto, 2015) is bringing some of our secrets to light.

Take a peek at the New Jersey page, and then I'll share a few of my favorite NJ gems.

Three of my NJ favorites which are featured in The Fifty States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps:
 BRIGHT IDEA In West Orange you can visit inventor Thomas Edison’s lab and house.
Thomas Edison National Historical Park is a fascinating place to visit.  In my opinion it beats visiting Thomas Edison Center in Menlo Park, NJ and his winter estate in Fort Myers, Florida.  He didn't just invent the light bulb, he invented everything you need to use a light bulb - from the lamp to the power grid.  And of course, he invented much more than the light bulb.  Not a perfect man, by any means, but a perfectly brilliant inventor!
"Edison labs Main St Lakeside Av jeh" by Jim.henderson - Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edison_labs_Main_St_Lakeside_Av_jeh.jpg#/media/File:Edison_labs_Main_St_Lakeside_Av_jeh.jpg

LUCY THE ELEPHANT In 1881 the U.S. Patent Office granted inventor James Lafferty the right to make animal-shaped buildings for 17 years. His first creation, Lucy, still stands in Margate, Atlantic City.
She's a whopping 6-stories high and 134 years old, and she sits right next to the beach.  And what a view from inside!  I'm not positive but I do remember that her interior paint color is "stomach," or something similarly intestinal.
By Harriet Duncan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
FEBRUARY 1913: Silk workers in Paterson begin a six-month-long strike for better working conditions.
Paterson, NJ, may not be your first thought when seeking tourist sites, but it's well worth a visit.  Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is one of the nation's newest National Parks. The falls (one of the largest in the nation) and park sit in the midst of an urban city of more than 145,000 people. The falls and the people of Paterson were powerhouses of the U.S. Industrial Revolution.
Photo by L Taylor (c)
If you want to know more great sites in NJ, you'll have to come see for yourself. (BTW, Come See For Yourself, was once our state slogan. I think they should have gone with the more popular, "New Jersey - You got a problem with that?")

Book images and quotes were provided by the publisher.  I have no publisher or bookseller affiliations and received no compensation.  I am participating for love of state.

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2. Picture Book Roundup - October 2015 edition

This edition of the Picture Book Roundup features three funny books, a hilarious cautionary tale, and a sweet bookish story to melt your heart. Enjoy!

Review copies of Night Animals by Gianna Marino (Viking, 2015) and In! Over! and On! by Ethan Long (Penguin, 2015) were provided by the publishers at my request. The Good Little Book by Kyo Maclear (Tundra, 2015), Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2015), and Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy (Candlewick, 2015)

If you can't access the slide show with reviews below, you can see it on RiffleBooks at this link. [https://read.rifflebooks.com/list/185319]

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3. The Lightning Queen - a review

When I was a small child, I read and sang folksongs like other children read books. One of my favorite songs to sing was "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, O."  I was enthralled with my idea of gypsy culture. The images in my family's book of folksongs were of music and dancing and cards and horses.  It all looked so wonderful. And so it was that I was thrilled to receive the story of The Lightning Queen from Scholastic.  It was as enchanting as I'd hoped it might be.  Middle grade readers will enjoy this finely crafted story of two outsider cultures - Mexico's indigenous people and the Roma, or gypsies.  Look for it on shelves in October.

The Lightning Queen  by Laura Resau. (2015, Scholastic)

Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher.  Final version subject to changes.

Mateo travels with his mother every summer to visit his relatives on the Hill of Dust in Oaxaca, Mexico.  This year, his grandfather Teo says that he needs young Mateo's help;  he begins to tell Mateo a fascinating story of his youth,

     As he speaks, his words somehow beam light onto an imagined screen, flooding the room with people and places from long, long ago.  "Mijo, you are about to embark on a journey of marvels.  Of impossible fortunes.  Of a lost duck, three-legged skunk, and a blind goa - all bravely loyal.  Of a girl who gathered power from storms and sang back the dead.  Of an enchanted friendship that lifted souls above brutality.
     He pauses, tilts his head, "Perhaps there will even be an itermission or two.  But as of yet, there is no end.  That, mijo, will be up to you."  He winks, clears his throat, and begins.
     "There once was a girl called the Queen of Lightning ..."
The story then retreats to the Oaxaca of the mid-1900s, a time when Mexico's indigenous Mixteco people crossed paths with the mysterious Roma in the hills outside Oaxaca.

Grandfather put his hand on my shoulder and said, "They are like us, outsiders in Mexico.  Both our people have little voice in the government.  City folk consider us backward.  We live on the fringes, the wilds of our country.  So it is with the Rom." 


I looked at Esma and her grandparents, who were admiring the sawdust mosaic of the flowered caravan.  And I wondered if the key to her people surviving had been separating themselves from outsiders -  gadjés. Maybe that's what bonded them together as they danced around their bonfires, night after night for hundreds of years.

     As was foretold by the fortune teller and against impossible odds, young Teo becomes "friends for life" with Esma, the young Romani singer.  It is as if they are bound to each other by magic and music and the power of lightning - their destinies tied inexplicably to one another.

Teo reminisces to his grandson Mateo,

She could work magic.  One moment, I'd felt hurt and angry.  The next honored that she'd confided in me.  And now, inspired, as though anything were possible, if I believed it enough.
     She climbed onto the rock, raised her arms. "If you believe you're weak, you'll be weak.  You're cursing yourself.  Yet if you believe you're strong, you'll be strong.  Give yourself a fortune and make it come true."
There is definitely magic between Teo and Esma, the indio boy and the Roma girl, and there is magic in the pages of The Lightning Queen.

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4. Night Animals - a review

I think I am predisposed to like anything done by Gianna Marino, so I requested an Advance Reader Copy of Night Animals, which is on shelves now.  I was not disappointed.

Marino, Gianna. 2015. Night Animals. New York: Viking.

Full bleed illustrations let the night sky offer an expansive and inky stage for highlighting a comical group of nocturnal animals that are afraid of noises in the night.  The large illustrations clearly detail the animals' antics, wide-eyed fear, and varying reactions to things that go "aaaarrrrooo!" in the night.  The skunk is often depicted with a noxious greenish cloud behind him (much to the dismay of Possum), while the possum (appropriately) plays dead,

"I'm not here."

Minimal text is presented in cartoon-style word bubbles,

 "What are we hiding from?"  "Night animals!  Now keep QUIET!"

Bear, Wolf, Skunk and Possum run from the "night animals."  It takes a bat to tell them the real danger in the nighttime forest.

Night Animals will tickle the funny bone of any young child.  This is a perfect book for sharing with a group.  Possum is hilarious!

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5. Fab Four Friends - the blog tour

Today I'm happy to share in the celebration for the publication of Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles, written by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson, and published by Macmillan.

Author Susanna Reich has written an inspiring book chronicling the early years of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Each is highlighted in turn with a focus on the events and people that shaped his future and his interest in music.

The final pages feature the band's early successes.  Readers will be impressed by the boys' dedication to their musicianship and their ability to overcome family tragedy, illness, and in John Lennon's case - a lack of musical training and a guitar that his mother taught him to tune like a banjo.

John attacked the guitar, strumming as fast he could.  He didn't give a fig about wrong notes.

Eventually Paul traded in his trumpet for a guitar.  From then on, his brother said, "he didn't have time to eat or think about anything else."

At school, George sat in the back and drew pictures of guitars. But when it came to practicing, no one was more serious.

Back home, Richy [Ringo] couldn't stop his hands from tapping.  Listening to all kinds of music—country and western, jazz, blues, skiffle—he'd rap on the back of a chair, bang on a box, or pound an old bass drum with a piece of firewood.

The text is small and in simple font on a plain background, leaving ample room for Adam Gustavson's stellar illustrations in "oil paint on prepared paper."  It is a difficult task to render likenesses of these four men who are known and revered the world over.  Gustavson has done a remarkable job in capturing their youth, signature expressions, and intensity of mood. In quiet acknowledgement of the post-war era that engendered the rise of rock and roll, the book opens with double-spread illustration of "a dark October night in 1940," the night when John Lennon was born in the midst of war with Germany. The final double-spread is the one that appears on the book's jacket.

More illustrations from Fab Four Friends are on the publisher's site.

Rounding out Fab Four Friends are an Author's Note, Glossary (I'm sad that phonograph needs to be in the glossary!), Notes, and Sources.

I asked only one interview question of author Susanna Reich. With so many songs to choose from and her obvious love of her topic, I knew it would be a tricky question:
Q: "What's your favorite Beatles tune?"

It sent her to her headphones for an hour of listening. Her final answer:
A: "Let it Be."
It's certainly hard to argue with that.

The publisher's site lists a suggested age range of 6-10.  I think older kids, particularly those with musical inclinations will be interested in this one as well.

 A book's case and jacket are often (usually) the same.  Library books are typically processed with protective coating on the jacket that secures it to the cover. So, if you're a librarian, or a library user, you may never see the books' case.  If possible, however, take a peek under the jacket of Fab Four Friends. The front cover features individual portrait style paintings of Paul, John, George, and Ringo.  They appear youthful and suited and are presented in square frames reminiscent of yearbook photos or 1970s era Beatles posters. They are joyful and boyish - four fab friends.

My copy of Fab Four Friends was provided by the publisher.  You can find yours on a library or bookstore shelf, beginning today, August 18, 2015.

Follow the blog tour for Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles.  Tomorrow, the tour will stop at UnleashingReaders.com .

Happy book birthday to Fab Four Friends!

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6. The Beast of Cretacea - a review

The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser 
(Candlewick, 2015)

Seventeen-year-old Ishmael has volunteered for a dangerous assignment - a vaguely outlined stint on Cretacea, where he will work with other adventurers in an untamed environment, harvesting resources bound for Earth. Only the dismal outlook on Earth makes this option seem appealing. Stripped of its natural resources, covered in a perpetual shroud, and dangerously low on breathable air, Earth holds few attractions for Ishmael. His foster family is his only concern, but his foster brother is now headed for assignment, too, and Ishmael hopes to earn enough money on Cretacea to pay for passage from Earth for his foster parents. 

On Cretacea, a prophetic warning from an old neighbor haunts Ishmael as he works onboard the Pequod under the command of the mad Captain Ahab who has set the ship's course to capture the Great Terrafin, a deadly sea creature of near mythical proportions. For Ishmael and his onboard companions, adventures abound in this cleverly crafted homage to Moby Dick. References to Moby Dick (for those familiar with them) are plentiful; however, despite its similarities to Melville's classic, The Beast of Cretacea is a sci-fi book for the modern age. The Beast of Cretacea confronts modern issues of environmental degradation, resource depletion, wealth and privilege, scientific possibility, and of course, the transcendent coming-of-age issue. Breathtaking excitement is measured with thought-provoking ideas, a rich plotline, and occasional flashbacks. At least one great twist awaits. 

For ponderers, sci-fi enthusiasts, and adventure fans seeking a little something extra. Best for ages 12 and up.

On a shelf near you 10/13/15

Members of my monthly book club recently Skyped with Todd Strasser.  They were impressed by his perseverance (only a summer's worth of reading kept him from repeating the 3rd grade!) and the sheer volume of his work (more than 140 books!). They appreciated his affability and willingness to delay an afternoon of surfing to accommodate us.  As an added bonus, when his daughter (who created the beast on the book's cover) accidentally passed in camera view, he introduced us and gave us a short lesson in the evolution of a book's cover art.

I have two copies of The Beast of Cretacea.  One was provided at my request from Todd Strasser, and the other was subsequently provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers.  Both will given to members of my book club who cannot wait to read it!!

 More fun Beast of Cretacea content:

A Beast of Cretacea Quiz created by the author:https://www.goodreads.com/quizzes/1115313-do-you-know-the-beast 

A humorous video trailer:

The Beast of Cretacea from todd strasser on Vimeo.

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7. 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.

  • 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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8. 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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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. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. Graceful - a review

When I reviewed The Last Present by Wendy Mass, I wrote the following:
The Last Present is the final book in the Willow Falls (or "birthday") series, realistic fiction with just the right amount of magic, courtesy of Angelina, the mysterious old woman with the duck-shaped birthmark. Angelina is seemingly the architect of all that occurs in Willow Falls, the town where nothing happens by coincidence and everything happens for a reason. Readers of the series will delight in revisiting their favorite characters - Leo, Amanda, Tara, Rory, David and all rest, as their stories intertwine and the story of Angelina is finally revealed. ... I'm sad to see it come to an end. It's been great fun!
Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was sorry to see the Willow Falls series come to an end. In the forward to Graceful (Scholastic, 2015), Wendy Mass writes that her readers let her know "IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS" that they were not ready for the series to end.  Graceful (due out tomorrow) is a gift to her readers.

I think fans of the series will be happy with Graceful, in which Grace fills in (somewhat unwittingly) for the mysterious Angelina as the architect of all that occurs in Willow Falls.  This is a series about friendship and family and the cosmic connectedness of all things. It can best be described as magical realism, and it is a series that should be read sequentially.  Mass does her best to catch the reader up with previous occurrences, but the series is so intricately plotted that it is difficult to skip a book or read them out of order.

Willow Falls has been a great place to visit, but I think Ms. Mass is ready to move on now.  All of our questions have been answered and all loose ends are tied.  It's been fun!  Enjoy!

The Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass

My Advance Reader Copy was supplied by the publisher.

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14. Cody and the Fountain of Happiness - a review

I don't review many early chapter books, but I requested this one from LibraryThing Early Reviewers. because it's published by Candlewick Press (always a plus), and Eliza Wheeler's cover illustration sealed the deal.

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb.  Candlewick Press, 2015.  Illustrations by Eliza Wheeler.

Here's why I like Cody and the Fountain of Happiness:
  • Cody's an average kid - Mom works in a shoe store, Dad's a truck driver, she argues with her older brother Wyatt, though it's clear that they love each other.
  • Cody is positive and decisive.
  • Her new found friend, Spencer, is an African-American boy with a super hip grandma. (The percentage of African American characters in early chapter books is rather slim, so this is a plus.)
  • Cody's mom and dad are positive role models.
  • Eliza Wheeler's illustrations are simple, soft, and expressive.
  • Spoiler alert! Mom gets a promotion at the shoe store. 

Here's an excerpt.  Cody is waking her brother on their first day of summer vacation and refuses to be daunted by his grumpy mood.

     "Want to go to the dog park and pick what dog we'd get if only we were allowed to get a dog?"
     Wyatt put his hands over his eyes.
     "No?" said Cody.  "How about we look for rocks and have a rock stand and use the money to buy a skateboard?"
     Wyatt slowly got to his feet.  He was very tall and skinny.  If he were a building, he'd be a skyscraper, but a droopy one.
     "Silencio," he said.  He toppled back into bed and pulled the covers over his head.  "You are causing me pain.  A big fat pain in my cerebral cortex."
     "Do you want some tea?"
     "No, Brain Pain. I want you to disappear.  Preferably forever."
     "I can't," said Cody.  "I promised Mom to take care of you.  I never break a promise."

Give Cody a try.  Though you may wonder about her peculiar fondness for ants, I think you'll like her, her family, and her friends!

My Advance Reader Copy is 151 illustrated pages.

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15. The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth - a review

Bruce Coville has done wonderful adaptations of several Shakespearean plays for a young audience, while staying faithful to the mood and dialogue wherever possible.  Now, however, there's a new, edgier, funny Shakespeare in town.  You may have seen many adaptations for the works of Shakespeare, but you've never seen them done like this. 

I present The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue. I was laughing out loud on the very first page!

Lendler, Ian. 2014. The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth. New York: First Second.
(Advance Reader Copy)

A hilarious, graphic novel version of "Macbeth" as performed and attended by the denizens of The Stratford Zoo after the keeper has left for the evening. 

Join them in their seats (avoid the skunk!), grab a snack of rotting carrion from the vendors, and enjoy the play!  Panels featuring frequent audience commentary are done in darkened tones to denote the dim lighting of audience seating.  The play's action onstage is presented in bold color.

Intermission occurs when the zookeeper makes an unexpected late-night sweep of the zoo's grounds.

If you're a humor or comic book fan, Lendler and illustrator, Zack Giallongo, present this Shakespeare classic "as you like it" - brief, humorous, and to the point. Teachers and parents, this is a perfect introduction to Shakespeare for the young people in your life.  

(Alternatively, read it yourself and then head out to see some Shakespeare in the park this summer! I'll be seeing Shakespeare by the Sea.)

Due on shelves in September. This is the first in a series.  Look for "Romeo and Juliet" next.

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16. Sisters - a review

Telgemeier, Raina. 2014. Sisters. New York: Scholastic.

(Advance Reader Copy)

Sisters is the companion graphic novel to the award-winning Smile. In Sisters, Raina, her mother, younger sister Amara, and little brother Will are on a road trip to Colorado.  Past experiences and grievances, both large and small are unwelcome baggage on this family road trip. Raina and Amara feud for much of the trip, until one event brings the family together.

Prior events are relayed as flashbacks and appear on yellow-tinted pages.

I have sisters and I have daughters. I can attest to the fact that Raina Telgemeier tells it like it is. It's not the good times that make a family strong, but rather, how it deals with the bad times... and if everything turns out well, the bad times make the best stories.

Publishers Weekly has a 7-page preview of Sisters on their blog.

On a shelf near you, August 26, 2014.

I received my copy of Sisters at Book Expo America. Raina was kind enough to pose for a photo as she signed it. One lucky reader from my book club will be taking it home to preview on Wednesday!

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17. Hope for Winter - a review

First there was Winter's Tail: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again (a companion book to the movie, Dolphin Talethat detailed the rescue and rehabilitation of the baby dolphin, Winter. Now there is Hope for Winter: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship.

Yates, David, Craig Hatkoff, Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff.
2014. Hope for Winter: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy)

Anyone who has seen the movie, Dolphin Tale, knows the story of Winter, the rescued dolphin fitted with a prosthetic tail.  Now, in the book Hope for Winter (and in the upcoming Dolphin Tale 2 movie), people will learn of Hope, another bottlenose dolphin rescued in circumstances remarkably similar to those of Winter's, and destined to bring them together.

In simple language, this paperback picture book tells the story of Hope's rescue and new life at the aquarium,

     When the cast and crew finished filming Dolphin Tale, they threw a party at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. They were happily celebrating, when they received an urgent call —a baby dolphin was on her way to the aquarium.  She was very sick and might not survive the trip.  A group of veterinarians, dolphin trainers, and volunteers left the party and started getting prepared.  When the baby dolphin arrived, it was clear that every minute counted.

Back matter includes several pages of information on Clearwater Marine Aquarium, two pages of "Amazing similarities between Winter and Hope," and "Dolphin Facts."

Fans of the original movie, animal enthusiasts, and teachers should love this one.

(Publication date: August 26, 2014)


Today is Nonfiction Monday.  See all of today's Nonfiction selections at the Nonfiction Monday blog.

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18. Storm - a review

Napoli, Donna Jo. 2014. Storm. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Stormtold in first person, present tense prose, presents the story of the biblical flood through the eyes of 16-year-old Sebah, an unlikely stowaway aboard Noah's massive ark.

The story unfolds in chapters that correspond with the biblical timeline - 40 days of rain, 150 days for the waters to recede, 10 months until the mountains become visible, 40 days until the release of a bird, etc.
(All can be found in the 7th and 8th chapters of Genesis.)

After chronicling Sebah's three week struggle to survive the deluge with her companion Aban, the chapter titled, "Day 22," ends,

It's another creature.  Like the first, but larger.  And obviously male.  He perches in a round hole high in the side of the ship.  There is a line of such holes.  And I passed another line below as I climbed.
A whole ship of these creatures.
I think of letting go, disappearing into the sea. I let loose one hand and look down. The sea is far below. I feel the energy seep from me. It would be so easy to just give up.
The creature behind me nudges my dangling hand.
I reach for the male's hand, and I am half pulled, half shoved up through the hole and into the ship.

Ms. Napoli clearly put an enormous amount of thought into the logistics of preparing for a massive exodus of animals with little or no possibility of resupply for more than a year. She details the grueling work of the voyage.  While Sebah struggles to remain hidden and survive in the enclosure of the bonobos, Noah and his family have a huge responsibility to the ark's inhabitants. The animals must be secure from each other, their enclosures must be cleaned, they must be fed, they must have fresh water. Their survival is imperative. The family collects rainwater, they dry and ration supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables for the ark's herbivores, they fish to obtain fresh food for the carnivores. The family's nerves grow frayed under the stress.  They begin to argue and turn against one another.  The hidden Sebah sees much,

"Respect!" Noah claps his hands above his head, and dust flies through the dim light.  "And haven't you learned arguing gets us nowhere?"  He takes his ax back from Ham. "The bottom deck stinks.  I have to breathe shallow to stand going down there.  Everyone has to help Japheth and me clean it out.  Today! Let our wives feed and water the animals of this deck and the top —while we shovel waste.  Noah goes up the ladder with Japheth at his heels.
How you will perceive this book will depend greatly upon how you perceive the biblical story of the great flood. Arguments could be made for classification as historical fiction, alternative history, survival fiction, dystopian fiction, or fantasy. However you choose to view the book, it cannot be denied that it is a thought-provoking look at the nature of humans and animals, of loss and love, of despair and hope.

An Author's Note, Timeline from Genesis Verses, and Bibliography are included.  Visit the author's website http://www.donnajonapoli.com/ya.html#STORM to read an excerpt.

(I'm not a Russell Crowe fan, but now I think that I might want to watch the movie, Noah, just to see another perspective.)

(My copy of the book was provided by the publisher, and was an Advance Reader Copy)

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19. The Time of the Fireflies - a review

I was actually searching for a fantasy book, but stumbled upon a good old-fashioned ghost story instead.

Little, Kimberly Griffiths. 2014. The Time of the Fireflies.  New York: Scholastic.

Larissa Renaud doesn't live in a regular house. As she tells it,

"My parents moved us into the Bayou Bridge Antique Store—a fact I do not brag about. It's embarrassing to admit I share the same space as musty, mothball-smelly furniture, dusty books, and teacups that dead people once drank from."
Sometimes she wishes they had never come back here from Baton Rouge, but her family has a long history in the bayou town, much of it is tragic.

When Larissa receives  a mysterious call on a broken antique phone, she's got a real mystery on her hands.
"Trust the fireflies," 
the ghostly girl tells her, setting Larissa on  a strange and eerie path of discovery. Can Larissa right the wrongs of the past to save her family's future?

Though it highlights rural poverty, bullying, and new sibling issues, The Time of the Fireflies is at heart, a ghost story with a remarkably likable and resourceful protagonist.

To avoid giving away too much, I'll merely mention that readers may see some similarities to Rebecca Stead's Newbery Medal-winning, When You Reach Me. The spunky Larissa and author Kimberly Griffiths Little will draw you into the rich world of the Louisiana bayou until you too, are carried away by the fireflies.

A link to The Time of the Fireflies trailer is here.  I'm not posting the trailer here because, honestly, I think the book is better than its trailer.

(My copy of the book was provided by the publisher as an Advance Reader Copy.)

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20. The Badger Knight - a review

Erskine, Kathryn. 2014. The Badger Knight. New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy)

After the great plague, Adrian's father is overly protective. Having lost his wife and daughter, he is determined to protect his12-year-old son, Adrian.  Small and weak, Adrian has what we now call asthma and albinism. In the rural England of the 1300s, however, his condition is more often considered an unlucky and unholy affliction - rendering him only slightly more popular than Thomas the leper. Though he is quick of mind, skillful with a bow, and able to scribe, he is nonetheless treated as useless and dim-witted.

When the Middle March is threatened by war with the Scots, Adrian sees a chance to prove his mettle,

"Soon I hear the blacksmith's voice in my head: Nock! Mark! Draw! Loose! I spread some dirt under my eyes to counteract the bright sun, close my left eye, ready  my bow, and take aim at a single leaf fifty feet away.  On my second shot I split the leaf in two.  As I practice more, I can hit a leaf on my first try, even when it sways in the breeze.  I lose all sense of time and feel like I'm in another world.
Until I hear someone approach through the woods, and I grab my arrows, stowing them quickly with my bow inside the tree trunk.  For years I haven't been discovered and I don't intend for anyone to find me out now.  When the time is right, I will shock them all.  So I stand and look up at the branches to divert attention away from the trunk and to show that I'm simply addlepated Adrian looking at birds."

The Badger Knight is a historical fiction adventure that touches upon many common themes (bullying, friendship, gender bias, coming of age, survival, the nature of good and evil) as Adrian goes off to war and becomes a man - not by might, but by right.

 "... I'm reminded of Nigel and his search for the truth.  I think of what I always believed to be truths — Scots are pagans, thieves are bad, knights are noble, girls are weak, war is glorious — and how these "truths" aren't real at all.  They're things I was taught or everyone believes, just as all people who look like me are supposedly angels or, more often, devils.  I didn't believe Nigel when he said that scribing was power, that seeking the truth and sharing it is mightier than being a soldier.
     Now I see what he means."

The Knight Badger is rich in historical details - from the minor particulars of everyday life and the societal hierarchy of medieval England to the gruesome manner of medieval warfare. Erskine offers an unvarnished look into the lives of serfs, tradesmen, religious leaders, free lances, city street urchins, and robber barons. The author's thoughts on the nature of war are on display throughout, but readers are encouraged to come to their own conclusions and examine their own biases.

A solid adventure story that should appeal to boys and girls.  There is room for a sequel.

On shelves 8/26/14.   Target audience: ages 8-12, Gr 3-7
352 pages

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21. Colors of the Wind - a review

National Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15 - October 15. What a great time to celebrate the life and work of Mexican-American painter, George Mendoza.  

Powers, J.L. 2014. Colors of the Wind: The Story of Blind Artist and Champion Runner George Mendoza. Cynthiana, KY: Purple House Press.

As a child, George Mendoza began seeing brilliantly-colored lights, shapes and squiggles, eventually losing most of his sight except his peripheral vision and the ever-present colors.  Unable to play basketball or other do other things he wanted, George took up running. He excelled in the sport and competed twice in the Olympics for the Disabled.  In the back of his mind, however, he'd kept a long-ago word advice from his youth.

One day, a flyer arrived in the mail,
advertising a contest for blind artists.
George remembered the priest, who told him,
"You should paint what you see."

George started to paint,
just like the priest told him to do.
And so began the painting career of George Mendoza.

The text appears in a plain, small font on white pages, accompanied by simple blank ink drawings, often highlighted with colors from Mendoza's paintings.  Each facing page contains a full-bleed image of one of Mendoza's paintings.

Biographical information, photos of Mr. Mendoza, and painting titles are included in the book's back matter.

The joyful, riotous colors of Mendoza's paintings will certainly appeal to children, as will his story of perseverance and purpose.  Enjoy!

You can see photos from Mendoza's "Colors of the Wind" exhibit at the Ellen Noel Art Museum here.  The exhibit is listed with the Smithsonian Affiliate Exhibition Exchange.

My copy of the book was provided by the author.

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22. Skink - No Surrender - a review

Hiaasen, Carl. 2014. Skink - No Surrender. New York: Knopf.
(Advance Reader Copy)

Skink - No Surrender is Carl Hiaasen's first foray into YALit, and he's making his entrance in a big way, employing Skink —the outrageous and outlandish character from his adult novels.

In keeping with his customary practice of setting books in Florida's great outdoors (Hoot, Flush, Scat, Chomp), Skink No Surrender begins on a Florida beach where Richard finds Skink buried in the sandon the hunt for turtle egg poachers. Though at first taken aback by the one-eyed, cammo-wearing giant of a man with buzzard beaks braided into his beard, Richard soon finds out that he is the ex -Florida governor and a force to be reckoned with - even if he is presumed to be dead.

     All kinds of wild rumors got started, and some of them turned out to be true.  According to one Wikipedia entry, the ex-governor became a wandering hermit of the wilderness, and over the years he'd been a prime suspect in several "acts of eco-terrorism."  Interestingly, he'd never been arrested or charged with any serious crimes, and it seemed to me that the targets of his anger were total scumbags, anyway.
     The web article included interviews with a few witnesses who'd supposedly encountered Clinton Tyree by chance.  They said he'd lost an eye, and was going by the name of "Skink."  They had differing opinions about whether or not he was nuts.  The most recent entry quoted the governor's closest friend, a retired highway patrol trooper named Jim Tile, who said:
     "Clint passed away last year int he Big Cypress Swamp after a coral snake bit him on the nose.  I dug the grave myself.  Now, please let him rest in peace."
     Except the man was still alive.
An unlikely pair, Skink and Richard team up to find Richard's cousin, Malley, who has run off with (or been kidnapped by) a young man she met online.

An intense hunt takes the two across the swamps in search of Malley and a dangerous impostor.  Suspenseful and very funny at the same time, Skink No Surrender presents a case for Internet safety, bird habitat conservation, and the value of family, but you'll be havimg so much fun that you won't even notice!

Getting my autographed copy of Skink
See the first 56 pages of Skink No Surrender here.

On sale and in libraries beginning September 23, 2014.

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23. Egg & Spoon - an audio book review

I can save you some time today. If you'd like the short review of Egg & Spoon, click here to read my review for AudioFile Magazine. However, if you want to hear more about this wonderful book, read on!

Maguire, Gregory. 2014. Egg & Spoon. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio.  Read by Michael Page.

Can what we want change who we are? 
Have patience and you will see.

Set in the tsarist Russia of the late 18th or early 19th century, Egg & Spoon is an enchanting mix of historical fiction and magical folklore, featuring switched and mistaken identities, adventurous quests, the witch Baba Yaga, and of course, an egg.

Narrator Michael Page is at his best as the self-proclaimed “unreliable scribe,” who tells the tale from his tower prison cell, claiming to have seen it all through his one blind eye. In a fashion similar to that of Scheherazade, spinning 1001 "Tales of the Arabian Nights," our narrator weaves fantastical stories together and wraps us in their spell.

Ekaterina and Elena are two young girls - one privileged, one peasant - yet so alike that their very lives can be exchanged. Page creates voices so similar that one can believe the subterfuge, yet the voices are also distinct - a necessity in a book written to respect the reader's (or listener's) ability to discern the flow of conversation without the constant insertion of "he said/she said."

One girl finds herself en route to see the tsar, a captive guest of  the haughty and imperious Aunt Sophia on a train to St. Petersburg.  The other finds herself a captive guest of the witch, Baba Yaga, and her curious home that walks on chicken legs. As Baba Yaga, Page is as wildly unpredictable as the witch herself, chortling, cackling, menacing, mothering.

Michael Page is wonderful.  He brings each of author Gregory Maguire's many characters to life with a distinct voice.  He never falls out of character, and his pacing is perfect - measured to keep the listener from being overwhelmed by the story's intricate plot.

Grand and magical, Egg & Spoon is a metaphoric epic for readers from twelve to adult.
If you find the egg (or eggs) elusive, you will find the spoon even more so!
My copy of the book was supplied by the publisher. My copy of the audio book was supplied by AudioFile Magazine.  

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24. 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.

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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25. 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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