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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Advance Reader Copy, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 43
1. The QwikPick Papers: Poop Fountain - a review

Angleberger, Tom. 2014. The QwikPick Papers: Poop Fountain! New York: Abrams.

(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher)

A bi-racial, Jehovah's Witness girl; a poor boy from the trailer park; a nerdy Jewish boyall victims of school bullying.

Sounds like a perfect trio of protagonists for a serious book of realistic fiction, doesn't it? But it's notnot really. These are the founding members of Tom Angleberger's hilarious new creation, the QwikPick Adventure Society, which makes its debut in a new series, The QwikPick Papers.

So, what do this Jehovah's Witness, Jew, and very poor kid have in common? At first, only that each has nothing to do on Christmas Day.  Marilla and Dave don't celebrate Christmas and don't enjoy spending time at home.  Lyle's parents have to work at the QwikPick convenience store all day. But don't feel sorry for them.  It's the perfect day for a secret mission to visit the Poop Fountain, an antiquated aeration device at the town's waste water treatment plant.

Written as an illustrated "report" by the QwikPick Adventure Society, this novel of only 135 pages, Poop Fountain! is stomach-churning disgusting at times, and hilariously funny at others.  That's why kids will love it, but it's not why you should.

You should love it because Angleberger has proved again (as in the Origami Yoda series) that he can tackle sensitive subjects with charm and  a good deal of humor.

     Everybody else was talking about the Super Bowl coming up that weekend, but we all agreed that it was stupid and football was stupid and the Redskins' mascot was stupid.
     Unfortunately, Jeremy heard me saying something and hollered down the table, "Hey, if we wanted any of your crap, I'd beat it out of you."
     "Shove it, Jeremy," said Dave, which was the nicest thing anyone had ever said in my honor.
     When it was time to go, Marilla said, "Hey, if you want, I'll save this seat for you tomorrow."
     That was when, without them even knowing it, Marilla and Dave became my best friends.

Other reasons for you to love Poop Fountain!, "shout-outs" to
  • The Hoboken Chicken Emergency
  • Fred Astaire
  • The Princess Bride (the movie)
  • the BBC
Coming to a bookshelf near you in May, 2014.  Can't wait 'til May?  It's on NetGalley now.

0 Comments on The QwikPick Papers: Poop Fountain - a review as of 4/16/2014 8:27:00 AM
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2. Lulu's Mysterious Mission - a booktalk

I'm still working my way through all the books I picked up at the ALA Midwinter Meeting.  Lulu's Mysterious Mission is the third installment in this illustrated, chapter book series.  I don't know why I never got around to reading the first two, but I'm making it up with a booktalk and a book trailer.  Enjoy!

Viorst, Judith. 2014. Lulu's Mysterious Mission. New York: Atheneum.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher - artwork not final)

Lulu's Mysterious Mission - a booktalk

Lulu's parents are going away on vacation, and they're doing the heretofore unthinkable, they're going without Lulu! When she meets her babysitter, the militant, Ms. Sonia Sofia Solinsky, and eats her first bean-and-beet omelet (a "taste" of things to come), Lulu begins to hatch some desperate plans.

Eeny meeny miney mo,
That babysitter’s got to go.
Sooner, not later,
Fast, not slow.
That babysitter's got to go.

Funny with frequent asides by the author, Lulu's Mysterious Mission will appeal to humor fans, ages 6-10. Oh, and, yes, there may be a mysterious mission.

On a bookshelf near you, beginning April, 2014.

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3. Hit By Pitch - a review

Many months ago, I requested a copy of Hit By Pitch from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.  I was thrilled that I was chosen to receive a copy, but it never showed up -- until last week, when I eagerly devoured it, and was not disappointed. This one's not for *kids, but certainly suitable for young adults.

Lawless, Molly. 2013. Hit By Pitch: Ray Chapman, Carl Mays and the Fatal Fastball. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

If you've ever watched a player get beaned by a baseball, you've experienced the sickening feeling that occurs merely from watching.  In 1920, fifty years before the mandated use of batting helmets, Cleveland Indian shortstop, Ray "Chappie" Chapman, became the first and only major league baseball player to be killed by a pitched ball.  This is his story and the story of  pitcher, Carl Mays of the New York Yankees.

In some ways, it is easy to write about sports as the statisticians make the research simple  - dates, times, players, locations, runs, hits, balls, strikes, averages - it's all recorded history.  However, the single entry in the scorer's book for the game at the Polo Grounds between the Cleveland Indians the New York Yankees, "hit by pitch," cannot explain the tragic story of baseball's only fatal beaning on August 16, 1920.  Molly Lawless uses black and white drawings, period quotes, newspaper articles, and sportswriter commentaries to animate this story for a new generation.

A more perfect tragedy could not be conceived if it were a work of fiction - the odd, sullen and nearly friendless "villain," Carl Mays, versus the cheerful, handsome and beloved athlete, businessman, husband and friend, "Chappie." One will live and one will die.  Both stories end in tragedy.

Fascinating, well-researched, and told with a keen eye for the game and all its intricacies and idiosyncrasies. Ms. Lawless' respect for (and love of) baseball is apparent in every page. Her black and white illustrations evoke the time and spirit of the game in the "deadball era," and an American public, still processing the effects of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal and the relatively new phenomenon of Prohibition. Fans of baseball, graphic novels, history or tragedy will love this book.

*For younger readers interested in this topic, Dan Gutman's, Ray & Me (Harper Collins, 2009), tells the tragic story as part of his Baseball Card Adventures series, combining fact, fiction and a hint of fantasy as the young protagonist travels back in time to great moments in baseball history.

Today's Nonfiction Monday is hosted by author, Anastasia Suen, at her Booktalking blog.

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4. The Night Gardener - a review

A short review today.  I rushed to finish, as I knew the kids in my book club would surely want to get their hands on it last week.  I was right.

Auxier, Jonathan. 2014. The Night Gardener. New York: Amulet.

Set in England aground the 1840s, The Night Gardener features an Irish gal with the gift of  blarney, her10-year-old brother with a lame leg and stout heart, a mysterious storyteller, and a strange family inhabiting a creepy mansion on an island in the middle of the sourwoods.

Separated from their parents and forced to flee Ireland due to famine, Molly & Kip have no choice but to accept employment with the Windsor Family, the only inhabitants of the only home in the sourwoods,

At the far end of the lawn stood Windsor mansion.  The house had obviously been left vacant for some years, and in that time it seemed to have become one with the landscape. Weeds swallowed the base. Ivy choked the walls and windows. The roof was sagging and covered in black moss.
But strangest of all was the tree.
The tree was enormous and looked very, very old. Most trees cast an air of quiet dignity over their surrounding. This one did not. Most trees invite you to climb up into their canopy.  This one did not. Most trees make you want to carve your initials into the trunk. This one did not. To stand in the shadow of this tree would send a chill through your whole body. 
Even Molly's indomitable spirit and knack for storytelling cannot shield Kip and the young Windsor children from the horrors that lurk within the shadow of the giant tree.

Historical fiction and horror intertwine in this absolutely gripping story. With similarities to Claire LeGrand's The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, The Night Gardener is the stuff of nightmares.

Coming to a bookshelf near you in May, 2014!


My Advance Reader Copy was thrust upon me by none other than the wonderfully funny, Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame), who insisted that I read it.  Thanks, Tom!

Also by Jonathan Auxier, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, which I reviewed in 2011.

The book's cover was drawn by Patrick Arrasmith and designed by the talented Chad Beckerman, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a while back.

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5. Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot - in color!

Pilkey, Dav. 2014. Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot. New York: Scholastic. Illustrations by Dan Santat.

While at ALA Midwinter, I picked up an Advance Reader Copy of Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot. I know what you're thinking - that's not a new book, that was published ages ago!  Yes, but it's back again, and this time in full color, with glossy pages and new "mini-comics" inside.

All of the Ricky Ricotta books will be reissued with new illustrations, and two brand new books are planned for January and March of 2015.  A big campaign is in the works ... stay tuned.

Read an excerpt and see the new illustrations on Scholastic's new Ricky Ricotta web page.

Coming to a bookshelf near you on April 29, 2014.

BTW, my Advance Reader Copy went home with a very happy young boy, one of my best readers. He was looking for my library's "checked-out" copy of the original Ricky Ricotta's Giant Robot. Imagine the smile on his face when I gave him a new, as yet unpublished, full-color copy! (Luckily, I had read it at lunchtime.)

The original Ricky Ricotta artist, Martin Ontiveros deserves credit for helping to create a series that captured the imagination of a nearly a generation of children.  Dan Santat will refresh the series for the next generation.  Long live Dav Pilkey!

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6. Baseball Animals - a review

Whether or not you buy MLB's position that Opening Day is March 22, 2014 in Australia (Sorry Australia, baseball "down under" just doesn't feel right), baseball season, will soon be here. Opening Day for the US and Canada is March 31.

If you are a baseball fan, are raising a young baseball fan, or are trying to connect with a young baseball fan, here's the book for you - a marriage of baseball and animals!

Jordan, Christopher. 2014. Baseball Animals. Plattsburgh, NY: Fenn/Tundra.

Which MLB team shares its name with a songbird that loves acorns?
This blue, black and white bird is thought to be responsible for spreading the oak tree across North America.

If the beautiful photograph of my favorite bird on a stark white background doesn't give you the answer, just turn the page to reveal a full-page action shot of a Toronto Blue Jays batter. (Sorry that I don't know which one. Since they beat the Phillies in the 1993 World Series, I refuse to pay attention to the Blue Jays. We fans have long memories.)

Each baseball page features the team's logo, a full-page action photo taken at the ballpark, and some team uniform trivia.  Did you know that the Cardinals (often called the Redbirds) were not named for the beautiful bird, but rather for the color of their original uniforms? Their uniforms were cardinal red. So, presumably they are named after the traditional color of a Catholic cardinal's cassock.  Now that's a great baseball trivia question!

Fun and informative, this is a must-have for little baseball fans. I don't know why someone didn't think of it earlier!  An Appendix of MLB Teams and Logos rounds out the book - featuring all of the teams - even those sans animals on their logos.

Advance Reader Copy supplied by LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

In addition to being St. Patrick's Day, today is Nonfiction Monday.  Be sure to stop by the Nonfiction Monday blog for all of today's featured books.

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7. Starry River of the Sky - a review

Lin, Grace. 2012. Starry River of the Sky. New York: Little Brown.

A companion book to Grace Lin's 2009, Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky is much the same and yet very different. Like the earlier book, Starry River of the Sky contains Grace Lin’s beautiful artwork (see note), features folktale vignettes, and revolves around a journey.  But while Minli’s journey in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, is an actual journey full of obstacles to overcome, main character, Rendi’s journey, in Starry River of the Sky, is an introspective journey of understanding and self-discovery.

The story opens with a miserable and distressed Rendi traveling as a stowaway in a merchant’s cart,

Rendi was not sure how long the moon had been missing.  He knew only that for weeks, the wind seemed to be whimpering as if the sky were suffering.  At first, he had thought the moans were his own because his whole body ached from hiding in the merchant’s cart.  However, it was when the cart had stopped for the evening, when the bumping and knocking had ended, that the groans began.
Rendi’s story is tied inexorably to that of the moon, though it will take some time for him to determine why the moon is missing and why he, and he alone hears the moaning of the sky each night.  He is discovered by the merchant and left in a dying town, the Village of Clear Sky.  With no other prospects, he becomes the chore boy for Master Chao, owner of the local inn.  Master Chao’s daughter,  Peiyi, takes an immediate dislike to the sullen young boy. It is not until the mysterious Madame Chang, the inn’s only guest, arrives, that fortunes begin to change.  Madame Chang is a beautiful and captivating storyteller, recounting age-old folktales that have particular significance to Rendi; the neighbor, Widow Yan, and her daughter; and Mr. Shan, an elderly, doddering dinner guest who frequents the Inn.  As Madame Chang shares her stories and encourages Rendi to do the same, his protective layer of insolence is removed like layers of skin from an onion.  Starry Village of the Sky is many-layered as well - each character has a hidden story that is coaxed out by the storytelling of Madame Chang.

This is a captivating story that, while holding deep meaning, may be enjoyed in many layers. A magical fantasy, a Chinese folktale, a tale of a boy lost and found, a love story, a mystery, a journey of self-discovery -- all may be found in the tiny and remote Village of Clear Sky.

Starry River of the Sky is another star-filled book for Grace Lin, already garnering three starred reviews and a Junior Library Guild selection.

Note: My Advance Reader Copy did not contain finished artwork, but I am confident that it will be both beautiful and magical.

Want a peek at the artwork?  Watch Grace Lin flip through her book!

“Behind Starry River of the Sky

More reviews @

Due on shelves in October, 2012.

1 Comments on Starry River of the Sky - a review, last added: 9/23/2012
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8. Surf Dog Miracles - a review

Goldish, Meish. 2013. Surf Dog Miracles. New York: Bearport.
Advance Review Copy
(This is my first review with a 2013 copyright date.  And just like that, another year has passed.)

Part of the Dog Heroes series, Surf Dog Miracles is more than just a book about surfing dogs, though they are some fine looking surfers! These dogs surf for fun with their owners, but they also assist people with disabilities and raise money for charities.  Ricochet, a Golden Retriever, surfs in tandem with people having special needs, riding the back of the board to stabilize it in the waves. She has raised a whopping $150,000 for charities that benefit both people and dogs.  Surfing dogs also compete against each other is contests like Del Mar, California's Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon.  In 2011,

The money raised at the Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon went to the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, California.  This organization provides many services, including taking care of homeless animals, running a hospital for horses, and delivering pet food to animal owners who are too old or weak to leave their homes.
Surf Dog Miracles contains twelve short chapters which offer the history and particulars of the sport (dogs have been surfing since the 1920s, but the first known solo surfer did not appear until the 1980s) and an overview of what surfing dogs are accomplishing today.  As would be expected, photos are plentiful; they are accompanied by text box insets and captions.  Fun and informative, this slim, 32-page volume also contains a list of surf dog facts, a photo page of common surfing breeds, a glossary, bibliography, and sources for more information.

Like a viral YouTube video, kids will want to see this one again and again.

For teachers:
  • Dewey Decimal Number: 362
  • Lexile®: 1000
  • SRC Quiz Available: Yes

Browse Surf Dog Miracles on the publisher's site. Be sure to check out English Bulldog, Sir Hollywood, quite possibly the most unlikely surfer dog you'll ever see.

And here's "Wet and Woofy." According to the book, it's the video that Steve Jobs showed when introducing the iPad in 2010.  It features champion surf dog, Buddy.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at A Teaching Life
Next week's roundup is here at Shelf-employed.  See you next week!

1 Comments on Surf Dog Miracles - a review, last added: 9/25/2012
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9. A Day with Librarians - a review

It's been a while since I've seen a new book about my profession.  When I learned that Scholastic was putting out a new book, I asked to see a copy, and they obliged.

Shepherd. Jodie. 2013. A Day with Librarians. New York: Scholastic.

Part of the Rookie Read-About Community series, this small (roughly 7"x7") "easy reader" contains basic facts about librarians, their varied duties, and their workplaces. Information is conveyed in simple black font on a white background with a photograph on the facing page.

The "front desk librarian," the one described as using a scanner to check out books and noting when they need to be returned, isn't too common in the public library system in which I work, but I imagine she may be more common in school media centers or smaller libraries.

Statistically, the photos depict a greater diversity in our profession than actually exists, but reflect the change that librarians (and other forward-thinking professions) are striving to create - a more diverse membership. Hopefully, young readers will see themselves in these pages and think about librarianship as a career (no, we're not becoming obsolete).

In addition to five small "chapters," A Day with Librarians includes tips on being a community helper, an index, additional facts, and an "about the author" section.

From the "Meet a Librarian" chapter,

Librarians have important jobs.  They can help you find a good book to read or some information about almost anything.

That about sums it up.  I'm good with that.

Other professions featured in the series are doctors, firefighters, mail carriers, paramedics and police officers.
Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Wendie's Wanderings.

2 Comments on A Day with Librarians - a review, last added: 10/8/2012
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10. Hokey Pokey - a review

Spinelli, Jerry. 2013. Hokey Pokey. New York: Knopf.
Advance reader copy provided by NetGalley

In the world of Hokey Pokey, populated by Snotsnipppers, Newbies, and Gappergums, and others, The Kid is king. In fact, kids are its only human inhabitants.

For Big Kid, Jack, days pass in a comfortable rhythm of regularity - hanging out with his Amigos, LaJo and Dusty, and riding his bike Scramjet, the envy of every kid in Hokey Pokey.  The rules are simple.  Just remember the Four Nevers:
Never pass a puddle without stomping in it. Never go to sleep until the last minute. Never go near Forbidden Hut. Never kiss a girl.
It's a simple life, a good life.  Until one morning, when things are not the same.  His bike is gone, and

Hokey Pokey is unusual fare for Jerry Spinelli.  It's an allegorical story of childhood delivered by a narrator following the escapades of several different children, and focusing primarily on Jack and his rival and antagonist - the girl, Jubilee.  It's recommended for ages 10 and up, but the beauty of  Hokey Pokey is that it may be read on several levels.  Though the symbolism may be somewhat obvious for older readers, younger readers may simply enjoy Hokey Pokey as a fantasy adventure in an alternate universe. Older readers will see beyond the obvious symbolism of the approaching train and will ponder the relationships between older kids and younger, boys and girls.  Short and thought-provoking. Recommended reading.

Hokey Pokey received starred reviews in School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews.

 Preview the book here:

Interesting note: This is the second book that I've read that features living bicycles. Anyone know the other one?

2 Comments on Hokey Pokey - a review, last added: 12/24/2012
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11. Flood - a review

Villa, Alvaro F. 2013. Flood. North Mankato, MN: Capstone. 

(Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley)

If you read my blog regularly or read my monthly posts on the ALSC Blog, you'll know that my family was one of the tens of thousands affected by Hurricane Sandy.  It is for that reason, that I requested a copy of Flood for review.  I now have first-hand knowledge of the devastation caused by a hurricane, but more importantly in my area of the Jersey Shore, by flooding; I feel that I have a certain sad connection with the topic.  While I say that, I am also mindful of the fact that though thousands may be affected by the same natural disaster, no two personal disasters are the same.  There is a commonality, but yet, each town, each neighborhood, each family, each individual, must deal with a different set of difficulties.  Because of this, I approached Flood with trepidation and apprehension.  It was obviously not written in response to Superstorm Sandy, but nevertheless, it arrives at a time when people are particularly vulnerable.  To date, more than half a million disaster assistance claims have been filed with FEMA, with much of the damage caused by flooding.

Forgive me if I reveal the entire story, but this one I must follow through to the end.

Alvaro F. Villa's Flood appears to be the story of a flood more typical to the Midwest than along the nation's coastlines. In this wordless picture book, a family's modest home stands alone in the middle of a beautiful, grassy, rolling countryside, a river flowing behind. Two children and a dog play alongside a weathered picket fence.  Only the lone dark bird flying overhead hints at danger to come.  In the evening, the family spends a relaxing evening indoors.  Dawn brings the first hint of trouble as bad weather moves in.  The next days are spent in anxious discussion, preparation, and finally, evacuation. A violent and raging storm arrives, the river rises, wreaking destruction on the idyllic landscape.  In an eerie depiction of the storm's aftermath, the lone bird now sits upon the stump of a broken tree - looming large and black against the reddish hues of the dawning sky and the browns of the sandbags and silt left in the yard.  The family's muddied SUV returns.  From a distance the house can be seen, damaged but still standing.  The hopelessness of the family, the agonized tears of the young daughter are palpable as they survey the wreckage.  But of course, that is not the end.  It can never be.  No matter one's sense of hopelessness, helplessness - a start must be made. There is no other choice.  And so the rebuilding begins.  As the family paints and replants, the palette brightens and smiles return. The house, in its new coat of paint looks better than ever. It's not the same.  It will never be.  But the family is together and they have survived.

I passed this book along to my husband and children.  Of course, they are not librarians or book reviewers or educators. I asked them only because the experience is fresh in their minds.  My daughter had a keen observation.  There is a scene in which the family is spending the night in another location, having evacuated their home; the children are shown sleeping on the floor (as so many children, including mine, have recently done for days, weeks and months on end) while the parents and dog huddle in bed watching the television, presumably for news about the flood.  In a powerful use of symbolism, Villa shows their calm refuge surrounded by dark and raging flood waters - a powerful reminder of what is occurring elsewhere; but as my daughter pointed out, also easily misinterpreted by young readers who may be frightened by the water that appears to be menacingly approaching their makeshift beds.  Although beautiful and moving, and ultimately uplifting, this is not a picture book for preschoolers.  Appropriately, the publisher suggests Flood for Grades 1-3.

Is Flood  hopeful? Cautionary? Bibliotherapeutic? Empathetic? Preparatory?  I suspect Alviro F. Villa intended to offer hope.  I also suspect that much depends upon who reads it and when. 

Due on shelves February 1, 2013. 

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12. Play Ball! Baseball books for the very young

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."
Jay Schyler Raadt CC-BY-SA-3.0
Baseball Hall of Fame baseball player, Rogers Hornsby
Source: Baseball Almanac

Yes, it's January and the temperatures have been in the teens, but soon catchers and pitchers will report to spring training, and on February 21, Spring Training games will begin.

Here are two new books for the littlest of fans:
  • Kawa, Katie. 2013. My First Trip to a Baseball Game. New York: Gareth Stevens.  (part of the My First Adventures series)
In three very simple chapters, this little book introduces children to a baseball game, offering information on the park, the food and the game.  From the chapter, "At the Baseball Park,"
My dad holds our tickets.  They tell us where to sit. We get food to eat. My mom and dad get hot dogs.
The illustrations are simple cartoon-style depictions of a family's trip to the game with a heavy focus on the family's activities.  If just a little bit of baseball is what you're seeking, this will do fine.
A Table of Contents, Index, and Words to Know make this one perfect for school use, however, it's also suitable for adding a little nonfiction to storytime.

Reading Level: Grade K 
Fountas & Pinell: C 
Dewey: 796.357 
Specifications: 7 5/8" x 7 1/8", 24 pages 
Lexile Level: 130

Less perfunctory and more enjoyable is Goodnight Baseball.

  • Dahl, Michael. 2013. Goodnight Baseball. N. Mankato, MN: Capstone. (Illustrated by Christina Forshay)
(Advance copy provided by NetGalley)

Beginning with a sing-song rhythm,
The great big stadium is outside of town.
Fans and friends come from miles around.
and ending with a nod to Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon,
Goodnight, popcorn boxes under the stands
Goodnight, mascot and goodnight, fans!
Goodnight, friends. Goodnight, cars.
Goodnight, stadium, under the stars ...
Goodnight Baseball takes the reader on a baseball outing with a small boy and his father. Snacks, caps, and even a foul ball are part of a winning day. Brightly colored full-bleed illustrations offer a broad view of the game, the fans, and the park with a focus not on the boy and his dad, but rather, on their place in the larger context of the day.  Expressive faces show the myriad expressions seen during a day at the park - excitement, determination, surprise (no sadness here - the home town wins). Creative endpapers evoke the Green Monster, the boy's favorite team, and tickets stuffed in the pocket of denim jeans.  Goodnight Baseball is a hit.
(Due on shelves March 1, 2013)

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at author Laura Purdie Salas' blog, laurasalas.

1 Comments on Play Ball! Baseball books for the very young, last added: 1/28/2013
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13. In the Shadow of Blackbirds - a review

There is no easy segue from yesterday's Captain Underpants review to today's In the Shadow of Blackbirds. I primarily review children's books.  This one is definitely for young adults.

Winters, Cat. 2013. In the Shadow of Blackbirds. New York: Amulet.
Advance Reader Copy supplied by NetGalley.

Through the windows, I watched the boys proceed to a line of green military trucks that waited rumbling alongside the curb. The recruits climbed one by one beneath the vehicles' canvas coverings with the precision of shiny bullets being loaded into a gun. The trucks would cart them off to their training camp, which was no doubt overrun with feverish, shivering flu victims. The boys who didn't fall ill would learn how to kill other young men who were probably arriving at a German train station in their Sunday-best clothing at that very moment. (From Chapter 2, "Aunt Eva and the Spirits")

The year is 1918, and 16-year-old Mary Shelly Black is on her way from Portland to San Diego to stay with her widowed 26-year-old aunt. Her mother is dead. Her father has recently been arrested - swept up in the anti-German immigrant frenzy that's sweeping the country.

The sign in front of the eatery claimed the place specialized in "Liberty Steaks," but that was simply paranoid speak for We don't want to call anything a name that sounds remotely German, like "hamburger." We're pro-American. We swear! (from Chapter 13, "Ugly Things")

Young men are eagerly enlisting to fight in the trenches of Europe, and amidst it all, the "Spanish flu" ravages the population - their flimsy gauze masks are no match for the deadly virus.

The businessmen in smart felt hats rode with me, probably on their lunch break. They buried their gauze-covered noses in the San Diego Union, and one of them felt the need to read the October influenza death tolls out loud. "Philadelphia: over eleven thousand dead and counting - just this month. Holy Moses! Boston: for thousand dead." The use of cold statistics to describe the loss of precious lives made me ill. (From Chapter 17, "Keep Your Nightmares to Yourself")
The bleak situation is made all the worse by her recent discovery that her dearest Stephen, the only bright spot in her sad existence in San Diego, has enlisted in the Army, not because he desires to fight and kill German soldiers, but to show love for his country and free himself from living under the same roof as his brother, a drug-addled, "spirit photographer,"

So this is war. The declaration changed Coronado and San Diego overnight. The men are all enlisting and everyone is hurrying to make sure we all look like real Americans. One of our neighbors held a bonfire in his backyard and invited everyone over to burn their foreign books. I stood at the back of the crowd and watched people destroy the fairy tales of Ludwig Tieck and the Brothers Grimm and the poetry of Goethe, Eichendorff, Rilke, and Hesse. They burned sheet music carrying the melodies of Bach, Strauss, Beethoven, and Wagner. Even Brahm's "Lullaby."
In the Shadow of Blackbirds takes a decidedly darker turn when Mary Shelly learns of Stephen's death in the trenches of Europe.  She attends his funeral, but something is very wrong.  She can hear him, she can feel his torment.  His spirit is not at rest; and amidst the horror of war and the flu pandemic, something else is terribly, terribly wrong.  Spirit photography and séances are commonplace as millions across the country yearn to connect with loved ones lost to war or disease; but Shelly is a girl of science, of rationalism - raised in a house of reason and education.  But how can science and reason explain the anguished pleas of her deceased love?

In The Shadow of Blackbirds is gripping historical fiction and Mary Shelly Black is a tragic yet strong protagonist. Containing some of the same themes as Avi's dark, Seer of Shadows (Harper Collins, 2008) (spirit photography, rationalism vs. spiritualism), In the Shadow of Blackbirds examines these themes as well as romantic love and post-traumatic stress syndrome. The setting (San Diego and nearby Coronado Island) and the juxtaposition of love and war, disease and science combine to offer a dark and gritty debut novel.  The descriptions of trench warfare and everyday life during the massive flu pandemic are gritty and graphic, reminiscent of Mary Hooper's novel of Europe's 17th century plague, At the Sign of the Sugared Plum (Bloomsbury, 2003). The fear of death is almost palpable, made even more so by the reader's knowledge that garlic amulets and gauze masks are powerless against the killer flu. To read In the Shadow of Blackbirds is to be immersed in a grim period of American history that at times, bears resemblance to our own.

From the Author's Note,

...the influenza pandemic of 1918 (this particular strain was known as the "Spanish flu" and the "Spanish Lady") killed at least twenty million people worldwide. (Some estimates run as high as more than one hundred million people killed." Add to that the fifteen million people who were killed as a result of World War I and you can see why the average life expectancy dropped to thrifty-nine years in 1918 - and why people craved seances and spirit photography. 

Note: If you've ever watched the classic Academy Award Best Picture, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), this warning from Mary Shelly to her love will foreshadow and haunt,

 "Please stay safe. It's not everyone who has the patience to photograph a butterfly."

Period photographs of life during the influenza pandemic of 1918 availabe at these sites:

There are great resources of all kinds (music, vintage video footage and photos) at Cat Winters' site.

Here's the trailer, just released today at the Mod Podge Bookshelf. I wish it hinted at the book's rich historical detail.

2 Comments on In the Shadow of Blackbirds - a review, last added: 2/16/2013
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14. Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace - a booktalk

Marino, Nan. 2013. Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace. New York: Roaring Brook.
(Advance Review Copy provide by NetGalley)

Due on shelves April 16, 2013

Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace 
(a booktalk)

Cecilia has no rhythm, and not too many friends; but she has something special - a story. A story of a song that connects her to New Jersey's wild Pine Barrens as firmly as the roots of its Pygmy Pines and Atlantic Cedars. Everyone in Wares Grove knows the story of the song played by the forest on the night of Cecilia's birth. Only the story of the Pineland's most famous inhabitant, the Jersey Devil, is known more widely.

But two unexpected things occur as Cecilia's 12th birthday approaches. Cecilia's mother begins to doubt the song, and a young boy, a boy who has perhaps lost a song of his own, has arrived in the middle of the night under suspicious circumstances - and he's hiding out at Piney Pete's Pancake Palace.

A song, a secret, and the legendary tale of the Jersey Devil are entwined in this imaginative story of discovery set on the fringes of New Jersey's Pine Barrens, a natural wonder.

Find out who's Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace.


Lest you think that the Pine Barrens is a made-up place, or that New Jersey is nothing more than exits off the Turnpike or Parkway, be assured that the Pine Barrens are in fact, one of the world's most interesting places. The Pinelands cover 1.1 million acres, or 22 percent of New Jersey's land area. (from the official NJ tourism site - see below)

Learn more about the Pine Barrens and other locations in Nan Marino's new book at these sites:

If I didn't have a sore throat, this one would have been a podcast.  Look for a podcast or video booktalk for Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace soon.

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15. Mangaman

Houghton Mifflin Trade and Reference Division
 Distinguished book publishing since 1832
Lyga, Barry. 2011. Mangaman. Illustrated by Colleen Doran. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
(Advance Reader Copy)

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a manga reader, but when I saw the premise of this young adult comic book, I dove right in!

Barry Lyga's concept is genius and Colleen Doran pulls it off perfectly!  Mangaman is not a manga book.  It's a traditional comic book into which Ryoko, a character from the manga world, lands when he accidentally falls through "the Rip," a portal between the manga world and the "real" world of Western-style comic books.

The only character drawn in typical 2-dimensional manga style, Ryoko's is painfully aware of his manga trappings - effeminate appearance, visual thoughts that float above his head (particularly embarrassing in high school),
Do you see that?
It's a head!
in the air!
"speed lines" that appear whenever he moves quickly, painfully poking nearby classmates (and later requiring "sweeping up" by the custodial staff), a habit of walking in the wrong direction,
I did it again, didn't I?
Left to Right.
Why can't I remember that?

and, especially telling, eyes that turn into hearts whenever Marissa Montaigne appears.

You could call this a parody of manga, but it's much more than that. If you're even remotely acquainted with manga comics, Mangaman is hysterical.  For the non-manga reader, this may be just what you need to finally "get it!"

(Right to Left, Why can't I remember that?)
Recommended for mature readers.

If you're having trouble accessing the video, you can see it at mangamanlives.com or Barry Lyga's website.

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16. A Leaf Can Be ... a review

Salas, Laura Purdie. 2012. A Leaf Can Be ... . Illustrated by Violeta Dabija. Minneapolis: Millbrook.
Advance Reader Copy supplied by NetGalley.

What's better than a beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book? One that can be used to delight preschoolers, introduce poetry, or present science concepts. A Leaf Can Be... does it all.

Introductory stanzas give way to descriptive phrases of a leaf's many uses and manifestations,

A leaf is a leaf -
a bit of a tree.
But when cool days come chasing,
it also can be a ...

Wind rider
Lake glider
Pile grower
Hill grow-er
The font is simple and pleasing, like printing with a fine point gel pen.

The illustrations, depicting each thing that "a leaf can be," are nothing less than enchanting.  Blue is the color that anchors this journey through seasons and  locales - posing as the sky, a lake, a hint of frost, the rainwater gathered in the palm of a leaf. Though whimsically drawn, the trees, people and animals in Dabija's paintings are rendered in the colors of nature - not the muted colors of nature, but nature in its most vibrant, most spectacular displays. Her use of "speckling" gives each illustration a hint of magic or fancy.
Also included are:

  • "Glossary"
  • "Further Reading."
  • "More About Leaves," in which each descriptive tree phrase used throughout the book is explained, 
Mouth filler - leaves can be tasty!  Apes, giraffes, insects and many other animals eat leaves.  Humans do too.  Have you eaten lettuce or spinach lately?
Highly recommended. It's early in the year, but I think this will be a favorite!

Manufactured in the United States of America.

Check Laura Purdie Salas' site for a teaching guide and bookmarks, coming soon.

Due on shelves March 1, 2012. (You can request it now on NetGalley from Lerner Publishing.  Don't read this one on a black and white reader!)
It's Nonfiction Monday and I'm today's host.  
Please leave your link below and visit the other links. If you have trouble using Inlinkz, leave your link in the comments and I will add it to today's roundup.

  Thanks for participating in today's Nonfiction Monday roundup.

Today's guests include:

11 Comments on A Leaf Can Be ... a review, last added: 1/23/2012
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17. Fake Mustache - a review

Angleberger, Tom. 2012. Fake Mustache: How Jodie O'Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and some nerdy kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind. New York: Amulet.

(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher)

With another impossibly long title (who can forget last year's hilarious Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset?), Tom Angleberger is ready to unleash another load of laughs on eagerly waiting middle schoolers in Fake Mustache: How Jodie O'Rodeo and her Wonder Horse (and some nerdy kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind.

In retrospect, 7th grader, Lenny Flem, Jr., realizes that he never should have loaned his friend Casper Bengue, the ten dollars to buy the Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven from Hairsprinkle's own Sven's Fair Price Store.  The mustache, combined with the "man-about-town" suit purchased at Chauncey's Big & Small, Short & Tall Shop, enable a chain of events that threaten the town of Hairsprinkle, the presidential election and especially, Lenny Flem, Jr.  A cast of zany characters, including washed-up teen rodeo queen, Jodie O'Rodeo, fill out this funny, improbable adventure story.

Midway through the story, the first-person narration switches from Lenny to Jodie, so the reader doesn't miss any of the action.  Angleberger's humor can be blatantly obvious, as in the "first-ever billion-dollar bank robbery" "carried out by a gang of strolling accordion players," or hidden away for those who take notice. 

One chapter ends,

"No, thanks," I told the mime. "You clowns can either let us both go or get your heinies kicked.  What'll it be?"
"First of all, I'm not a clown.  I'm a mime.  Second of all, do you really think you can kick the heinies of Hairsprinkle's top ten karate instructors?"
"I only see five."
"Look behind you." 
And what, you ask, is the title of the next chapter?  Why, "Behind Me," of course!

Kids looking for a quick and goofy read will devour this book as quickly as a Hairsprinkle Hot Dog!

I look forward to seeing the finished artwork, which was not ready in time for the printing of this Advance Reader Copy.

Note: Just in case you're disappointed with our own election season and are seeking another choice, Tom Angleberger has got you covered.  Get your Vote Fako! bumper sticker.  Heck, he'll even throw in a free mustache (but not the Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven - it's simply too dangerous!)
Other reviews @
Fuse #8
Educating Alice

Coming to a bookshelf near you on April 1st.

1 Comments on Fake Mustache - a review, last added: 2/6/2012
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18. Meltdown! a review

Bortz, Fred. 2012. Meltdown! The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and our Energy Future. New York: Lerner.
(Advance Review Copy provided by NetGalley)

Last week, if you asked me to explain the processes and dangers inherent in the creation of nuclear energy, I would be hard-pressed to offer more than a rudimentary explanation.  After reading Meltdown! however, I marveled at how easily I grasped the entire process.  Physicist and author, Dr. Fred Bortz, has a distinct talent for distilling a complex subject into an easily understood concept.

In a compact, colorful book, complete with numerous illustrations and photographs, Fred Bortz recounts the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, sandwiched between solid scientific facts and a global view of the world's energy needs. The reader is left shocked by the massive destruction caused when a natural disaster causes a man-made one of nearly equal proportion. However, the purpose of Meltdown! is not to shock the reader, but to make him think.  Yes, this was a terrible disaster, but what are the alternatives?  Can the world's energy needs be powered by solar? by wind? by coal? by oil?  No, they can't - at least not now.  The readers of Meltdown! (recommended for ages 11-17) will be the decision makers of the world within a few short years. Meltdown! will challenge them to see that the world's problems do not always have easy answers. 

This seems to be the time of year that teachers are assigning many biography and nonfiction reading assignments.  If this were on my shelves now, I would be recommending it highly, though sadly, many teachers will likely dismiss Meltdown! as a book report choice because of the number of its pages, 64. (This gives me a meltdown, as minimum page requirements give me "Minimum Rage.")

This should be required reading, offering an easily understood lesson in nuclear energy, a factual account of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster caused by the massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, and extensive references and supplemental materials.

Teachers, check the Fred Bortz website for great resources including news stories, videos, and classroom connections.

Due on shelves March 1, 2012 - in time for the one-year anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

It's Nonfiction Monday. Today's roundup is at Wrapped in Foil.

4 Comments on Meltdown! a review, last added: 2/14/2012
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19. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World - a review

Most biographies for kids of living subjects, have several things in common.  They are small in size and page number, they have flashy covers, the information they contain can be easily gleaned by combing the Internet, they feature the latest sports, music, TV, or movie stars, their "shelf-life" is limited.  Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World is not most biographies.

Montgomery, Sy. 2012. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher)

Dr. Temple Grandin is a scientist, a college professor, a motivational speaker, an engineer, an advocate for animal rights, and so much more - but as a child born in the 1940s with autism, her chances of becoming anything at all were slim.  In fact, her father fought to have her sent away to a mental institution, thinking her, not brilliant, but "retarded." With the help of a determined mother, Temple grew up to be a brilliant and respected woman who has changed our world for the better. 

With extensive access to Temple Grandin, her family and friends, and schools, author Sy Montgomery has crafted an inspiring, engaging, and informative biography about this singular woman.

Temple Grandin is thirteen chapters that tell the story of Temple's life and the autism that has shaped her destiny.  Not strictly chronological, Temple's participation in the writing of the book is an added bonus as her present-day thoughts are often used to punctuate difficult experiences from her past

"If I could snap my fingers and be non-autistic," Temple says today, "I wouldn't do it.  It's part of who I am."
Chapters relate her unique education, her friends, her scientific experiments and engineering projects, her autism and its attendant challenges.  Chapters are supplemented by short informational sections (which appear as pages torn from a spiral bound notebook) on such varied topics as "Thinking differently:Changing Views of Brain Differences" and "Factory Farming by the Numbers."  The final chapter, "Temple Today" is followed by Temple's advice, a selected bibliography and resources, and acknowledgements. Photographs, plans and drawings are plentiful throughout the book. Photo credits and an index will be included in the final copy.

It is clear that Ms. Grandin is pleased with Sy Montgomery's rendering of her life.  Temple Grandin, herself, is the author of the inspirational forward to Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World.

One thought that I could not shake after reading this book: What would have become of Temple Grandin had she not been born into a wealthy family with a mother who refused to lose hope?  How many young geniuses were/are never able to find their potential?  It is a credit to Temple Grandin that she is a willing and able spokesperson for those on the autism spectrum, hoping to promote an understanding of our collective neurodiversity.

Who should read this book?

  • librarians
  • teachers of children on the autism spectrum
  • parents of children on the autism spectrum
  • kids and teens on the autism spectrum
  • kids and teens who know someone on the autism spectrum
  • animal lovers
  • readers interested in animal rights
  • readers studying factory farming
  • would-be engineers and scientist

    5 Comments on Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World - a review, last added: 3/20/2012
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20. Jinxed! a review

It's opening day for MLB!  Let's start off the season with another baseball book.

Scaletta, Kurtis. 2012. Jinxed! A Topps League Story. Illustrated by Eric Wright. New York: Amulet.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher)

I don't review too many early chapter books, and I admit that I'm not usually (OK, almost never) fond of "tie-in" books, but here's an exception. Topps, of trading card fame, has teamed up with Amulet books for a series of baseball-themed chapter books - complete with trading cards. So, what's the trade-off here? What does Topps get from this publishing deal? It appears that the books' protagonist, Chad, a young baseball fan with a huge baseball card collection, will use information about real players from real cards to help solve problems within the story line.  But hey, baseball cards have worked out well for Dan Gutman (his latest is Ted & Me, Harper Collins, 2012), and I think they'll work out well for Kurtis Scaletta as well. Here's why ...

he knows baseball, he can write with a boy's voice, and he's pretty funny.  What more do you need?

Jinxed! begins with Chad hoping to land a job as a batboy for the minor league Porcupines. His dad suggests that he send a resume.

     "What's a rez-u-may?" I asked him.  That's how he said it: "rez-u-may."
     "It's a list of all your past jobs and your accomplishments," he said.
     "I've never had a job."
     "Good point," my dad said.  "But you do have a lot of accomplishments."
     So I got on the computer and typed up my accomplishments.  It took me all day.
 [an image of Chad's resume appears here]

     "I've never seen "I have my own resume" on a person's resume before," Dad said when I was done.
     "But I worked really hard on it."
     "Good point.  It looks great.  Let's mail it tomorrow."

0 Comments on Jinxed! a review as of 4/5/2012 6:09:00 AM
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21. Looking for Me - a review

April is National Poetry Month, and I realize that I've almost let the month slip away without any poetry book reviews.  Just in time, I came across my Advance Reader Copy of Looking for Me, which went on sale April 17.

Rosenthal, Betsy R. 2012. Looking for Me. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Based on the real stories of her mother and many aunts and uncles, Betsy Rosenthal tells a story in verse of her mother, Edith - the fourth child in a large, Jewish, Depression-era family in Baltimore,

Family Portrait, Baltimore, 1936

We're lined up:
girl boy, girl boy, girl boy, girl boy, girl boy

and in the middle of us all, Dad,
who ordered us to smile
right before the Brownie clicked,
standing stiff as a soldier
no smile on his face,

and Mom's beside him,
a baby in her arms
and in her rounded belly
another one,

just a trace.

Girl, boy, girl, boy, count them up - twelve children in a row house, sleeping three to a bed, always short of money, new clothes and food.  Edith's teacher asks her to write about her family, but she doesn't write about herself.  After all, who is she in this great big family?  Looking for Me chronicles Edith's quest to find individualism in a time when, seemingly, there was no time for such frivolous thoughts. Rosenthal's poetic style varies from free verse, to concrete to metered rhymes.  The subject matter varies as well - following the ups and downs of a year in Edith's life, which, while harsh and disciplined, also held moments of great joy and fun,

They're Lucky I Found Them

Lenny, Sol, and Jack
said Mom left them sleeping
on the sofa bed,
or so she thought,
and ran to the store.

But after she left,
they started to bounce
and bounce
and bounce some more.
Then the bed closed up

and they were stuck
until I cam home
and changed their luck.

Some poems are heart-wrenching depictions of life as an 11-year-old Jewish girl who has been touched by death, poverty, meanness, bigotry, and indifference.  Others are uplifting,

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22. This and that - 3 reviews

A little of this and a little of that, as I'm ahead in reading and behind in writing!

(short stories, novel, audiobook)

Kibuishi, Kazu. 2012.  Explorer: The Mystery Boxes. New York: Amulet.

This book is an unexpected little gem, something of a mystery itself. From the cover, I was expecting a graphic novel mystery, a la The Box Car Children infused with a bit of magic.  What I found instead, was a themed, graphic, short story collection.  Mystery Boxes contains seven stories by noted graphic artists including Raina Telgemeier (Smile).  What ties these disparate illustrators and authors together is that each story features a mysterious box, contents unknown.  The stories range from amusing ("Spring Cleaning by Dave Roman and Telgemeier) to profound (Jason Caffoe's, "The Keeper's Treasure") to social commentary on war (Stuart Livingston and Stephanie Ramirez', "The Soldier's Daughter").

Judging from the way  my Advance Reader Copy was scooped up by a child in my book club, I'd guess this will be popular if it can find the right audience.  I'm also assuming that we can look forward to more collections in the Explorer series. I, for one, would like to see more interest in short stories.  They don't seem to be required reading for middle schoolers - a pity.  (Another good short story series, though not in graphic novel format, is Jon Scieszka's Guys Read Library)

Doyle, Roddy. 2012. A Greyhound of a Girl. New York: Amulet.

Advance Reader Copy

I chose to read this one because it features a multi-generational Irish family.  It's hard not to like Ireland - a beautiful country full of "lovely" people.  In fact, you will hear people in Ireland describe nearly anything as "lovely" --friendly people they are in general, but I digress.

This is the first Roddy Doyle book that I've read and I wasn't sure what to expect. I thoroughly enjoyed it once I stopped looking for some artificial contrivance or tricky plot twist and settled in to enjoy a simple yet touching story of 12-year-old Mary O'Hara, and three of her female relatives, one of whom happens to be dead.  A Greyhound of a Girl covers a short span of time in a short book (208 small pages)  about life and death and family. Being of Ireland, of course it is not without humor.

Riordan, Rick. 2011. The Son of Neptune, The Heroes of Olympus Series, Book 2. Read by Joshua Swanson. Listening Library.
12 hours, 27 minutes.

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23. Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship - a review

Freedman, Russell. 2012. Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The date is August 10, 1863. Frederick Douglass has arrived at the White House, taking a seat on the stairs, determined to speak with President Lincoln.  Many others are waiting as well.  Douglass stands out in the crowd, not just for his size.  All the other petitioners are White.  Douglass, a freed Black is an outspoken critic of Lincoln.  The two men have never met.  Douglass has no appointment.  He is prepared to wait.

He does not wait long, however.  The President does see Frederick Douglass on August 10, 1863; and in Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship, award-winning author, Russell Freedman tells us why.

Freedman is a master writer, and ingeniously sets up this story of friendship. Chapter One, "Waiting for Mr. Lincoln," sets the stage.  The next three chapters detail the life of Frederick Douglass before his meeting with Lincoln.  Three subsequent chapters do the same for the President.  The final three chapters highlight the collaboration of the two men in pursuit of their mutual interest, abolition.

The extensive use of period photographs and artwork, as well as images of period realia (election poster, paycheck, editorial cartoons and the like) add interest to an already compelling story.  The depth of Lincoln's regard for Douglass is cemented by the revelation that Mary Todd Lincoln sent Douglass a memento after Lincoln's death, knowing that Lincoln had "wanted to do something to express his warm personal regard" for Douglass.

Appendix: Dialogue Between a Master and Slave, Historic Sites, Selected Bibliography, Notes (on the sources of more than one hundred quotes) and Picture Credits (including many from the Newbery Medal-winning Russell Freedman book, Lincoln: A Photobiography) round out this extensively researched book.

The Contents page indicates an Index beginning on page 115, however, it was apparently not completed in time for the printing of the Advance Reading Copies.

Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglas is suggested for Grades 4-7, and is due on shelves June 19, 2012.  It is a fascinating look at two of the most influential men of their time by one of the great children's authors of our time.  Highly recommended.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at True Tales with a Cherry on Top.  Next week's roundup will be right here at Shelf-employed.

3 Comments on Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship - a review, last added: 6/4/2012
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24. Poison Most Vial - a review

I've got a science-themed book review for you today, but if you're a teacher, I invite you to visit the ALSC blog today as well.  Let's talk.

Carey, Benedict. 2012. Poison Most Vial. New York: Amulet.
(Advance Reader Copy)

When the famed forensic scientist, Dr. Ramachandran, is found murdered in his office at DeWitt Polytechnic University, suspicion falls on Ruby Rose's father, the university's custodian.  Someone has planted empty vials of poison in Mr. Rose's locker.  With the help of her friend, T. Rex, and the reclusive "Window Lady" from apartment 925, Ruby and Rex attempt to clear her father's name before he is arrested.

 Although it's not specifically spelled out, Ruby and Rex appear to be in 7th or 8th grade.  They attend the Lab School, located on the university campus.  Using their proximity to the labs, and the knowledge of and familiarity with campus that is intrinsic to a custodian's daughter, Ruby and Rex begin to ferret out the whereabouts of everyone present on the evening of the murder, monitoring the comings and goings of employees and grad students through a labyrinth of access points. However, more difficult than discovering who may have had opportunity, the pair must learn the science behind toxicity, absorption and concentration.  Exactly what was it that killed Dr. Ramachandran?  When? and Why?

To truly enjoy Poison, readers should be prepared to think.  There is the science of forensics to ponder, as well as the internal musings of the three main characters - Ruby, Rex, and Mrs. Whitmore, the retired toxicologist in apartment 925,

"Why, hello," said Mrs. Whitmore, opening her door.
     The young faces looked so different up close, she thought, and it seemed that the boy was more then (sic) merely anxious.  He was searching her face so intently that she averted her eyes.
     "Welcome," she said, stepping aside. "Do come in."
     The untied sneakers, the shuffling way they walked, the shifting eyes; like no one had taught these children the proper way to carry themselves.
     "I made some cakes," Mrs. Whitmore said abruptly.
"Pudding cakes.  Would you like some?"
     She disappeared into the kitchen and overheard the boy whisper, "It's the left one.  See how it bulges a little?"
     "No more than your big bug-eyes right now," the girl replied. "Jimmy's pulling your chain. He's got no idea."
     "Ruby," the boy said, "Why do you think they call him the Minister of Information if -- Oh, hello."
     Mrs. Whitmore marched back in with a tray from the kitchen and nearly dropped it on the coffee table in front of the couch. A piece of cake, and the boy -- Tex, was it? made to lunge for it and then recoiled, glancing oddly at her face and turning away, moving back toward the window.
    "This is real nice," he said in an alto voice that surprised her. "You can see all the way past DeWitt through here."
     "Yes, it's quite a view," Mrs. Whitmore said.

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25. The Giant and how he Humbugged America - a review

Murphy, Jim. 2012. The Giant and How he Humbugged America.  New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher)

While many of us are most familiar with Charles Dickens' use of the noun humbug as used by Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, "Bah! Humbug!" where it is used to mean "nonsense," humbug is also a verb.

humbug: (verb) deceive, hoax, to engage in a hoax or deception
First known use of humbug 1751
(from Merriam-Webster online)

The Giant is a story of how one man cooked up a scheme to humbug an entire nation.

By his own account, Jim Murphy originally toyed with the idea of telling the tale of the Bernie Madoff investment scandal, but decided that not enough time has passed to interpret the scandal objectively and completely.  How then to tell a true and cautionary story of greed, excess, and gullibility?  Why via the Cardiff Giant, of course!  The Giant hoax began in earnest on a morning in October, 1869, on "Stub" Newell's farm in the small New York hamlet of Cardiff, when workers digging a well uncovered a stone body.  Was it a petrified man, an ancient statue, proof of biblical giants?  Scientists, reporters, scholars and average citizens flocked to Cardiff in droves to decide for themselves. 

Demand was so great to see the statue while it was still in its hastily constructed home in upstate New York,
that the New York Central Railroad had trains stop for ten minutes near the hall so riders could run in for a quick view.
Eventually, the statue was moved in a specially-constructed wagon and toured the country.  Accounts of the Cardiff Giant appeared in newspapers throughout America.  Learned men debated competing theories about the giant's origin. 

An October 1869 photograph showing the Cardiff Giant being exhumed.
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They need not have debated.  The truth of the giant's origin was already known, but known only to Stub Newell and his several accomplices.  It was a steadily growing hoax of gigantic proportions.

It is difficult today to understand the immensity of the "giant" hoax of 1869, but to place it in perspective, consider these numbers.  The US Census of 1870, (one year after the "giant" was first "found"), lists the population of the United States at just over 38 million. According to accounts in the book, an estimated six million people paid to view the famous Cardiff Giant, about one sixth of the entire population of the United States!  Add in visitors to the several "fake" giants that appeared later, and the number is likely even higher.  It is estimated that the architect of the scheme made the equivalent of nearly a quarter million dollars in today's money; and he owned only an "interest" in the Cardiff Giant.

So shady and complex were the financial machinations and deals involved with this deception, that "The Cast of Characters" which begins the book numbers sixty-six, and is peppered with names that will be familiar to many, including P.T. Barnum and "Boss" Tweed.  Most of the cast were unaware that theirs were just bit parts in a monumental drama.  In the end, fortunes were made and lost, lives were enriched and ruined, and in one tragic instance, a life was taken.  Jim Murphy takes the reader deftly through the biggest swindle of its time.

Interestingly, some of the repercussions from the great hoax were beneficial - the birth of  new professional associations including the American Medical Association, peer-reviewed journals, graduate programs to better train experts in various fields, and a reforming spirit in everyday Americans.

Told in twelve chapters from "The Discovery" to "The Final Resting Place," The Giant is a fascinating look at many aspects of history through the lens of one "giant" swindle.  Entertaining and impossible to put down, readers will be both impressed and apalled by the complex manuevers of the hoax's mastermind. (No spoilers here, you'll have to read it to find his identity.)  A large number of period photos, posters and handbills are included, adding much to the story.

Also included are meticulous Source Notes, a Selected Bibliography, and a summary of other famous hoaxes.  The Index and Photo Credits were not included in my Advance Reader Copy, but will be in the final version, due on shelves in October, 2012.

With many schools moving to a national core curriculum with a heavy focus on informational texts, The Giant should be on the "must buy" list of school media specialists.  What better way to teach critical thinking than to pore through the anatomy of one of America's most famous hoaxes!

Another review @
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I saw the Cardiff Giant at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, its final resting place, when I was visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I only wish I had read the book first!

Nonfiction Monday is at Books Together this week.  Stop by.

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