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1. Reading about WWI

One hundred years ago today, the first shots of World War I were fired. These books about the WWI era — fiction and nonfiction for a range of ages — are all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide.

Picture Books

decker letter home Reading about WWIThe text of Timothy Decker’s unusual picture book The Letter Home is a letter from a medic serving on the front lines during World War I to his young son back at home. A mood of sometimes ironic calm pervades both the spare, observant letter and the laconic black-and-white drawings, which depict the terrors of war in childlike terms: “Sometimes we played hide and seek.” It’s not clear who this book’s audience will be, but it deserves one. (Boyds Mills/Front, 2005)

knit your bit Reading about WWIMikey’s mother and sister are knitting for the troops in Deborah Hopkinson’s Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story; asked to join them, Mikey proclaims: “No way! Boys don’t knit.” Then Mikey’s teacher encourages students to participate in the Central Park Knitting Bee, and Mikey enlists his fellow boys. Heavy on olive and khaki, Steven Guarnaccia’s illustrations indicate the WWI setting but also capitalize on white space, giving readers room to consider the book’s themes. (Putnam, 2013)

Lewis Soldiers 232x300 Reading about WWIJ. Patrick Lewis offers a fictionalized account of the 1914 Christmas Truce of World War I in a picture book for middle-grade readers, And the Soldiers Sang. A Welsh soldier relates how British and German troops facing each other in trenches of the Western Front ceased their fighting on Christmas Day to engage in songs and friendly games. Gary Kelley’s dark, somber pastel illustrations add intensity to this moving story. (Creative Editions, 2011)

mccutchen christmas in the trenches Reading about WWIThe story of the same unofficial World War I Christmas truce is narrated by a grandfather and illustrated with Henri Sørensen’s eloquent oil paintings in Christmas in the Trenches. The bleakness of the trenches is balanced by author John McCutcheon’s emphasis on the indomitable spark of humanity. Based on the author’s 1984 folk song, the book displays a gentle and moving example of how to create peace. An author’s note, musical score, and CD are included. (Peachtree, 2006)

williams archies war Reading about WWIArchie Albright, protagonist of Marcia Williams’s Archie’s War, keeps a scrapbook/journal from 1914 to 1918; he collects his own comics and commentary, letters and postcards, newspaper clippings, and trading cards. Readers will be drawn in by the collage format. The satisfyingly busy pages provide much to pore over, unfold, and lift up, as well as a glimpse into life on the home front during World War I. (Candlewick, 2007)



angus soldier dog Reading about WWIIn Sam Angus’s novel Soldier Dog, Stanley watches his beloved brother go off to war and then suffers from his father’s angry bouts with grief. Determined Stanley vows to protect his puppy, Soldier, from his father, and to reconnect with his brother. Stanley secures a spot in the military’s messenger dog service where he and the unit’s clever canines provide readers with a unique perspective on the Great War. (Feiwel, 2013)

boyne stay where you are and then leave Reading about WWIFour years ago, nine-year-old Alfie Summerfield’s dad, Georgie, went off to fight in WWI. For a while, letters from Georgie came regularly. Then they stopped altogether. Now Alfie (accidentally) learns that Georgie is in a nearby hospital, suffering from shell-shock. The third-person limited narration of John Boyne’s Stay Where You Are & Then Leave keeps readers experiencing events solely from Alfie’s intelligent but childlike point of view. (Holt, 2014)

fox dogs of war Reading about WWINathan Fox and Sheila Keenan present three stories of dogs who were active participants in wars in their wrenching graphic novel Dogs of War. Fox’s illustrations highlight the chaos and grimness of war, and the text, though sometimes dense, is overall well balanced with the art. A powerful author’s note, compelling stories, and the heroism of these dogs will likely inspire and move readers. (Scholastic/Graphix, 2013)

frost crossing stones Reading about WWIIn 1917, neighboring families face a sea of troubles. Two sons enlist in WWI; a suffragist aunt goes on a hunger strike; a seven-year-old daughter nearly dies from influenza. In Crossing Stones, Helen Frost reveals her story through tightly constructed poems. The discipline of the form mitigates against sentimentality, and the distinct voices of the characters lend immediacy and crispness to the tale. (Farrar/Foster, 2009)

hamley without warning Reading about WWIDennis Hamley’s Without Warning: Ellen’s Story takes place in World War I England as rigid class and gender boundaries begin to crumble. Teenage Ellen moves from her home to work at an estate, then turns to nursing in London, and finally to overseas duty at a French field station. Not even a fairy-tale ending can diminish this poignant and insightful historical novel told from Ellen’s first-person point of view. (Candlewick, 2007)

hartnett silver donkey Reading about WWIIn Sonya Hartnett’s The Silver Donkey, a provocative and elegantly honed tale about war’s toll on innocents, sisters Coco, eight, and Marcelle, ten, discover an English soldier hiding near their French village. They bring the WWI deserter food; he tells them allegorical stories inspired by a silver donkey given to him by his terminally ill brother. Occasional full-page black-and-white art by Don Powers deftly suggests setting and mood. (Candlewick, 2006)

morpurgo medal for leroy Reading about WWIA tale about family secrets and well-intentioned lies, Michael Morpurgo’s A Medal for Leroy is inspired by the real-life experiences of the first black British Army officer, who was prejudicially denied a medal for his actions during WWI. Though the focus of the book is on family relationships and the stories people invent to protect their loved ones, Morpurgo also offers an understated, unexpectedly gentle meditation on prejudice. (Feiwel, 2014)

moss winnies war Reading about WWIWith a difficult grandmother and a troubled mother, Winnie’s family life is challenging. But when the Spanish influenza hits in 1918, Winnie’s first priority is protecting them. The fear and desperation resulting from pandemic illness ring true in Jenny Moss’s Winnie’s War as the heroine faces her limitations, accepts uncontrollable events, and discovers a future for herself. An author’s note gives more history. (Walker, 2009)

obrien day of the assassins Reading about WWIJack Christie and his best friend Angus are caught up in the plot to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Having traveled through time to 1914 Sarajevo, the two become pawns in a struggle between competing factions. They must grapple with preserving or changing history and facing the resultant implications for the future. In Day of the Assassins, author Johnny O’Brien provides a fast-paced combo of speculative and historical fiction. (Candlewick/Templar, 2009)

sedgwick foreshadowing Reading about WWIIn Marcus Sedgwick’s The Foreshadowing, seventeen-year-old Sasha is a half-trained British nurse cursed with the ability to foresee imminent death. She runs away and follows her brother to the front, intent on saving him after a vision of his demise. An ongoing exploration of contemporary reactions to shell shock during World War I complements the plot and enriches Sasha’s character, and the clever conclusion is both surprising and apt. (Random House/Lamb, 2006)

slade megiddos shadow Reading about WWIAfter his older brother dies in combat, Edward, a sixteen-year-old Saskatchewan farm boy, lies about his age and enlists. He sees action in Palestine; it’s here that the horrors of the Great War are most graphically described. Arthur Slade puts an original spin on the experience of a young man going to war in his novel Megiddo’s Shadow. (Random House/Lamb, 2006)

westerfeld leviathan Reading about WWIScott Westerfeld’s Leviathan features a mix of alternative history and steampunk. As WWI breaks out, Prince Aleksandar and his advisers flee to the Swiss Alps. Meanwhile, Deryn Sharp, disguised as a boy, is aboard the British airship Leviathan, which crashes near Alek’s estate. As the two meet and begin the complicated dance of diplomacy, the story and characters come to life. Black-and-white illustrations by Keith Thompson capture Westerfeld’s complex world. Sequels Behemoth (2010) and Goliath (2011) continue the tale. (Simon Pulse, 2009)



bausum unraveling freedom Reading about WWIAnn Bausum provides an informative overview of America’s involvement in WWI in Unraveling Freedom: The Battle for Democracy on the Home Front During World War I. She discusses President Wilson’s fight to enact laws against “anti-American” activities as an example of how political leaders during a national crisis have attempted to restrict personal freedom in the name of patriotism. Illustrations, photographs, and notes enhance the succinct text. A “Guide to Wartime Presidents” chart is appended. (National Geographic, 2010)

freedman war to end all wars Reading about WWIWith an abundance of historical photographs and a characteristically lucid, well-organized text, Russell Freedman’s The War to End All Wars: World War I documents the history of the First World War: from its tangled beginnings, through years of stalemate, to the collapse of empires and uneasy peace, and ending with a brief description of the rise of Hitler. Freedman’s narrative, dedicated to his WWI veteran father, is dramatic and often heart-wrenching. (Clarion, 2010)

murphy truce Reading about WWIThe first part of Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy sparely and effectively outlines the causes of the Great War. Murphy then moves into a close-up view of the trenches before providing an account of the 1914 Christmas Truce. This historical background gives the truce emotional resonance; the subsequent carnage is all the more sobering in contrast. Plentiful photographs and period illustrations convey the paradoxes well. (Scholastic, 2009)

Walker BlizzardGlass 237x300 Reading about WWIOn December 6, 1917, two ships headed for WWI-ridden Europe — one carrying relief supplies, the other carrying an extraordinary amount of explosive munitions — collided in the Halifax, Canada harbor. Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 author Sally M. Walker sets the stage, then focuses on five families that lived in the waterfront neighborhoods. Through their eyes, we experience the explosion, devastating aftermath, and eventual rebuilding. Numerous black-and-white photographs, plus a couple of welcome maps, further chronicle events. (Holt 2011)

Don’t miss Touch Press’s nonfiction WWI Interactive app (2012), reviewed here.

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2. Frog Fridays booklist

Leapin’ lizards! (oh, wait) Here are some nonfiction books and picture books about our “phavorite” amphibians.


arnosky allaboutfrogs Frog Fridays booklist Arnosky, Jim All About Frogs
32 pp. Scholastic 2002. ISBN 0-590-48164-9
(Gr. K-3) This book informs with a definition of amphibians, the differences between frogs and toads, identifying markings on various species, anatomical features, habits, and how frog spawn develop into frogs. The well-organized expository prose lends itself to reading aloud, with each double-page spread covering a topic. The detailed captions may be lost on groups, but the diagrammatic illustrations offer much to contemplate.

bishop Frogs Frog Fridays booklistBishop, Nic Frogs
48 pp. Scholastic 2008. ISBN 978-0-439-87755-8
(Gr. K-3) This informative book covers anatomical, behavioral, and reproductive facts. On each spread, one of the sentences is in larger type, serving as a highlight of main ideas and a pointer to the accompanying captioned photograph–the real star of the show. The pictures are stunningly crisp and beautifully reproduced. At book’s end, Bishop explains the extensive work involved in his nature photography. Glos., ind.

cowley red eyedtreefrog Frog Fridays booklistCowley, Joy Red-Eyed Tree Frog
32 pp. Scholastic 1999. ISBN 0-590-87175-7
(Preschool) Photographs by Nic Bishop. Startlingly close-up photographs of rainforest fauna depict the nocturnal adventures of a red-eyed tree frog. The simple, aptly paced text relates the hungry frog’s search for a meal and his close encounters with dangerous predators, and an accessible afterword provides a good overview of facts on the subject. The engaging narrative and captivating pictures are perfectly attuned to the preschool audience–a rare and noteworthy find in nonfiction.

pfeffer fromtadpoletofrog Frog Fridays booklistPfeffer, Wendy and Keller, Holly From Tadpole to Frog
32 pp. HarperCollins 1994. ISBN 0-06-023044-4 LE ISBN 0-06-445123-2 PE ISBN 0-06-023117-3
(Gr. K-3) Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series. This lovely introduction sketches the most basic aspects of frog life–the laying and hatching of eggs, the stages of growth, eating and the danger of being eaten, and hibernation. Pleasing views of plants and animals sharing the pond environment are rendered in bold economy. The text’s clarity and shape make the book an inviting read-aloud science lesson.

turner Frogscientist Frog Fridays booklistTurner, Pamela S. The Frog Scientist
58 pp. Houghton 2009. ISBN 978-0-618-71716-3
(Gr. 4-6) Photographs by Andy Comins. Scientists in the Field series. Readers are introduced to Dr. Tyrone Hayes, who studies the effects of pesticides on frog development. Hayes travels to a pond research site and back to his laboratory, explaining step by step the careful procedures his team follows. Sharp, vivid photographs alternate between portrayals of the scientists–at work and relaxing–and abundant images of the frogs they study. Websites. Bib., glos., ind.

Picture Books

cooper frog Frog Fridays booklistCooper, Susan Frog
32 pp. McElderry (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing) 2002. ISBN 0-689-84302-X
(Preschool) Illustrated by Jane Browne. “Little Joe couldn’t swim….[He] just didn’t get it.” The boy finds the inspiration and gentle encouragement he needs when he rescues a frog trapped in his family’s swimming pool. Little Joe’s involvement in Frog’s small drama shifts the boy’s focus off of himself and his imagined limitations. Both text and art are stripped down to the essentials, with short, simple sentences and uncomplicated, expressive paintings telling the story.

french growing frogs Frog Fridays booklistFrench, Vivian Growing Frogs
32 pp. Candlewick 2000. ISBN 0-7636-0317-1
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by Alison Bartlett. A mother and daughter gather frog spawn from a pond to observe the metamorphosis from egg to tadpole to frog. While French provides step-by-step guidance for gathering and observing frog spawn, there’s enough detail for a vicarious scientific experience. Bartlett’s use of multiple frames showing frog development paces the action while allowing enough detail for small, but important, changes. Ind.

hassett Too Many Frogs Frog Fridays booklistHassett, Ann and Hassett, John Too Many Frogs!
32 pp. Houghton 2011. ISBN 978-0-547-36299-1
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by John Hassett. No sooner has the plumber de-flooded Nana Quimby’s cellar than frogs emerge…first ten, then twenty, thirty (count ‘em), and more. For each escalation, children playing outside have a solution (e.g., put them in a goldfish bowl). The ultimate answer? Re-flood the cellar. Delicious to look at–with its explosion of acrobatic frogs, primitivist-detail décor, and confectionery colors–and a treat to listen to.

heo thegreenfrogs Frog Fridays booklistHeo, Yumi The Green Frogs: A Korean Folktale
32 pp. Houghton (Houghton Mifflin Trade and Reference Division) ISBN 0-395-68378-5
(Gr. K-3) Two frogs enjoy always doing the opposite of what their mother asks. Years later she finally catches on and asks to be buried by the stream instead of in the sun. Remorseful, they obey her last request, only to fear that her grave will wash away–which is why frogs cry by the side of streams whenever it rains. Too mischievous to be morbid, this quirky ‘pourquoi’ tale features quaint, comic illustrations.

kimura 999 Frog Fridays booklistKimura, Ken 999 Frogs Wake Up
48 pp. North-South 2013. ISBN 978-0-7358-4108-6
(Preschool) Illustrated by Yasunari Murakami. Time to check in with the tadpoles-turned-frogs that we left in a pond in 999 Tadpoles. It’s the following spring and the baby frogs are popping up out of the mud while Mother Frog tries to take inventory. Neon green endpapers springboard us into clean white pages that provide an inviting stage for waves of energetic lumpy froglets cunningly arranged and rearranged.

kimura 999tadpoles Frog Fridays booklistKimura, Ken 999 Tadpoles
48 pp. North-South 2011. ISBN 978-0-7358-4013-3
(Preschool) Illustrated by Yasunari Murakami. When 999 tadpoles transform into 999 frogs, things get crowded. Relocation across the field proves hazardous when a hungry hawk nabs Father. Mother’s quick thinking saves the day as she grabs onto Father, and all the young frogs link up in turn. There’s not a word misplaced in the spare and funny text, and the illustrations are full of lively movement and personality.

meyer frog Frog Fridays booklistMayer, Mercer Frog Goes to Dinner
32 pp. Dial 2003. ISBN 0-8037-2884-0 (Reissue, 1974)
Mayer, Mercer Frog on His Own
32 pp. Dial 2003. ISBN 0-8037-2883-2 (Reissue, 1973)
Mayer, Mercer and Mayer, Marianna One Frog Too Many
32 pp. Dial 2003. ISBN 0-8037-2885-9 (Reissue, 1975)
(Preschool) Each of these wordless books about the adventures of a boy and a rambunctious frog is a tiny masterpiece of storytelling, with expressive characters and easy-to-follow action. Thankfully, no attempt was made to change the cozy trim size, colorize the art, or–heaven forbid–add words to these reissues.

wiesner tuesday Frog Fridays booklistWiesner, David Tuesday
32 pp. Clarion 1991. ISBN 0-395-55113-7
(Gr. K-3) A surreal, almost wordless picture book shows the mysterious levitation of lily pads and frogs from a pond one Tuesday at dusk. The frogs soar around town until they fall to the ground at sunrise. Large, detailed watercolors use dramatic points of view and lighting effects and often show a humorous range of expressions. There is a forecast of further surprises to come on following Tuesdays.

willems citydog Frog Fridays booklistWillems, Mo City Dog, Country Frog
64 pp. Hyperion 2010. ISBN 978-1-4231-0300-4
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by Jon J Muth. The dog and frog of the title become friends over the course of three seasons, but when the dog returns in winter, the frog is not to be found. This story of a friendship cut short by mortality is economically told and bittersweet; its atmosphere is matched by Muth’s paintings of the two at play in a glorious country landscape.

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3. Reading Rainbow (Rowell)

rowell landline Reading Rainbow (Rowell)Who knew Rainbow Rowell had a new book (for adults)? Not me! Until I snapped it up at the Cambridge Public Library yesterday. A TV-writer mom bags out on her husband and kids during Christmas vacation in order to stay home and prepare for a big pitch at work. Her marriage has been cooling for a while, and this might just be the nail in the coffin. (I haven’t gotten to the time-travel part, but the flap copy tells me it’s coming.) Like the narrative voice(s) in Rowell’s Attachments, this one is smart, witty, and slightly bemused. Watch out, Jennifer Weiner; Rainbow’s coming for you!

And speaking of curly girls… who else is annoyed by this new Progressive Insurance ad, starring the otherwise inoffensive, even endearing, Flo? What the hell, Flo? My people don’t talk smack about your Carol Brady throwback hair.

flo Reading Rainbow (Rowell)


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4. Catchy titles

myers on a clear day Catchy titlesI was entering some new book titles into our database this morning and ran across the late, great Walter Dean Myers’s novel On a Clear Day (Crown, September 2014). Now for the last hour I’ve had Barbra Streisand in my head singing “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” from the musical and film (starring Babs, of course) of the same name.

This got me thinking about other book titles I’ve run across over the years that also automatically make me think of a song title or lyric I know well — and then inevitably get stuck in my head all day:

Out of My Mind (Atheneum) by Sharon M. Draper / “Out of My Head” by Fastball

Across the Universe (Razorbill/Penguin) by Beth Revis / “Across the Universe” by The Beatles

I’ll Be There (Little, Brown) by Holly Goldberg Sloan / “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5 and by Mariah Carey (With this one, I end up with a mash-up of the two versions in my head!)

Stars (Beach Lane/Simon) by Mary Lyn Ray; illus. by Marla Frazee / “Stars” from Les Miserables

Stay with Me (Dial) by Paul Griffin / “Stay with Me” from Into the Woods

The Space Between (Razorbill/Penguin) by Brenna Yovanoff / “The Space Between” by Dave Matthews Band

How to Save a Life (Little, Brown) by Sara Zarr / “How to Save a Life” by The Fray

Just Call My Name (Little, Brown) by Holly Goldberg Sloan / “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5 and by Mariah Carey andAin’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

I inherited this habit from my musically-inclined mother who, any time she hears a line from a song she knows, will break out into song. But I’m sure we’re not the only ones who do this. What children’s book titles remind you of a song title or lyric?

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5. Kidlit crafts

Lately I’ve been drooling over the craft tutorials at EPBOT: Geekery, Girliness, and Goofing Off, another blog written by Jen Yates, mastermind behind the genius and hilarious Cake Wrecks. (If you’re not familiar with Cake Wrecks, start with “Grammar geeks, UNITE!” and gorgeous children’s lit cakes.) EPBOT is pretty much what it sounds like from the subtitle: tutorials for geeky, non-geeky, and home decor DIY projects; links to other geeky content (check out this Hobbit-themed birthday party); ooh, shiny! jewelry pictures; and cat pictures. In other words, awesome.

I’m geeky and crafty, but not frequently at the same time, so it’s nice to have some guidance in how to combine the two. I love how nerdy Jen’s tutorials are — both in aesthetic (with their geek culture content) and in approach (detail-oriented, thorough, efficient, authentic to the source material). They seem pretty idiot-proof, too, although I haven’t tried any myself yet… I can’t decide where to start! Here a few kidlit-related projects; click on the pictures for links to the tutorials:

epbot white rabbit mask and watch Kidlit crafts

White Rabbit steampunk mask and pocketwatch

epbot wands Kidlit crafts

LED light-up wizard wands…

epbot wand display Kidlit crafts

…and, of course, an Olivander wand display

epbot death eater mask Kidlit crafts

Deatheater masks (don’t you kinda want to be a Deatheater now?)

epbot frog and toad purse Kidlit crafts

book purse dos and don’ts

Now that I’m done fangirling over a fellow fangirl, I want to know: have you made any crafts inspired by favorite books?

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6. And straight on ’til morning

finding neverland musical And straight on til morningThe other day my friend’s four-year-old daughter asked me, “Guess what I wished for?”

I was a little nervous about this — after all, isn’t it bad luck to tell others your wish? — but she insisted.

“A puppy? A pony? A baby elephant?”

No, it wasn’t an animal at all. It was the second star to the right!” I didn’t follow this logic, so she patiently(ish) explained, “I wished to go to Neverland!” Well, obviously. What a dumb grown-up moment.

Brand-new musical Finding Neverland, based on the 2004 Johnny Depp movie about author J.M. Barrie and his friendship with the Llewelyn Davies family, opens tomorrow at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater. I should probably go and get back in touch with my inner lost kid.

What’s your favorite Peter Pan adaptation? Hook will always have my heart. (Bangerang!)

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7. Freedom Summer reading

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the 1964 grassroots campaign to register black voters in Mississippi — the state with the lowest percentage of black voters registered and a history of disenfranchisement through intimidation and violence. These books about that significant and bloody summer are all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and The Horn Book Guide.


scattergood glory be Freedom Summer readingProtagonist Glory doesn’t understand what’s happening in her Mississippi hometown during the “Freedom Summer” of 1964 in Augusta Scattergood’s novel Glory Be. Difficult and changing relationships with her sister Jesslyn and friend Frankie mirror the swirling upheaval. The hotly debated closing of the segregated community pool both serves as a snapshot of the tumultuous era and illustrates Glory’s realizations about the power of her own convictions. (Scholastic, 2012; intermediate)

wiles freedom summer Freedom Summer readingIn 1964, two young friends — Joe, who is white, and John Henry, who is black — find the town pool being filled with tar to avoid enforced integration. Their disappointment is palpable — and galvanizing. John Henry decides to enter a previously forbidden store, and the friends join arms and go in together. Deborah Wiles’s text for picture book Freedom Summer, though concise, is full of nuance, and illustrator Jerome Lagarrigue’s oil paintings shimmer with the heat of the South in summer. (Atheneum/Schwartz, 2001; new ed. Atheneum, 2014; primary)

wiles revolution Freedom Summer readingIn Revolution [Sixties Trilogy], also by Deborah Wiles, twelve-year-old Sunny Fairchild (who is white) tells of Greenwood, Mississippi during Freedom Summer: a town turned upside-down, in need of change but resistant to it. As in the previous volume, Countdown, a “documentary novel” format intersperses all manner of documents with Sunny’s first-person narrative and occasional chapters narrated by black teen Raymond Bulliss. It’s an ambitious, heady endeavor that succeeds in capturing the atmosphere of that pivotal and eventful summer, with the documents offering a broader context. An author’s note and a solid bibliography round out this innovative work commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer. (Scholastic, 2014; intermediate, middle school)



rubin freedom summer 170x205 Freedom Summer readingFreedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin provides a useful and informative look at the event’’s organizers, the volunteers, the voter registration drives, etc. Rubin conducted many interviews, in person, by telephone, and by e-mail, with people who were directly involved, and their firsthand accounts — along with copious archival black-and-white photographs — bring the events to life. (Holiday, 2014; middle school, high school)

mitchell freedom summer murders 170x227 Freedom Summer readingFor The Freedom Summer Murders, author Don Mitchell conducted a number of interviews with close friends and family members of slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Fascinating biographical sketches of the three men, based on these interviews, give readers insight into their deep commitment to social justice. Mitchell also provides a thorough account of the search for their bodies, and of the years of investigation that culminated in the 2005 trial of one of the murderers (at that time eighty years old). This book will grab you from its opening paragraphs and won’t let go until justice is served. (Scholastic, 2014; middle school, high school)

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8. Headmaster?

Crossing the Simmons quad this morning, I spotted a familiar figure: long white hair and beard, flowing robes, and twinkling, bespectacled eyes… Professor Dumbledore?

bob white Headmaster?

No, it was Professor Bob White, a beloved Communications department faculty member. Still, his big smile and cheery “Good morning!” added a little bit of magic to my morning.

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9. Our secret garden

(Thanks to Kitty for the name!)

During lunch break, Martha, Kitty, and I were walking around our new Fenway ‘hood and we came across the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden. After being called “girls” by two charming tourist ladies of a certain age who were looking for restaurant suggestions, we went in to the garden to explore. It’s beautiful roses as far as the eye can see — and a lovely spot to take a little break (or to take a book and read).

fountain Our secret garden

James P. Kelleher Rose Garden.

flower1sized Our secret garden

A view of downtown Boston from the rose garden.

MVP and KF Our secret garden

Martha and Kitty stay cool in the shade.

flower2sized Our secret garden

flower4sized Our secret garden

flower6sized Our secret garden

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10. YA is the new black

As we fans know, the Netflix original Orange Is the New Black is set in Litchfield Penitentiary, a federal prison for women in upstate New York. This prison is clearly underfunded. It’s falling apart. Its limited resources are being siphoned off by despicable assistant warden Fig. The sewers are backing up into the drains in the bathroom, and they can’t afford to fix it. As Caputo puts it, they can’t even afford two-ply toilet paper.

prison library 300x199 YA is the new blackUnsurprisingly, the books in the prison library all look old and dull. I’m guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of zero dollars allotted for the Litchfield library annual budget? And yet look at what the inmates are reading — books, presumably, not obtained from the musty old prison library. Brand new YA novels, novels whose shiny covers stand out in stark relief against all the drab prison orange and gray. Where did these books come from? Why was Red reading a new hardcover copy of We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt (well before its May 27 publication date, by the way)? And where did Vee get a shiny copy of The Fault in Our Stars to wave around in front of terminal cancer patient Miss Rosa?

Is this product placement, or book promotion, or a little of both? Does somebody in the industry have an “in” with the show’s producers? What’s going on? I’d sit through one of Healy’s “Safe Place” therapy sessions to find out.

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11. Ngurrara: A Ngarluma Story app review

ngurrara menu Ngurrara: A Ngarluma Story app reviewInteractive graphic novel Ngurrara: A Ngarluma Story (written by Tyson Mowarin and illustrated by Stu Campbell; Yijala Yala/BighART, 2013) introduces users to the history of the Ngarluma, the indigenous people of the Burrup Peninsula in north western Australia, and of Murujuga, one of the world’s oldest and most extensive petroglyph sites now threatened by industry and vandalism.

The story begins (we later learn) approximately 15,000 years ago, a time when “Mountains reach to the sky. Tharnarri [ocean] is far away.” It is the day of a young boy’s first hunt with his father: the pair spots a kangaroo, and the boy declares, “Marndanyingu. You feed my family now.” Dynamic panels — with no text, only well-placed sound effects — show the boy following his father’s guidance to kill the kangaroo with a boomerang-like weapon. When they stop for the night and make a fire, the boy carves the kangaroo’s image into a rock next to a petroglyph commemorating his father’s first kill. “Marndanyingu,” the boy says, “you tell my story.”

ngurrara words Ngurrara: A Ngarluma Story app review

“Thousands of years pass,” bringing the story forward to about 5,000 years ago. “The ice caps melt and the sea rises up. Our freshwater people become saltwater people and they have new stories to tell…” This time a young boy tracks and kills a turtle for his family’s food. Again he carves the image of his prey into the rock at Murujuga to tell his own story and to honor the animal’s spirit.

 Ngurrara: A Ngarluma Story app review

In the present time, another father-son pair drives toward Murujuga. The father tells his son to turn off the music he’s listening to with his earbuds and to “listen to the country.” As the two explore the many petroglyphs, the son asks in awe, “How long have our people been here?” His father replies, “We were always here.”

The app’s supplementary material (a substantial “about” text and a brief making-of video) supports this statement: at Murujuga there are around one million rock carvings made by the Ngarluma people, some more than 30,000 years old. In the video, co-creator Tyson Mowarin says, “I wanted to demonstrate the continuous connection of our people, the Ngarluma people, with the rock art…. We’re still the custodians of the art.”

An optional full-cast narration; subtle, atmospheric music; and a few animations and transitions complement the text and illustrations. Touching the bolded Ngarluma words in the text reveals their English-language equivalents and, in some cases, the petroglyphs associated with them. An interactive rock-art “carving” activity allows users to create their own petroglyphs.

The app isn’t perfect: it’s not particularly polished, and the title “ngurrara” (a Ngarluma word meaning both “home” and “country”) never appears in the text, which may be confusing for users completely unfamiliar with the Ngarluma. Nevertheless it makes excellent use of its format and presents a rarely-seen thread of human history in an effective, affecting way.

Available for iPad; free. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

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12. One to watch: Sarah Ann Loreth

My dance troupe just had a photoshoot with the super-talented Sarah Ann Loreth, a photographer and digital artist I consider a rising star. I mean, check out this gorgeousness:

vadalna tribal dance co by sarah ann loreth 2014 One to watch: Sarah Ann Loreth

Vadalna Tribal Dance Co., photographed by Sarah Ann Loreth. 2014

Imagine my excitement when I came across Susan Vaught’s book Insanity (Bloomsbury, February 2014), with Sarah’s disquieting photography on the cover, on our shelves.

vaught insanity One to watch: Sarah Ann Loreth

Sarah’s photos (several of them self portraits) have been featured on many adult book covers like this one

webb unseen One to watch: Sarah Ann Loreth

internationally, but to my knowledge Insanity is the first American YA novel to use her work. I’m certain there will be many more to come, though — keep your eye on this up-and-coming artist.

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13. The Animal Book e-book review

animal book The Animal Book e book reviewSteve Jenkins’s 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth is available in an enhanced e-book edition (HMH, 2013).

An introduction describes the book’s features: Animal Fact Pop-Up Boxes provide more information about select creatures’ sizes, habitats, and diets, along with fun facts.

animal book manatee fact box The Animal Book e book review

An Embedded Glossary allows for quick definitions of terms that are printed in blue; there’s also a complete glossary for reference. Occasional Interactive Elements include comparison charts, timelines, and other at-a-glance features.

animal book ecological pyramid The Animal Book e book review

A Notes feature allows you to highlight text and take your own notes (on blank note-cards), along with quiz-like Study Cards that can be shuffled with your notes and used for recall.

The whole thing is pretty low-tech, but not in a bad way. Just as in Jenkins’s book, the art is what really shines through. The quality is high — all the pictures are crisp and bright, even the close-up images (go eye-to-eye with the colossal squid on page 44 or nose-to-nose with that Siberian tiger on page 104… if you dare!). The table of contents and scrolling footers allow you to jump to individual sections or to pages in Jenkins’s book, which was already well suited for browsing. There’s a 4.5-minute Making Of video at the end in which Jenkins discusses his process and shows viewers how he creates a rhino, from sketch to paper selection to cutting pieces with an X-acto to assembling the collage; he also shows a page-layout board… and shows off his own animal! (His dog makes a cameo.) Some ’80s-sounding background music jazzes up the narration.

Available for iPad and Mac; $9.99. Recommended for primary to middle school users.

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14. Dinosaur versus… everything

Roar roar ROAR! When it comes to destruction, dinosaurs win! Check out these two brand-new titles about dinosaurs on rampages:

dinos Dinosaur versus... everything

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15. Piccadilly’s Circus app review

piccadilly menu Piccadillys Circus app reviewDeveloper Ink Robin‘s Piccadilly’s Circus (2012) is a showstopper of a storybook app. The human and animal performers of Piccadilly’s Circus are “a happy bunch who always got along (even first thing in the morning).” But the claws come out, so to speak, when ringmaster Mr. Piccadilly must take a sick day. Each performer feels he or she would be the best replacement for Mr. Piccadilly. Not only that, each performer considers him or herself capable of filling any of the circus’s many roles. They decide to swap acts for the evening. Unsurprisingly, everything goes awry — culminating in a collapse of the big top tent when the elephant attempts a tightrope routine — and hilarity ensues. All elements of the app, from the witty text to Adam Larkin’s winsome illustrations to Trevor Lock’s engaging (and charmingly British) narration to (perhaps most of all) the clever animations, are infused with tongue-in-cheek humor.

piccadilly switch Piccadillys Circus app review

Ink Robin takes full and thoughtful advantage of its digital medium. The majority of the story’s pages fit within a single screen, but scenes inside the big top are much larger, allowing the user to explore the variety of acts and giving the circus an appropriately larger-than-life feel.

piccadilly big top Piccadillys Circus app review

This smart use of size is particularly effective when a dancing dog takes over the role of the human cannonball: the screen zooms out to show the dog accidentally shot through the top of the circus tent (the cannon not being calibrated for small dogs, of course) and away through the night sky.

User-initiated animations with sound effects extend both the plot and the story’s humor. One of my favorites comes when the animals line up to apologize to Mr. Piccadilly for the night’s disaster; tapping the animals in turn produces a chorus of “sorry”s until you reach the last-in-line monkey — who’s been manning the concession booth: “BUUUURRRRP.”

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (iOS 6.0 or later); $2.99.

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16. Maybe it’s just me…

…but is this cover

smith grasshopper jungle Maybe its just me...

reminiscent of this cover?

angier woman Maybe its just me...

In his March/April 2014 article “What Makes a Good Book Cover?” Thom Barthelmess praises the Grasshopper Jungle cover’s “iconic simplicity,” which “piques our curiosity” with its compelling minimalism. The same can certainly be said of Woman‘s cover art…but for a different reason!

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17. ‘Til death do we part? The Undertaking of Lily Chen

The Undertaking of Lily Chen (First Second, March 2014), Danica Novgorodoff’s latest graphic novel, begins with an excerpt from an article published by The Economist in 2007:

Parts of rural China are seeing a burgeoning market for female corpses, the result of the reappearance of a strange custom called “ghost marriages.” Chinese tradition demands that husbands and wives always share a grave. Sometimes, when a man died unmarried, his parents would procure the body of a woman, hold a “wedding,” and bury the couple together… A black market has sprung up to supply corpse brides[…] At the bottom of the supply chain come hospital mortuaries, funeral parlors, body snatchers — and now murderers.

novgorodoff undertaking of lily chen Til death do we part? The Undertaking of Lily ChenThe epigraph — taken from an article published within the last decade about a real phenomenon — sets a grisly tone for this noteworthy paperback from First Second.

After Deshi accidentally kills his unmarried older brother during an altercation on a military base, he is tasked (by his grieving parents) with acquiring a corpse bride to accompany his brother to the afterlife. With a large sum of money, Deshi hires an unscrupulous “marriage broker” to help him find a fresh body, but they get interrupted and separated before they can finish the job.

As Deshi tracks down his lost pack mule, he happens upon Lily Chen, a modern girl living in old fashioned township who wishes to escape her rural surroundings, her overbearing father, and a potential arranged marriage. Free-spirit Lily forces charms her way into running away with Deshi, believing they’re heading toward Beijing, while Deshi, desperate to fulfill his obligation to his parents (who always favored their eldest son), contemplates murdering Lily as a last resort. Complications arise as he ends up falling in love with her.

Aspects of modern-day China collide with ancient Chinese traditions in both content and artistic style. Deshi and Lily struggle to reconcile their own personal aspirations with their responsibilities to family traditions. Novgorodoff underscores this struggle in her art. She uses soft watercolor brushwork for rolling landscapes and strong black ink outlines for mountain-scapes effectively calling to mind classical Chinese painting techniques, while the presence of modern technology, contemporary clothing, and typical comic book onomatopoeia contrast with that aesthetic.

The grim subject matter is skillfully balanced with keen humor, genuine sentiment, and humanizing struggle.

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18. Of purple suits and such: The Art of The Wind Rises

art of the wind rises Of purple suits and such: The Art of The Wind RisesIf you are looking forward to seeing Roger at ALA wearing a lavender-colored suit (as promised recently on Facebook) — this blog post is for you.

With The Art of The Wind Rises (April 2014), VIZ Media of San Francisco has published a visually stunning companion to Japanese director Hayao Mikazaki’s visually stunning animated film. Those who have seen the film know how immersive the experience is; how you feel transported, via the lushness and detail of the animation, into Taisho-era (1912-1926) Japan — and this book both extends the experience and takes you behind the scenes to show how it was done. For lovers of the movie, it’s a dream: almost 300 pages, in gorgeous color, of concept sketches, backgrounds, character and machine designs, and film stills, all augmented with commentary on the creative process by the film’s director, its art director and supervising animator, and others.

purple suit 300x213 Of purple suits and such: The Art of The Wind RisesNot to get off-topic, but the book also explains what wasn’t at all clear to me watching the film: that the main character, Jiro, is a composite of Japanese aviation pioneer Jiro Horikoshi and novelist Tatsuo Hori, two influential figures in late-1930s Japan. I’m not sure that Miyazaki pulled off this feat (merging two actual historical people to make one fictional character), but he definitely succeeded in making a movie of unsurpassed beauty — and he and his team sure did rock that purple suit of Jiro’s. (Back on topic!) Here’s color designer Michiyo Yasuda on why: “For Jiro’s suit, I chose a light purple that’s a bit on the bright side. I think nowadays, new [Mitsubishi] employees wear gray or navy suits, but that’s not very interesting, so I tried to bring out a certain freshness with a soft and gentle color.” And yes, the book includes several stills of Jiro in the suit, including one large double-page spread of Jiro as a young man, determinedly striding into the future, as his first airplane design gets its first test flight.

Will Roger’s suit measure up to Jiro’s? Those who know his natty style and penchant for purple bet yes. But all will be revealed in Vegas!

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19. Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Maya Angelou. Here are some books by which to help remember the great author and poet.

adoff I am the Darker Brother Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Adoff, Arnold and Andrews, Benny, Editors I Am the Darker Brother: An Anthology of Modern Poems by African Americans
208 pp. Simon 1997. ISBN 0-689-81241-8 PE ISBN 0-689-80869-0
YA (New ed., 1968, Macmillan). Introductory comments by poet Nikki Giovanni and literary critic Rudine Sims Bishop reinforce the continued timeliness of this volume, updated and reissued after nearly thirty years. Expanded with pieces from twenty-one additional poets including Maya Angelou and poet laureate Rita Dove, the collection constitutes a part of the song of America, which, as Bishop states, ‘requires a multi-voiced chorus.’ Ind.

angelou amazing peace Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Angelou, Maya Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem
40 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2008. ISBN 978-0-375-84150-7 LE ISBN 978-0-375-94327-0
Gr. K-3 Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Angelou’s poem (first read at the 2005 White House tree-lighting ceremony) is about the promise of peace brought on by the Christmas season, urging listeners to “look beyond complexion and see community.” The luminous oil, acrylic, and fabric illustrations on canvas, depicting a snow-covered town, add concreteness to Angelou’s words. A CD of Angelou reading the poem is included.

angelou my painted house Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Angelou, Maya My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken, and Me
40 pp. C. Potter 1994. ISBN 0-517-59667-9
Gr. K-3 Photographs by Margaret Courtney-Clarke. Thandi, an eight-year-old Ndebele girl of South Africa, tells about her family, the fine art of house painting carried out mainly by the women in the village, and the contrast between village and city life. Courtney-Clarke’s abundant, brightly colored photographs accompany Angelou’s refreshingly warm introduction to the art, culture, and social life of the Ndebele people.

clinton I too sing Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Clinton, Catherine, Editor I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry
128 pp. Houghton 1998. ISBN 0-395-89599-5
YA Illustrated by Stephen Alcorn. This chronological collection includes work by such poets as Phillis Wheatley, W. E. B. Du Bois, Arna Bontemps, Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, along with twenty others. The verses, introduced with biographical information, reflect the African-American struggle for equality from the early 1800s to the present. The textured illustrations, done in muted tones, capture the drama and strength of each poem.

cox maya angelou Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Cox, Vicki Maya Angelou: Poet
122 pp. Chelsea 2006. LE ISBN 0-7910-9224-0
YA Black Americans of Achievement, Legacy Edition series. (New ed., 1994.) This biography details Angelou’s rise from adversity to international recognition. The book goes beyond the typical personal information to provide some social history relevant to the subject’s time. Captioned photographs and boxed inserts enhance the conversational text, most of which has been completely revised. Reading list, timeline, websites. Ind.

racism in I know why Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Johnson, Claudia, Editor Racism in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
150 pp. Greenhaven 2008. LE ISBN 978-0-7377-3901-5
YA Social Issues in Literature series. This volume presents brief, thoughtful essay reprints (primarily written by literary critics and academics) arranged into three sections that explore the author’s life, identify relevant social issues, and discuss current cultural applications. Although the pieces are sometimes awkwardly truncated, they usually present ideas that go well beyond superficial critique, inviting readers to consider fiction as a vehicle for analyzing American identity. Reading list, timeline, Bib., ind.

blount african american poetry Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Rampersad, Arnold and Blount, Marcellus, Editors African American Poetry: Poetry for Young People
48 pp. Sterling 2013. ISBN 978-1-4027-1689-8
Gr. 4-6 Illustrated by Karen Barbour. This representative poetry anthology of African American literary masters spans the sixteenth through twentieth centuries and includes renowned poets such as Phillis Wheatley, Lucille Clifton, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Nikki Giovanni; brief contextual notes accompany each poem. The selections, along with the watercolor, ink, and collage illustrations, reflect not only the black experience but also the evolution of free expression. Ind.

graves maya Books in Remembrance of Maya Angelou (1928 2014)Wilson, Edwin Graves, Editor Maya Angelou
48 pp. Sterling 2007. ISBN 978-1-4027-2023-9
Gr. 4-6 Illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue. Poetry for Young People series. After a four-page introduction about Angelou’s life and work, twenty-five of her poems are presented, each with a few explanatory sentences preceding them. Some selections are heavy, resonating with the penetrating philosophical stance from which Angelou views the world; others show a lighter side of the world-renowned wordsmith. Dark abstract paintings create mood and atmosphere. Ind.

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20. The Adventures of Captain Underpants app review

captain underpants menu The Adventures of Captain Underpants app reviewThe Adventures of Captain Underpants app (Scholastic, 2013) features an easy-to-navigate full-color digital adaptation of Dav Pilkey’s graphic novel of the same name, plus an avatar generator, a sound effects mixer, and a panoply of other mini-games based on the story.

Best friends and class pranksters George and Harold create a comic book superhero, Captain Underpants, and hypnotize their school principal into assuming his identity. Clad in cape and tighty-whities, Principal Krupp foils bank robbers and a mad scientist until the boys “de-hypnotize” him. Optional narration and interspersed interactive elements — rewritable signs and a mini-comic — extend the reading experience.

underpants narrative The Adventures of Captain Underpants app review

Creator Dav Pilkey’s trademark crude cartoons, perfectly timed fart jokes, and silly word combinations are sure to shock most seven- to ten-year-olds (and some twenty-eight-year-old reviewers) into fits of laughter. The same holds true for the various activities within the app.

You can start out by developing your own avatar — either part by part, using the body building machine and Face-o-Matic tool, or by using the avatar generator which pieces together a body, face, and name at random. Some name combos work better than others, but I’m strangely proud of my two hand-crafted avatars: Snotty Wafflechunks and Cheeseball Barfshorts.

avatars The Adventures of Captain Underpants app review

Once you’re set with an avatar, you can work your way through the main menu and track your progress as you earn achievements from various mini-games. In 3-D Hypno-Ring, the object is to blast Mr. Krupp in the eyes with the hypno-beam, while in Skate-O-Rama, the idea is to tilt your way through a maze before the time runs out. But in my personal favorite, Stretch-O-Rama, you have to fling underpants at the waves of tiny robots above you (a la Space Invaders). Classic.

For an extra-silly good time, try out the Beatbox under Sounds ‘n’ Fun. First, choose Beat 1, 2, or 3, then lay sound effects (pulled from the story) over the top at various intervals. The result is a club-bumping mix of drum kicks and crass sounds. As you complete various mini-game levels, you’ll earn new sound effects for you library. Or you can record your own.

For longtime fans and newcomers alike, this app effectively captures the magic of the original series. Tra-la-laaaaa!

Available for iPad (requires iOS 5.0 or later); $4.99. Recommended for intermediate users.

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21. The envelope, please…

On Saturday, May 31st, at BookExpo America, Horn Book Editor in Chief Roger Sutton announced the 2014 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honors. A few pics from the happy day, all taken by BGHB coordinator Katrina Hedeen:

Little Brown The envelope, please...

HB Editor in Chief Roger Sutton (left), Picture Book Award winner Peter Brown (center), and the Little, Brown crew

Peter Brown The envelope, please...

Peter Brown signs his Picture Book Award winner Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Wein 2 The envelope, please...

Roger Sutton, Dina Sherman of Disney-Hyperion, and Fiction Award Honoree Elizabeth Wein

This year’s Horn Book at Simmons one-day colloquium is entitled “Mind the Gaps: Books for All Young Readers” and will be held on October 11th — hope to see you there! We’ve got a lot more on the winning books and authors on the way. In the meantime, read the full BGHB Awards announcement, then check out the Horn Book’s reviews of the celebrated titles here:

Picture book winner Mr. Tiger Goes Wild and honor books
Fiction winner Grasshopper Jungle and honor books
Nonfiction winner The Port Chicago 50 and honor books

What do you think of the committee’s selections? Let us know in the comments!

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22. The Fault in Our Stars movie review

fault in our stars movie poster The Fault in Our Stars movie reviewLast year, we teamed up to write “What Makes a Good YA Love Story?”, and much of our answer to that question was based on the epically beloved, critically acclaimed 2012 novel, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. What we both loved so much about this damn-near perfect teen love story is that, though Hazel and Augustus are dying of cancer, their connection is life-affirming. Hazel and Gus are genuine, three-dimensional, intricate, and irresistibly quirky characters, and we couldn’t wait to see them come alive on the screen. As the release of the film adaptation (Fox, June 6th, 2014) rolled around, we jumped at the chance to see it, reflect on it, and review it together.

Naturally, not just any showing would do, so we attended “The Night Before Our Stars,” on Thursday, June 5th, a screening of the movie before its opening the next day. Attendees received charm bracelets and posters, and after the movie, viewed live musical performances and a Q&A with director Josh Boone; producer Wyck Godfrey; John Green; and actors Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Nat Wolff. Our theater was packed with teens, some even sporting “Okay? Okay.” T-shirts. This was a committed crowd of fans.

And they were not disappointed. The movie is excellent. It brings the spirit of the book to life, even as it necessarily simplifies some of the material to fit into two hours. As John Green, who was heavily involved in production, mentioned in the live interview, the movie doesn’t “Hollywoodize” the story — something Hazel would have hated. It’s sensitive, teen-oriented, sweet — and, of course, you’re probably going to cry, so remember to bring tissues. (Kleenex even tweeted: “Going to see “The Fault in Our Stars”? You may want to bring a Kleenex® Slim Pack along…”)

The remarkable thing about TFiOS is how perfectly it reflects the lives of today’s teens. Hazel and Augustus type on their MacBook Airs, use Gmail, and text on their iPhones. (A neat feature of the movie is the way texts appear on the screen in literal bubbles, “popping” once the viewer has read them.) In one scene, Hazel is waiting to hear back from Gus, and, as any teen with a crush would do, she keeps an eagle eye on her phone; when she finally hears from him while eating dinner, she’s hopelessly giggling and texting while her baffled parents look on. Both teen characters also looked the part: when they first (literally) bump into each other at a cancer support group meeting, Hazel sports Converse sneakers, a T-shirt, and sweatpants; Gus, a leather jacket and ultra-cool retro-looking Nikes (untied).

The chemistry between Hazel and Gus, too, is completely believable. From that first encounter before cancer support group to their first kiss in Amsterdam’s Anne Frank Museum, their connection is electric. Later, the bedroom scene, potentially tricky for a PG-13 audience, is awkward, playful, and sweet: Gus is vulnerable about his missing leg; Hazel’s T-shirt gets stuck on her cannula.

This is a movie, after all, so it’s no surprise that there’s more romanticizing than in Green’s book, mainly the stars’ healthy glow and fresh-faced complexions for most of the film. But Woodley and Elgort are heartthrobs, and they are both adorable here, even with Hazel’s cannula and Gus’s prosthetic leg. Their performances are also strong: Shailene Woodley invested herself emotionally in playing Hazel, and it shows. She got Hazel’s intelligence, cynicism, and sarcasm down, but also her humanity and compassion. And she’s a beautiful incarnation — again, perhaps an idealized one, but the book’s fans won’t be disappointed with how Woodley illustrates its heroine. Meanwhile, Elgort connects with Gus’s confidence and swagger — our audience literally squealed at the first close-up shot of his face.

Thanks to a cast that seems to have gotten very close to Green’s story and its characters, performances are strong across the board. Laura Dern’s portrayal of concerned mom Mrs. Lancaster is masterful; there’s a moment where Hazel calls for her and she materializes comically fast, out of breath and soaking wet in a towel, panic written across her face. And with his overgrown facial hair, bad teeth, and almost tangible whiskey breath, Willem Dafoe’s handling of Hazel’s author idol Peter Van Houten impressed us perhaps the most for the way he oozes nastiness, physically and emotionally.

Once the movie was over, and everyone in the theater was in a puddle of tears, singer and pianist Birdy did a live performance of “Not About Angels” from the movie (which made Woodley cry). Then, host Alton Brown took questions from people in the auditorium in Georgia, as well as from Twitter. From the cast and filmmakers’ answers, we learned that director Josh Boone was very instrumental in compiling the soundtrack, which he strived to make “tonally right” (it so, so was), and that during the hilarious scene of Hazel and Gus helping by-that-time blind Isaac pelt eggs at his ex’s house, one throw was too perfect, and landed inside the home on loan for the shoot. We even saw John Green’s deleted cameo appearance as the father of the girl who asks Hazel about her cannula in the airport (he should stick to his day job). Most importantly, Green expressed his gratitude to everyone for “making a movie that’s so sensitive to the book.” We couldn’t agree more.

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23. KidEWords app review

kid e words menu KidEWords app reviewKidEWords (Chocolapps, 2014), an educational crossword puzzle app for kids, helps children learn words, associate images with the correct words, and improve their spelling skills.

On the app’s menu page you choose the Easy, Medium, or Hard version, based on your spelling ability. Then choose a level from one to twenty (the first three in each version are free). A crossword grid, ranging from two to ten words, appears, with small pictures that give visual cues to the words. In the easy version, the correct letters are already printed (in gray) within the crossword grid. The object here is for a child to match the letters of the alphabet, printed along the bottom of the screen, with the correct letters in the crossword. Drag each letter to the spot on the crossword where it belongs to complete the words — but if you let go of a letter or don’t drag it to the correct spot, you’ll have to try again.

kid e words puzzle KidEWords app review

After completing each level, a “Magic Word” board appears. Kids unscramble select letters from the crossword words (notice there’s a yellow boarder around some letters in the grid) to make the Magic Word. For example, after solving the crossword “Rocket” and “Knife,” you’ll get to spell the Magic Word “Note.” Once you’ve spelled the magic word, you progress to the next level.

kid e words magic word KidEWords app review

If you choose the Medium version of the same level, only a couple of letters are pre-printed in gray in the tiles, and in the Hard version, none of the letters appear. Thus, the harder the version, the more you must rely on your prior knowledge of how to spell each word. If you need a reminder of how to spell a word, choose the image of the book at the top of the screen. You’ll get three chances during each level to look at an alphabetical list of words (ranging from two to eight letters long) to help you figure out what it is you’re trying to spell in the crossword.

There are more than five hundred easy, average, or difficult words to spell, and twenty levels of increasing difficulty within each section. And as an added bonus, a grid generator allows you to create even more games to enjoy. In addition to the English-language option, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish options are accessible from the main menu, as is an on-off switch for the music.

This is an easy-to-use app that doesn’t put pressure on the user: there’s no time limit to complete a crossword, you aren’t penalized for dragging letters to the wrong spot, and you can quit a game any time you want. I wish the app would say the word after you’ve completed spelling it or when you touch the image so kids could have that additional level of comprehension and association, but I think overall the app does a fine job helping young children develop spelling skills through the introduction of new vocabulary and the concept of crossword puzzles.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 5.o or later) and for Android devices; the first three levels are free, the full app is $2.99. Recommended for primary users.

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24. Thanks a lot, Trixie’s Dad

willems knuffle bunny too Thanks a lot, Trixies Dad…and the great Mo Willems, on Fathers’ Day, for creating dad characters who take care of their kids in a non-bumbling, matter-of-fact (if realistically exhausted and strung-out) sort of way.

But, hey, also? As Megan Dowd Lambert points out: Cut it out with the nighttime bunny exchanges. You’re making the rest of us look bad.

Here are some more recommended father-son books from The Horn Book staff.

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25. Angela Johnson on All Different Now

johnson all different now Angela Johnson on All Different NowOn this day in 1865 — more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued — abolition was finally announced in Texas, the last stronghold of slavery. In the May/June 2014 Horn Book Magazine, reviewer Robin Smith asked author Angela Johnson about the closing words and image of All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom. Read the starred review here.

Robin L. Smith: The last spread shows the family packing up and leaving, an image I loved. The text simply says, “all different now.” Who made the decision that this family would leave when the text gives no hint of it?

Angela Johnson: The heart of All Different Now is truly the essence of change. Change might seem to come slowly but at the same time appear to come out of nowhere, swiftly. With that said, though, I played no part in the decision to show the family packing to leave at the end of the book. But I have always believed the measure of a good working text is that the artist can go beyond and interpret the emotions of a manuscript. E. B. [Lewis] has done this wonderfully.

From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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