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1. Abhorsen read-alikes

nix sabriel Abhorsen read alikesLike me, my friend Marie (hi Marie!) is a huge fan of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen YA fantasy trilogy. And like me, she’s been patiently(ish) anticipating Clariel, the prequel publishing in October, for years.

A lot of them.

Unlike me, however, she doesn’t have an ARC…so I’m mailing her my reviewer copy. Here are some Abhorsen read-alikes — featuring badass heroines, restless dead, adventure, and a hint of romance, all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide — in case you can’t wait until October either!

armstrong sea of shadows Abhorsen read alikesEvery year, the Seeker, currently teen Ashyn, enters the Forest of the Dead to quiet damned spirits. The Keeper, Ashyn’s twin Moria, remains in the village as protector. But things go terribly awry, and the sisters are forced to travel across the Wastes to save their kingdom from the undead. Author Kelley Armstrong’s elaborate world is populated with complex characters in Age of Legends series-opener Sea of Shadows. (HarperCollins, 2014)

bick ashes Abhorsen read alikesAn electromagnetic pulse kills most of the country’s population instantly at the beginning of Ilsa J. Bick’s trilogy opener Ashes; many of those left become zombielike, “brain-zapped” cannibals. Survivor Alex teams up with eight-year-old Ellie and soldier Tom to search for other people. The trio’s deepening bond adds to the already high tension. This horror/survival story (with graphic violence) presents an intriguing take on zombie fiction. Look for sequels Shadows and Monsters. (Egmont, 2011)

bow sorrows knot Abhorsen read alikesAfter Otter’s mother, a binder of the dead, commits suicide rather than allow herself to be possessed by a ghostly White Hand, Otter and her friends venture beyond the bounds of their forest settlement to find the White Hands’ origin. The spirit-filled fantasy world of Erin Bow’s Sorrow’s Knot gives a hair-raising sensation of being surrounded by unknown dangers and evokes Native American cultures without caricaturing them. (Scholastic/Levine, 2013)

burtenshaw jenna Abhorsen read alikesIn Shadowcry, the first volume in the Secrets of Wintercraft series, fifteen-year-old Kate discovers she’s a Skilled, able to see and manipulate the “veil” between life and death. Moreover, she learns her ancestors wrote the coveted tome Wintercraft, which explains the veil’s secrets. Author Jenna Burtenshaw’s elegant, complex prose sweeps readers along to a dark world teeming with creepy underground passageways, abandoned buildings, and graveyards. Kate is a bright spot, facing each obstacle with defiance and determination. The series continues with Blackwatch and Winterveil. (Greenwillow, 2011)

moore texas gothic Abhorsen read alikesStriving for normality in her magic-practicing family, Amy is happy for a summer of hard work at her aunt’s Texas ranch. But the deathly cold apparition in Amy’s bedroom pulls her into a dangerous mystery. Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Texas Gothic mixes suspense, humor, and lots of local flavor in this lively teen ghost story — with sex appeal — that’s one part Texas history and one part CSI. (Delacorte, 2011)

lafevers grave mercy Abhorsen read alikesRunning from an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae lands up at St. Mortain’s convent, discovers she has special gifts (and that her true father is Mortain, the god of Death), and trains to become an assassin — the true vocation of a daughter of Death. Robin LaFevers’s Grave Mercy is a romantic fantasy, set in an alternate, fictional, quasi-late medieval Brittany. The His Fair Assassin series continues with Dark Triumph; volume three, Mortal Heart, will be published this November.

ryan forest of hands and teeth Abhorsen read alikesOnly a fence separates Mary’s village from the Unconsecrated — zombielike creatures that must be kept at bay in order for her primitive post-apocalyptic community, governed by a religious sisterhood, to survive. Carrie Ryan’s inventive horror story The Forest of Hands and Teeth combines mystery, romance, and suspense as it records Mary’s quest to search beyond the barrier for alternatives to the life she has always known. Also look for companion books The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places. (Delacorte, 2009)

archived Abhorsen read alikesIn The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Mackenzie’s job is to return the wakeful dead to the Archive, a repository of all human memory. Persuading the dead to return to their rightful resting place often involves kick-ass combat, but this is no common policing-the-supernatural romantic thriller: Schwab writes of death, sorrow, and family love with a light, intelligent touch and inventive vigor. The story continues in sequel The Unbound. (Hyperion, 2013)

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2. More matchy-matchy

Apparently Katie’s not the only one with a matchy-matchy problem. Thanks to Lolly for noticing the similarities between the color palette of my dress (and for taking the picture)

lin dress More matchy matchy

and of Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (reviewed by, well, me, in the September/October 2009 Horn Book Magazine).
where the mountain More matchy matchy

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3. Bill Nye the Science Guy app review

bill nye desk Bill Nye the Science Guy app review2013 was an anniversary year for the live-action educational TV program Bill Nye the Science Guy. In honor of that occasion, developer Disney Education created the Bill Nye the Science Guy 20th Anniversary App.

Welcome to Nye Labs, where you’ll discover on the main screen (a.k.a. Bill’s retro-looking desk) an assortment of objects that when tapped lead you to different sections of the app, all narrated by Bill himself.

Learn about telling time with a sundial on Mars versus on Earth (Martian minutes are longer) or enter the “Whorl of Illusion!” to learn about different types of optical illusions. When you tap the Bill Nye bobblehead on the desk, he provides science trivia (e.g., “Humpback whales can go without eating for six months”). In the TV portion of the app, you can watch episodes of the show in which Bill teaches you about chemical reactions, the heart, the planets and sun, gravity, earthquakes, magnetism, friction, light optics, and mammals. NB: Each video costs an additional $1.99 in the app store. “The Book of Do-It-Yourself Experiments” provides instructions for hands-on projects, such as testing eggshell strength and cleaning pennies, to try at home.

bill nye book Bill Nye the Science Guy app review

Two games are included in the app. One is an “Archeology Dig of Science” with robot Diggity and his dog Rocky in the yard behind the lab. Complete three levels (crust, mantle, core) by having the robot dig down into the earth to discover artifacts worth points. You need to earn a certain number of points within the time limit to advance to the next level. In the other game you are looking for signs of life on the Plutoid Pluto — but you have to travel there from Earth in a rocket ship. Along the way you’ll pass other planets and learn facts about each one. You must figure out how to use each planet’s orbit to move you forward in space when you launch your rocket; timing is everything here. You also must complete missions along the way, such as photographing each planet and launching satellites. Engaging in missions will earn you “money,” which you need to continue playing the game (launching rockets is expensive!). But remember to save some missions for the end so you can drop a probe on Pluto and get back to Earth. And don’t get lost in space!

bill nye space Bill Nye the Science Guy app review

Both games were a bit tricky to master and certainly not designed for the youngest users, but with a little practice they were fairly enjoyable.

Inside the desk drawer on the main page, you’ll find a few little extras, including a step-by-step guide on “How to Tie a Bow Tie” — so you can wear one like Bill Nye — and a copy of the Periodic Table of Elements with facts about some of the elements. There’s no way turn off the sound effects or Bill’s narration in any of the sections, so they got repetitive after a while.

This app contains a random assortment of science facts and experiments… but it’s just that sort of variety that made the show so interesting to watch when it aired on PBS Kids in the 1990s and that makes the app, with its impressive and responsive graphics, an informative and entertaining e-introduction to Bill Nye’s approach for making basic science concepts accessible to kids.

Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); free with in-app purchases. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

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4. Rockwell and Engelbreit

Over the weekend my family visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. It was suggested as a things-to-do-with-kids-in-the-Berkshires activity because of Rockwell’s “accessibility” as an artist. (Be that as it may, the little boys were much more interested in climbing on the outdoor sculptures — allowed! — and running around on the lawn.) Amidst all the small-town folksy scenes and the smiling cheerleaders was Rockwell’s arresting The Problem We All Live With. Large and horizontal, among the mostly vertical and more contained (and restrained) pieces, the image commands attention and reminds viewers that Rockwell, though undoubtedly adept at capturing cozy Americana, had something more to say.

rockwell The problem we all live with Rockwell and Engelbreit

I then read in the news about the flap caused by illustrator Mary Engelbreit, best known for her sweet, cherubic children and bucolic scenes — from her website: “Mary Engelbreit is known throughout the world for her distinctive illustration style, imbued with spirited wit and nostalgic warmth.” The St. Louis native was inspired by events in Ferguson, Missouri. Who knew she had it in her? You go, Mary.

engelbreit ferguson Rockwell and Engelbreit

It’s an apt time to re-post last summer’s thoughtful, moving piece by Christopher Myers — “Young Dreamers” — about cultural diversity in children’s media, the state of race in America, and childhood cut short.

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5. 2013-2014 yearbook superlatives

mortarboard chocolates 2013 2014 yearbook superlativesAs summer winds down and the new school year looms, we look back on the year that was. Here are our senior superlatives for characters in the class of 2013-2014. What superlative would you award your favorite character?

Wild-and-craziest: Mr. Tiger (from Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown)

Slow-and-steadiest: Giantess George (from Galápagos George by Jean Craighead, illus. by Wendell Minor)

Bravest: Peggy (from Peggy: A Brave Chicken on a Big Adventure by Anna Walker), Chicken Little (from Brave Chicken Little by Robert Byrd)

Most chicken: Alvin Ho (Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, 
and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look, illus. by LeUyen Pham)

Most zen: Koo (from Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons by Jon J Muth)

Most loyal: Santiago (from Santiago Stays by Angela Dominquez)

Class clowns: the Vole Brothers (from Splat! Starring the Vole Brothers by Roslyn Schwartz)

Miss Congeniality: Princess Ko (from The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty)

Mr. Congeniality: Jackson Greene (from The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson)

Cutest couple: Emily and Sam (from Just Call My Name by Holly Goldberg Sloan), Amy and Matthew (from Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern), Devorah and Jaxon (from Like No Other by Una LaMarche), Mouse and Mole (from Mouse and Mole, Secret Valentine by Wong Herbert Yee)

Most complicated love triangle: Alix, Swanee, and Liana (from Lies My Girlfriend Told Me by Julie Anne Peters)

Most likely to elope in Vegas: Holly and Dax (The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt)

BFFs: Rose and Windy (from This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Jillian Tamaki), Sophie and Bernice (from Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illus. by Wilsdorf), Pom and Pim (from Pom and Pim by Lena Landström, illus. by Olof Landström)

Best frenemies: Dog and Cat (from Dog vs. Cat by Chris Gall)

Best dancer: Josephine (from Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illus. by Christian Robinson), Rupert (from Rupert Can Dance by Jules Feiffer)

Best artist: Emily (from Emily’s Blue Period by Cathleen Daly, illus. by Lisa Brown), girl with red crayon (from Journey by Aaron Becker), prehistoric child (from The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein)

Best knitter: Needles (from When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds)

Best dresser: Rose (from The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee)

Best/worst babysitter: Octopus (from Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell), Baba Yaga (from Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire)

Best car: Mike and Tschick (from Why We Took the Car by Wolfgang Herrndorf)

Best facial hair: George E. Ohr (from The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan)

Best teachers:

French: Mr. Hulot (from Hello, Mr. Hulot by David Merveille)

Chinese: Norman (from Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson, illus. by Qin Leng)

Sex ed: Sophie Blackall (author/illus. of The Baby Tree)

Best bus drivers: Joe (from My Bus by Byron Barton), Gus (Gus, the Dinosaur Bus by Julia Liu, illus. by Bei Lynn)

NBA-bound: Josh and Jordan (from The Crossover by Kwame Alexander)

Future mathlete: Annika (from Annika Riz, Math Whiz by Claudia Mills, illus. by Rob Shepperson)

Future gymnast: Jake (from Jake at Gymnastics by Rachel Isadora)

Most likely to be a vet: Lulu (from Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door by Hilary McKay, illus. by Priscilla Lamont)

Most likely to win an Oscar: Kate Walden (from Kate Walden Directs: Night of the Zombie Chickens by Julie Mata)

Most eco-concious: Kate Sessions (from The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illus. by Jill McElmurry)

Most traveled: cat (from City Cat by Kate Banks, illus. by Lauren Castillo), dad (from Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Skottie Young)

Most likely to get abducted by aliens: Robbie and Marilee (from The Summer Experiment by Cathie Pelletier), Aidan, Dru, and Louis (from Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn by Greg Leitich Smith, illus. by Andrew Arnold)

Cutest siblings: Gaston, Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La/Antoinette, Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno (from Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Christian Robinson)

Weirdest siblings: Merciful and Gospel Truth (from Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee)

Most dysfunctional family: the Romanovs (from The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming)

Most well preserved (for her age): Lady Dai (from At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins, illus. by Sarah S. Brannen)

Poshest: Lord and Lady Bunny (from Lord and Lady Bunny — Almost Royalty!: By Mr. & Mrs. Bunny by Polly Horvath, illus. by Sophie Blackall)

Bathing beauties: Queen Victoria (from Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illus. by Nancy Carpenter), Elizabeth (from Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas by Lynne Cox, illus. by Brian Floca)

Night owls: Hannah (from Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai), Chengdu (from Chengdu Would Not, Could Not Fall Asleep by Barney Saltzberg), Tippy (from Tippy and the Night Parade by Lilli Carré)

For more Horn Book silliness about books we love, see the 2014 Mind the Gap Awards and our 2012-2013 yearbook superlatives.

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6. Pete the Cat in the Big Easy

I just spent a week in New Orleans, a place I’ve wanted to visit since first reading Interview with the Vampire as a teen. The week held plenty of sights and experiences I’d been highly anticipating (a ghost tour, the Garden District, blues and jazz clubs, and — of course — beignets) and some I hadn’t expected (Mardi Gras beads hanging in many trees; the informative but emotionally intense National WWII Museum, which Cindy also visited last year; lots and lots and lots of rain).

litwin pete the cat i love my white shoes Pete the Cat in the Big EasyOne pleasant surprise during my trip to NOLA was an encounter with Pete the Cat, star of the series of picture books and early readers written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. During a leisurely stroll in the French Quarter, I spotted Pete’s familiar face in the window of Gallery Rinard. My parents are huge Pete fans (and I’m an unrepentant cat lady), so I dragged my boyfriend into the gallery to take a look at Dean’s original art.

While the gallery offered lots of original canvases, prints, and even puppets of the cartoony Pete his picture-book readers will know and love, many of Dean’s paintings are geared towards adults in content and humor (such as this “Most Interesting Man in the World” Dos Equis commercial parody). A series of re-creations of well-known photos and paintings — including The Mona Lisa, Klimt’s The Kiss, and Munch’s The Scream — features cameos by Pete.

And much of Dean’s work portrays his feline friend in a softer, more realistic manner, revealing the artist’s deep affection for the real-life Pete. After quite a bit of deliberation, I eventually chose one of these as a souvenir for my parents:

 Pete the Cat in the Big Easy

“Pete the Cat: Weather or Not” by James Dean

Like Cindy encountering a Dahl book at the WWII Museum, I didn’t expect for my kidlit life to come out to play while I was on vacation — but I’m glad it did!

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7. 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)

 

Fiction

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)

 

Nonfiction

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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8. Happy birthday, Harry!

harry birthday cake Happy birthday, Harry! Happy birthday to one of kidlit’s most beloved and backlashed big-name characters, Harry Potter! (He’d be thirty-four this year. Holy hippogriff.)

The Horn Book has had a lot to say — good, bad, and damn, these books are long — about The Boy Who Lived over the years. Here’s a roundup of reviews, articles, and blog posts about the series, including Roger Sutton’s breakdown of how it’s changed publishing.

 

Book reviews

Movie reviews

Editorials

mj12 Happy birthday, Harry!Articles

Blog posts

Recommended read-alikes list

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9. Harry Potter read-alikes

These titles — all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine — offer a mix of magic, adventure, humor, and suspense that will enchant Harry Potter fans.

duane so you want to be a wizard Harry Potter read alikesSo You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane [Young Wizards series] (Delacorte, 1983; reissued by Harcourt, 2003)
A splendid, unusual fantasy tells of the efforts of two young wizards, Nita and Kit, to keep the world from being overcome by the Prince of Darkness. This twentieth-anniversary edition of the first book in the series contains a new afterword and a short story about Nita and Kit, originally published in Jane Yolen’s anthology Dragons and Dreams.

jones charmed life Harry Potter read alikesCharmed Life, The Magicians of Caprona, Witch Week, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Mixed Magics: Four Tales of Chrestomanci, Conrad’s Fate, and The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones [The Chrestomanci Chronicles] (reissued by Greenwillow, 2001)
This series is linked by the character Chrestomanci, a magician with nine lives, whose charge is to maintain the balance of magic among parallel universes.

jones merlin conspiracy Harry Potter read alikesThe Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones (Greenwillow, 2003)
The story is narrated in alternating chapters by Roddy (a girl) and Nick. Roddy and a friend summon Nick, an unknown helper, when they discover that the Merlin (in charge of magic) has been murdered. Writing on an epic scale, the author deftly creates a fully realized fantasy universe with a series of worlds that resemble one another and our own but with distinct differences. This is a vastly absorbing story of good battling evil.

nix sabriel Harry Potter read alikesSabriel by Garth Nix (HarperCollins, 1995)
A compelling fantasy has for a heroine Sabriel, the daughter of the necromancer whose duty it is to protect the Old Kingdom: unlike other mages, he has the power to bind the dead as well as bring the dead back to life. The story is remarkable for the level of originality of the fantastic elements and for the subtle presentation, which leaves readers to explore for themselves the complex structure and significance of the magical elements. The story continues in sequels Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr and Abhorsen; a prequel, Clariel, will be published in October 2014.

prineas magic thief Harry Potter read alikesThe Magic Thief written by Sarah Prineas; illus. by Antonio Javier Caparo (HarperCollins, 2008)
Precocious pickpocket Conn becomes an apprentice to Nevery Flinglas, a wizard trying to stem the loss of magic from the city. Readers will find the familiar character types and straightforward plotting of this amiable tale (akin to that of another well-known boy wizard) easy to grasp, while the evolving conflicts and distinctive setting will draw them on.

rutkoski cabinet of wonders Harry Potter read alikesThe Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski [Kronos Chronicles series] (Farrar, 2008)
Petra Kronos’s father has magical abilities to construct creatures out of tin and to make a wondrous weather-controlling clock. When the prince of Bohemia blinds Kronos, cutting out his eyes and magicking them for his own use, Petra resolves to steal them back from the prince’s Cabinet of Wonders. Rutkoski’s bucolic old-world atmosphere keeps her workmanlike plotting feeling fresh and fortuitous. The story continues in sequels The Celestial Globe and The Jewel of the Kalderash.

stephens emerald atlas Harry Potter read alikesThe Emerald Atlas by John Stephens [Books of Beginning series] (Knopf, 2011)
Siblings Kate, Michael, and Emma discover a book that transports them back fifteen years in time. Thus begins their adventure with the Atlas, one of three Books of Beginning–powerful magical volumes whose secrets brought the universe to life. This imaginative and enjoyable series starter explores the bonds of family and magic while setting up an inevitable good-versus-evil showdown. The story continues in The Fire Chronicles.

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10. Just a girl from where nothing really happens

isobel journal Just a girl from where nothing really happensHipster teens rejoice! Here is your new poster child (though she would probably reject the title — which is, of course, the hipster thing to do).

With The Isobel Journal: Just a Girl from Where Nothing Really Happens (Switch Press, August 2014; first published in her native UK by Hot Key Press, 2013), nineteen-year-old art student Isobel Harrop shares her journal of quirky drawings accompanied by obvious, but often hilarious, observations about life. (Sometimes she likes to play “Pretend I am Beyoncé.” Don’t we all?) Imagine Amelia of Amelia’s Notebook growing up and going to the Rhode Island School of Design. If you love the grungy and odd, vintage clothes, championing music no one else has heard of, rhapsodizing about tea, and ironically listening to ’90s girl bands, meet your new best friend!

A few of my favorite entries:

isobel tea Just a girl from where nothing really happens

I can empathize — I, too, fear of being “one of those people.”

isobel smile Just a girl from where nothing really happens

isobel bathroom floor Just a girl from where nothing really happens

Here’s a link to a soundtrack compiled by Isobel to listen to while perusing the book.

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11. World Elephant Day 2014

To celebrate World Elephant Day (August 12, 2014), here are some books about those larger-than-life creatures, with reviews from The Horn Book Guide Online.

Picture Books

tweak World Elephant Day 2014Bunting, Eve Tweak Tweak
40 pp. Clarion 2011. ISBN 978-0-618-99851-7
(Preschool) Illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. “‘Hold on to my tail, Little Elephant,’ Mama Elephant said. ‘…If you want to ask me a question, tweak twice.’” Tweak and ask she does: from the names of the animals they encounter to what each is doing. Can she, Little Elephant, do those things, too? The pairing of Bunting’s elegant text with Ruzzier’s offbeat art, including surreal, rather Seussian landscapes, is unexpectedly fabulous.

debrunhoff babar World Elephant Day 2014de Brunhoff, Jean and Brunhoff, Laurent de Babar’s Anniversary Album: Six Favorite Stories
144pp. pp. Random 1993. ISBN 0-394-84813-6
(Gr. K-3) Reissue, 1981. Introduction by Maurice Sendak. This compilation of six stories–three by Jean de Brunhoff, Babar’s creator, and three by Jean’s son Laurent–about the French elephant was originally published to commemorate Babar’s fiftieth birthday. The volume includes a photo-essay by Laurent de Brunhoff that includes family photographs and sketches and paintings by both Laurent and his father.

mckee elmersxmas World Elephant Day 2014McKee, David Elmer’s Christmas
32 pp. Andersen 2011. ISBN 978-0-7613-8088-7
(Gr. K-3) After a day of Christmas preparation, patchwork elephant Elmer and seven young elephants spy on Papa Red (complete with Santa hat and whiskers). While watching him gather gifts from under their tree, Elmer explains, “this is the season for giving.” McKee’s story sends a friendly reminder about the importance of generosity during the holidays. Playful, vividly colored illustrations complement the cheery tone.

willems elephants cant dance World Elephant Day 2014Willems, Mo Elephants Cannot Dance!
64 pp. Hyperion 2009. ISBN 978-1-4231-1410-9
(Gr. K-3) Elephant & Piggie Book series. Elephant Gerald intones, “Elephants cannot dance.” But as it turns out, elephants can try to dance. Even though Gerald can’t keep up with Piggie, he has a few (unwitting) moves of his own. Color-coded speech bubbles in this easy reader focus attention on the simple words and expressive illustrations. The easily understood story will provide instant reading success and lots of laughs.

 Fiction

One and Only Ivan World Elephant Day 2014Applegate, Katherine The One and Only Ivan
307 pp. HarperCollins/Harper 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-199225-4
(Gr. 4-6) Illustrated by Patricia Castelao. In short chapters that have the look and feel of prose poems, Applegate captures the voice of Ivan, a captive gorilla who lives at the “Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.” When a new baby elephant arrives, Ivan realizes they deserve more than their restrictive environment. Ivan’s range of thoughts and emotions poses important questions about kinship and humanity. 2013 Newbery Medal winner.

dicamillo magicianselephant World Elephant Day 2014DiCamillo, Kate The Magician’s Elephant
202 pp. Candlewick 2009. ISBN 978-0-7636-4410-9
(Gr. 4-6) Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka. In a fictional Old World city, Peter searches for his sister, instructed by a fortuneteller to “follow the elephant.” The book’s theme is the triumph of hope over despair, as Peter’s idea that the “world is broken” gives way to a belief in possibility. DiCamillo’s prose is remarkable in this allegorical and surreal novel.

fleischman the white elephant World Elephant Day 2014Fleischman, Sid The White Elephant
95 pp. Greenwillow 2006. ISBN 0-06-113136-9 LE ISBN 0-06-113137-7
(Gr. 1-3) When Run-Run’s elephant accidentally sprays water on a cranky prince, he and Run-Run get a gift they neither want nor can handle: Sahib, a sacred white elephant. Fleischman’s original tale tells a touching story of the enduring power of love. Short chapters, evocative pencil sketches, and a rich Siamese setting will hold the interest of readers and listeners alike.

kelly chained World Elephant Day 2014Kelly, Lynne Chained
248 pp. Farrar/Ferguson 2012. ISBN 978-0-374-31237-4
(Gr. 4-6) Ten-year-old Hastin must endure the cruelty of his employer, a circus owner. Kelly crafts a layered, convincing tale of interspecies friendship as Hastin comes to understand his charge, Nandita, an elephant calf. A kind older man proves an ally in Hastin’s quest to protect Nandita, but it is the bond between boy and elephant that will stick in readers’ minds.

Nonfiction

lewin balarama World Elephant Day 2014Lewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Balarama: A Royal Elephant
56 pp. Lee 2009. ISBN 978-1-60060-265-8
(Gr. K-3) In Mysore in southern India, elephants are featured in the annual Dasara festival procession. The Lewins describe Balarama’s triumphant first appearance as procession leader. Pageantry and noble beasts alike are vividly realized in Ted Lewin’s signature watercolors, while Betsy Lewin’s agile drawings add deft characterizations, lively action, and humor. It’s a gorgeous glimpse at a continuing custom. “Elephant Facts” are appended. Glos.

lewin Elephant Quest World Elephant Day 2014Lewin, Ted and Lewin, Betsy Elephant Quest
48 pp. HarperCollins 2000. ISBN 0-688-14111-0 LE ISBN 0-688-14112-9
(Gr. K-3) In search of African elephants in Botswana, the Lewins provide careful observations of animals in their habitats that lend insight into animal behaviors and survival tactics. Throughout, a cheerful tone combines with reverence for the beauty and variety of nature. Betsy Lewin’s humorous, emotive sketches and Ted Lewin’s full-page paintings illustrate their encounters.

oconnell a baby elephant in the wild World Elephant Day 2014O’Connell, Caitlin A Baby Elephant in the Wild
40 pp. Houghton 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-14944-1
(Gr. K-3) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. In text and numerous color photographs we follow a newborn female elephant through her first months in the Namibian scrub desert as she learns the behaviors that will enable her to survive. The account is straightforward and unsentimental yet filled with detailed and fascinating scientific information, including the lifelong ties among elephants that will resonate with readers’ own experience of family.

OConnell Elephant 300x246 World Elephant Day 2014O’Connell, Caitlin and Jackson, Donna M. The Elephant Scientist
71 pp. Houghton 2011. ISBN 978-0-547-05344-8
(Gr. 4-6) Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. Scientists in the Field series. Scientist O’Connell’s contributions to our understanding of elephant communication propel this account. O’Connell and Jackson describe the findings in a way that lets readers witness the unfolding of a research program, as hypotheses lead to new insights that beget even more questions. The many photographs, predominantly from Namibian field sites, capture the majestic elder elephants, their always-appealing offspring, and dusty, rugged landscapes. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind. 2012 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book winner.

schubert ballet World Elephant Day 2014Schubert, Leda Ballet of the Elephants
32 pp. Roaring Brook/Brodie 2006. ISBN 1-59643-075-3
(Gr. K-3) Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Big, lumbering elephants performing a ballet? This event did happen–with fifty elephants (and fifty human ballerinas). Four individuals (John Ringling North, George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky, and Vera Zorina) are artfully introduced through background material that connects each person to the whole. Parker’s loosely scrawled ink outlines contribute to the magical tone. A personal yet informative author’s note is appended. Further reading, websites.

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12. Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e-book review

dragons title screen Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e book reviewThe brand-new story told in Dreamworks’ Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e-book (Dreamworks Press with Genera Interactive, July 2014) takes place between the 2010 How to Train Your Dragon film (based on Cressida Cowell’s intermediate novel of the same name) and the sequel released earlier this summer.

The user begins by creating a character profile and selecting one of three reading levels: “hatchling” (suggested for users  five years and younger), “broad wing” (six to eight years), and “titan wing” (nine years and up). The user may easily edit his or her profile or select a different reading level; the engaging narration, music, and sound effects may be turned on or off at any time from the parent-locked settings menu. All three levels of the story have the same basic plot and address the user directly in present-tense, second-person narrative.

You come-to underwater, with amnesia and a mysterious dragon egg in tow, after an apparent shipwreck. Human boy and dragon pair Hiccup and Toothless — protagonists of both the books and films — rescue you from a hungry water dragon, then fly you to their island home, Berk, to help save the hatching egg. The new hatchling gets spooked and escapes, leading you, Hiccup, and Toothless on a merry chase around four island locations (the blacksmith’s shop, the dragon-training academy, the dragon hanger, and a quiet cove) while encountering the human and dragon inhabitants.

dragons cove Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e book review

You finally track down your baby dragon and earn its trust. Navigating among the various locations — or returning to a favorite chapter — is easy with a map of the island.

dragons map Dragons, Book 1: Flight of the Returnwing e book review

Each of the five chapters (one for the shipwreck scene, plus each of the island destinations) is followed by a first-person “journal entry” in which your character ponders her or his forgotten past, describes emotional reactions to the story’s events, and offers some foreshadowing for future installments. Endearing watercolor-like illustrations accompany the entries. Though the main narrative is simplified in the hatchling and broad wing levels, the journal entries are identical across levels and no narration is offered — so younger users may need some help reading these sections.

The humorous text (most nuanced and funniest in titan wing mode) and high-quality animation are accompanied by upbeat music, sound effects, and a few simple interactive moments, including a game of “Returnwing” (think “boomerang”) fetch with Toothless. But the real draw for Dragon fans will be reuniting with these lovable characters.

Available for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $4.99. Next installment coming fall 2014; $.99. Recommended for primary and intermediate users.

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13. Snark week

In honor of Shark Week, here’s a list of recent YA books featuring sharp-tongued narrators with biting wit. (Thanks to WE television network, home of Will & Grace reruns, for giving us this idea for “Snark Week.”)

hattemer vigilantepoets 200x300 Snark weekHattemer, Kate The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
Middle School, High School    Knopf    327 pp.
4/14 978-0-385-75378-4 $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-75379-1 $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-385-75380-7 $10.99
A reality show competition for the title of “America’s Best Teen Artist” comes to Ethan’s bohemian high school, and his best friend Luke proposes a “folk uprising.” Ethan gets fired up by Luke’s idealism, so he feels profoundly betrayed when their scathing long poem (à la Ezra Pound) lands Luke a spot on For Art’s Sake…Luke’s apparent objective all along. Ethan’s voice — self-deprecating, witty, and full of both literary and pop-culture references — makes him an appealing narrator for the madcap comedy, and readers will cheer as he takes a leading role in his own life.

Howell Girl Defective Snark weekHowell, Simmone Girl Defective
High School    Atheneum    303 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-9760-3 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9762-7 $10.99
From the roof of her father’s failing used record store, fifteen-year-old Sky and her glamorous older friend Nancy spy a poster of a beautiful but sad-looking girl whose image lingers in Sky’s dreams. When Sky learns that Mia, the girl in the picture, was found dead in nearby St. Kilda harbor — and that Mia’s brother now works in the record store — she wants to learn more. Part mystery, part romance, and part unconventional family story, the book introduces an intriguing cast of characters, each of whom has his or her own mystery or problem to solve. Sky’s first-person narrative is observant, questioning, and self-critical.

maguire egg and spoon Snark weekMaguire, Gregory Egg & Spoon
Middle School    Candlewick    479 pp.
9/14 978-0-7636-7220-1 $17.99
e-book ed. 978-0-7636-7582-0 $17.99
An imprisoned man tells his story, Scheherazade-like, in letters to the tsar. He begins with Elena, a young girl in the impoverished Russian countryside, who meets well-to-do Ekaterina. Their lives collide and intertwine, sending the story in two directions: to a ball in St. Petersburg and deep into the forest to an unforgettable Baba Yaga — who is exactly the type of hardboiled, witty, snarky, and timeless a character as one could wish for from Maguire.

portes anatomyofamisfit Snark weekPortes, Andrea Anatomy of a Misfit
High School    Harper/HarperCollins    330 pp.
9/14 978-0-06-231364-5 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-0-06-231366-9 $10.99
Anika Dragomir looks the part of the blond-haired, blue-eyed All-American girl-next-door, but “nobody knows that on the inside I am spider soup.” On the first day of school, “nerd-ball turned goth romance hero” Logan McDonough fixes his smoldering gaze on Anika, and they begin a secret courtship — that gets even more complicated when God’s-gift-to-Nebraska, Jared Kline, asks Anika’s mom for permission to take her daughter out on a date. Anika’s observations are razor-sharp, especially when she is describing other people (and especially when she’s ragging on her own family: “My dad is Romanian and looks like Count Chocula. Seriously. He looks like a vampire”).

smith 100 sideways miles Snark weekSmith, Andrew 100 Sideways Miles
High School    Simon    277 pp.
9/14 978-1-4424-4495-9 $17.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-4497-3 $10.99
Finn Easton has unusual scars on his back, products of the freak accident that also killed his mother when he was a kid. He has a pretty good life otherwise: his sci-fi novelist father loves him; his best friend Cade makes him laugh; and he has recently met Julia, the girl of his dreams. After Julia moves away, crestfallen Finn embarks on a college visit with Cade, a trip that turns the boys into heroes. Finn has a funny, fluid narrative voice, and his banter with Cade is excellent — and often hilariously vulgar.

willey beetle boy Snark weekWilley, Margaret Beetle Boy
High School    Carolrhoda Lab    200 pp.
9/14 978-1-4677-2639-9 $17.95
e-book ed. 978-1-4677-4626-7 $12.95
As Charlie Porter convalesces from a ruptured Achilles tendon, his past — years of being paraded around in a beetle costume by his opportunistic father as the child author of the Beetle Boy series — resurfaces in nightmares in which he’s tormented by a giant beetle. Charlie wrestles with anger regarding the exploitation and abandonment he suffered as a child, guilt for escaping that suffering while leaving his little brother behind, and gratitude toward the crotchety children’s book author who cared for him. In her relentlessly honest but hopeful novel, Willey crafts a delicate psychological landscape through carefully timed flashbacks.

For Shark Week reading, click here.

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14. Sometimes, reading the book just isn’t enough – LeakyCon Lit

leakycon Sometimes, reading the book just isn’t enough – LeakyCon LitWell, after the glorious, gleeful exhaustion brought on by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, your intrepid intern still had a whole conference to attend.

For those of you who haven’t heard of LeakyCon, it originally started as a Harry Potter–themed fan conference in 2009, but has since morphed into an all-out geek-fest in which fan communities from all kinds of media platforms come together to celebrate the power of story and fandom. In fact, the conference has been renamed and will be known as GeekyCon from here on — opening up to the wide, wide world of geekdom!

It will not surprise any of you that I spent most of my time at the conference at the LeakyCon Lit panels. Organized by YA authors Maureen Johnson and Robin Wasserman, LeakyCon Lit brings together YA authors from all over to talk about writing, their books, and plenty of weird, awesome, totally unrelated things. This year’s speakers were Stephanie Perkins, Laurie Halse Anderson, Malinda Lo, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Holly Black, Gayle Forman, John Green, Varian Johnson, Kazu Kibuishi, Lauren Myracle, Rainbow Rowell, and Scott Westerfeld. With such a diverse group presenting, we got to hear about everything from designing love interests to killing off beloved characters, from graphic novels to world-building, from Stephanie Perkins’s morning jigsaw puzzle routine to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s near miss with quicksand.

The programming ranged widely between serious panels (such as “Diversity in YA” and the “War Against YA Lit”) to game shows (including Jeopardy and a variation on The Lying Game, an old British game show). Maureen Johnson interviewed John Green in a Between Two Ferns–eqsue style, providing a hilarious exposé of their friendship. Johnson also moderated the panel about killing off characters — which meant, unfortunately, that the audience didn’t get any new information about a certain beloved [spoiler] she killed off in [spoiler]. But we did have the opportunity to harangue some of the other authors, who discussed the tension between emotional attachment and resonance and deciding when a character’s death serves the story best.

The panel centered on diversity in YA was especially powerful. The panelists discussed YA literature’s erasure and misrepresentation of people with diverse gender identities and sexuality, people of color, and people with disabilities — as well as the kind of backlash faced by authors who create those characters. I found it provocative when the authors on the panel discussed a question they often get regarding their characters of color: “Why did you make that character a specific race if your story isn’t about racism…why bother?”  The discussion which followed emphasized the importance of recognizing the bountiful diversity of experience in the world and the role literature plays in representing that diversity to its readership.

While most of the programming at LeakyCon Lit this year was phenomenal, a couple of the panels were better in conception than they were in execution. One panel called “I Made You, You’re Perfect” focused on romance in YA and how to construct romantic relationships and compatible characters. The panel, however, was comprised entirely of straight women; this lack of diversity was particularly apparent during a mishandled question on asexuality. The “War on YA” panel was concerned with the way that YA as a genre has been either denigrated by the media as too sweet and too small (especially for adult readers) or lambasted as the source of all evil for young people. Rather than exploring this phenomenon and its impact in depth, however, the speakers on the panel mostly reiterated what many of us had seen them write on Twitter and their blogs in recent months.

Overall, however, LeakyCon Lit was a perfect mix of whimsy, banter, and critical discussion. The authors are all knowledgeable and engaging, and their comments and discussions were accessible and enjoyable. I’ve been attending this track for the past four years and I can say with certainty that there is plenty to enjoy for both teens and adults.

The rest of the LeakyCon is not devoid of book-related fun for kids and grown-ups, of course. The subjects of the panels range from investigations into Harry Potter canon and characters to sing-alongs and debates. Each night there’s a concert by bands who get their material from Harry Potter (or The West Wing, or Doctor Who, or a whole host of other awesome platforms and stories). Pemberly Digital, a production company which creates modern adaptions of well-loved classics, premiered the first two episodes of Frankenstein, M.D., which follows Victoria Frankenstein, a young doctor determined to prove herself in a male-dominated field. Pemberly Digital is the same group who created the Emmy award–winning adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Which you should watch right now. Don’t worry. I’ll wait!

Seriously though, they are really good – as is Emma Approved (adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma), which is currently airing on Pemberly’s YouTube channel.

By the time we woke up on Sunday morning, we were about ready to lounge the day away by the pool. But we were in Orlando, and there is no such thing as a trip to Orlando without a visit to the Magic Kingdom. We did have to put down all our new books and our new geeky swag…but books are always there when you get back!

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15. 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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. 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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25. Frog Fridays booklist

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

Nonfiction

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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