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1. The Biggest Little Brother - A picture book for siblings!





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2. White Fur Flying

White Fur Flying. Patricia MacLachlan. 2013. 116 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed Patricia MacLachlan's White Fur Flying. I loved Zoe and her family. Her mom rescues dogs--Great Pyrenees--fostering them until they can find forever homes. Her dad is a veterinarian, I believe. He brings home a parrot one day that is in need of a home. The parrot was--and this is very surprising to me--one of the highlights of the book. In fact, without the parrot, I don't think this novel would work as well, be as emotionally moving. She has a sister, Alice, who is always talking, telling stories, writing poems and stories, etc. Zoe's own character is revealed slowly throughout the book. Kodi, the other "family member" is a dog--Great Pyrenees, of course. He likes having other dogs around, and doesn't mind them coming and going.

So. The novel opens with the family watching the new neighbors move in. They haven't officially--or even unofficially--met the new family yet. And so some are quite busy making up stories about who they are, and why they're moving. Phillip is a boy around 9 or 10 that is moving in next door. He's the quiet type. The really-super-quiet and choosing-not-to-talk-at-all type. But that doesn't keep Kody and Alice and the other dogs from wanting to make friends with him....

Why is Phillip so silent? Will befriending dogs "save" him and help him reconnect with the world again?

This one is predictable enough--if you're an adult reader especially. I can't say honestly whether or not I would have found it predictable enough as a child. For one thing, if a book had a dog on the cover, I wouldn't read it because I was afraid the dog might die. Even though it might be on the slightly-predictable side. I found it very high on the feel-good side. I liked the way the book made me feel, especially at the end when Alice shares her poem. I think that is worth noting. Predictable does not always equal "bad."

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Lessons from my Brother…

Ian at his home in spring 2014
I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since my youngest brother, Ian, has left us. Truth be known, we actually got closer when he was diagnosed with cancer over two years ago. I’d phone him once a week, and he’d phone me when he was feeling up to it. He brought his son to our ‘Farewell to the Cottage’ party and had fun watching him fish and hang out with the family. Oh, there were times when I wanted to slap my brother across the back of his head for his bad behavior and callousness in the past. I know I’m not the only sibling in that boat! LOL! Still, in the end, Ian was my brother. And as the old saying goes, blood is thicker than water.

They say you can choose your friends but not your family. But I believe that we choose the family we want to be with before we’re born. Scary concept, eh? We choose what lessons we want to learn from our family that will help our souls grow, develop, and evolve into someone better than before we were born. And when those lessons are over, the teacher leaves us.

So this got me to thinking. What lessons did my brother teach me? I did a little time traveling, since I’ve been so good at that lately, and came up with some answers…

I remember when I got my father’s station wagon crooked in the garage and tried to straighten it. Um, not one of my finest moments. I scraped both sides of the car, until I realized that there was no way I could straighten it. So what did I do? I ran crying to my two brothers. I swear they couldn’t stop laughing, but my heart was pounding so hard knowing I was gonna get in trouble. Ian managed to get the car out, and drove it back into the garage with no sweat.

Lesson learned:Patience is a virtue. Oh, and never try to straighten a big-ass car in a small garage.
I remember when I used to cheer Ian on during his hockey games. I wished like hell I could have played hockey back then. But being born in a time when no such opportunities existed, I settled for being his team’s number one booster.

Lesson learned:A team doesn’t just consist of players. The backbone of any sport is comprised of the blood, sweat, and cheers of all family members. Plus, I believe I found my true voice with all that cheerleading I did!

I remember when Ian let me drive his and my other brother’s green Challenger. Somehow, I managed to put one of the front wheels into a ditch while backing out. I think we had to pull it out with my father’s station wagon (yes, the same one that got a garage door make-over). Again, my brother got me out of another tight spot and didn’t berate at me.

Lesson learned:I always have the support I need to overcome obstacles. And never make wide turns in a small driveway.

I remember when my brother and his best buddy sat on me so I couldn’t go to church. They held me down until it was too late to attend. Um, yeah. Hope God forgave them for that one. Still, I know Ian was never one for religion or going to church, and sometimes we all have our faith tested again and again to see if our beliefs have changed from when we were kids. I know mine have.

Lesson learned:Develop an understanding of where other people are coming from. Even if those people are sitting on you.

I remember when my brother tried (operative word here is tried) to teach me how to drive three on the tree in his red truck. He drove me down to the town’s fairgrounds where I could practice shoving the stick-shift in the column. About ten grinds later, we called it quits before I did something very bad to the transmission. He never took me out again.

Lesson learned:When something doesn’t work for you, just let it go.
Finally, I remember when we celebrated the first Christmas during Ian’s apprenticeship as a mechanic. He bought us some wonderful and expensive gifts, and I truly appreciated his generosity. I still have part of that gift – the mirror to the tea caddy he bought me. Ian was very generous to our family that year, and I believe our father would have been so proud of him, had he lived.

Lesson learned:Enjoy the fruits of your labors, so that you may share them with those you love the most.
Ian celebrating our 'Farewell to the Cottage' party

As the first year of your absence in our lives comes to a close, I want to just thank you for choosing me as your big sister, Ian. It was a truly a gift from the Universe, and I believe I made the right choice too. Here’s a toast to you, who in the end, will always be my little brother…

“Be grateful to those who left you, for their absence gave you the strength to grow in the space they abandoned.” ~ Dodinsky

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4. Waiting for the Magic

Waiting for the Magic. Patricia MacLachlan. 2011. 143 pages. [Source: Library]

Can a book about a father abandoning his family actually be good and funny and heartwarming? Apparently it can if it's written by Patricia MacLachlan.

The novel opens with Will, the narrator, discovering that his Dad has left them. He finds a note from his dad for him, and one for his sister. The mom, who is struggling to hold it together, decides to do something that many might consider drastic in its suddenness. The family needs a dog; that very day they will go to a shelter and get one. Will and Elinor can come along to help pick one out. Do they come home with a dog? Yes. They come home with FOUR dogs and ONE cat. The dogs are Bryn, Grace, Neo, and Bitty. The cat is Lula.

The way it's talked about in the novel--the way its perceived--is that 4 dogs and 1 cat can successfully replace the absent Dad. And that's a little true, at least on the surface, the dogs definitely take their minds off the problem, and prove lovable and entertaining as well. They all help take care of the animals. Everyone loves to play with all the dogs. And at night, the dogs are often in their beds. Bryn, I believe, "owns" the Mom, and takes over the bed.

The dogs are very joyful and fun. The novel has some 'magic' in it. The dogs (and cat) TALK. At first, it's just the four year old, Elinor, that hears them. The animals are all, OF COURSE SHE CAN HEAR US, SHE'S FOUR. YOU ALWAYS HEAR WHEN YOU'RE FOUR. But eventually Will hears them too....and he's not the only one.

I don't want to spoil the book. I don't. But the Dad is not out of the picture for good....and the family drama isn't nearly over. But it's drama in the best way under the circumstances. I wasn't expecting the book to be so delightful and heartwarming. I really wasn't.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

I always look forward to books by Kate Messner. Why? Because I know they will be solid, kid centered and bring something to the table. I had read online that she had recently been disinvited to a school due to the content of her latest book.  I quickly went to my TBR pile and pulled out my copy to give it a go.

Charlie's sister Abby is home from college for the weekend and things aren't going exactly like Charlie had imagined they would.  When she goes to wake Abby up to see if she will come out to look at the lake with her just in case the ice flowers have shown up again, Abby waves her off telling her to just go away. Somewhat chagrinned, Charlie trudges out to the lake only to see that the ice flowers have come back. Her neighbor Drew and his nana are also out on the lake but they are checking the ice for fishing possibilities. Drew tells Charlie about the fishing derby he plans on entering and the prize of $1000 for the biggest lake perch. Since Charlie really wants a new dress for her Irish dancing competitions, she decides to give it a go.

But despite living near the lake, Charlie is scared of its winter ice. So when she joins Drew and his nana, she sticks closer to shore. Soon everyone is landing fish left and right except for Charlie. When she finally pulls one in, it's hardly bigger than the bait she used to catch it. But right before she releases it she hears something. The fish is talking to her. "Release me and I will grant you a wish."

Well, what would you do? Charlie hastily wishes on her crush liking her and to not be afraid of the ice anymore. What harm could wishing on a fish really do?

Anyone who has read a fairy tale knows that wishes can easily go awry. And Charlie's wishes are no exception. While no harm is truly done, Charlie finds herself out on the ice more and more  (since she miraculously is no longer afraid of the ice) with Drew and his nana. Not only is it adding to her feis dress fund, but it's getting her out of the house. It turns out that Abby has changed in ways that Charlie never even imagined. While she was away at school, she started dabbling in drugs which led to a full blown heroin addiction. Who can Charlie even talk to about this? When she thinks about it, she feels ashamed and bewildered. How could Abby, who she had always looked up to, done this?

Kate Messner has written an important book that somewhat gently looks at the fact that anyone can be swiftly taken down by drugs, and specifically by opiates. I live on Staten Island where opiate abuse and heroin are at an all time high.  I commute to Manhattan with my children, and by the time they were 9 and 12 respectively they could tell the difference between someone napping and someone in a nod. They have witnessed police using narcan on people who have OD'd in the ferry terminal. They watched me try to convince the friends of a woman in the throws of an OD to allow me to call an ambulance for her. Kids aren't too young for this story. My kids are living this story everyday they commute. And the brothers and sisters of kids all over our Island are living Charlie's story.  So I would like to applaud Kate Messner for telling this story. It is one I plan on sharing and book talking whenever I get the chance.

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6. Blitzed by Robert Swindells

This post was originally posted in 2012, but something odd happened on Blogger and it had to be reposted.

It is 2002 and Georgie Wetherall loves two things - knowing all about England in World War II and creeping. Creeping?  That is when you “streak across a row of back gardens, over fences, through hedges, across veg patches...without getting caught or recognized.” (pg13)  And he especially likes leaving Miss Coverley’s garden is shambles.  Georgie knows she doesn’t like him - she's always watching him.  So when he has to repair her fence post as punishment for his last creeping adventure, Georgie discoveres she watches him - it seems he reminds her of someone, but who?

All this is forgotten, however, when Georgie’s class goes on a trip to Eden Camp, a former POW camp turned into a WW 2 museum of 29 huts each dedicated to one aspect of the war.  Hut 5 is a realistic replica of a bombed street in London during the Blitz.  The sounds and smells add to the realistic atmosphere - but wait, it is perhaps a little too realistic.  In fact, Georgie suddenly finds himself transported back to wartime London.

Finding himself faced with the real deal, cold, hungry, lost and scared, Georgie wanders around until he finds a friendly searchlight crew who give him something to eat.  After living through a night of bombing in a public shelter, Georgie notices four kids emerging from a bombed out pub.  He and the kids start talking and they tell him he can stay with them as long as Ma approves.  Ma turns out to be a 14 year-old girl who watches over orphaned kids in the pub's basement.

Ma has a job in a second hand shop owned by what she believes to be is a Jewish refugee from Germany called Rags.  But when Georgie discovers a radio transmitter locked in one of the shops upstairs rooms, the kids begin to suspect that maybe Rags isn't who they think he is.  And they decide to find out exactly what he is up to with that radio transmitter.  Trouble is, Rags begins to suspect Ma of snooping in his stuff and decides to find out what she is up to.  So, Georgie, along with Ma and the other orphans, is on a wartime adventure he never dreamt possible.

I liked this coming of age time travel story.  It is told in the first person, and the author maintains the voice of a 12 year-old boy throughout, giving it an authentic quality - quick, witty, full of colloquialisms from 2002 that are questioned by the folks from 1940.  I also found Georgie's reaction to his predicament refreshing.  In most time travel stories, kids end up in a different time and place and seem to assimilate so easily.  But for Georgie, it isn't just a jolly adventure.  He worries throughout about not getting home, not seeing his parents again.  As wartime London loses its romanticized aura and becomes reality, it causes Georgie to experience real reactions like throwing up more than once and even wetting himself at one point.

But it is also a story of survival, complete with a cast of orphan characters right out of Charles Dicken's London, who become Georgie's family away from family, helping him adjust and carry on. And most importantly, helping him see the reality of war.

Blitzed is a fast paced but wonderful book.  The chapters are only a few pages long, but the events are exciting, making it an ideal book for a reluctant readers and certainly one that would appeal to boys as well as girls.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was purchased for my personal library

You can hear Robert Swindells speaking about Blitzed here.  It is on YouTube but the embed function is disengaged.

And there really is an Eden Camp in Yorkshire, so if you happen to be in England and would have an interest in visiting (you might want to go to Yorkshire anyway, it is a wonderful place to see.)  Information about visiting can be found here

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7. Celebrating Writers and Teachers

It’s the end of the school year and our days are full of reflections, assessments, and all kinds of celebrations. During those final days before summer vacation begins, we find many ways celebrate… Continue reading

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8. The Boy on the Page, by Peter Carnavas | Book Review

Life is about who we touch, who we love and who loves us back. This book is a wonderful way to talk to children about the grand scheme of everything.

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9. Character work has begun on "The Biggest Little Brother" ....

A family from Sierra Leone moves to Atlanta and all is well.....until the little "big" brother learns his older brother will soon be living with them. Written by Aminata Jalloh.



















































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10. Book Review- This Is Not a Love Story by Keren David

Title: This Is Not A Love Story
Author: Keren David
Series:  N/A
Published:  7 May 2015 by Atom
Length: 352 pages
Source: library
Other info: Keren David has also written the When I Was Joe series (When I Was Joe, Almost True, and Another Life), Salvage, Lisa's Guide to Winning the Lottery, and Cuckoo. 
Summary : Kitty dreams of a beautiful life, but that's impossible in suburban London where her family is haunted by her father's unexpected death. So when her mum suggests moving to Amsterdam to try a new life, Kitty doesn't take much persuading. Will this be her opportunity to make her life picture perfect?
In Amsterdam she meets moody, unpredictable Ethan, and clever, troubled Theo. Two enigmatic boys, who each harbour their own secrets. In a beautiful city and far from home, Kitty finds herself falling in love for the first time.
But will love be everything she expected? And will anyone's heart survive?
Review: Kitty and Theo have recently moved to Amsterdam. Kitty's mother's boyfriend's son is Ethan. The three of them must deal with falling in love, keeping secrets from each other, and getting through life.
I wanted to read this because it kept getting flagged up in chats for featuring bisecusl boys, and I'd been meaning to read things by Keren for a long time. Keren reading short story from Ethan's viewpoint made me want to know more about him and therefore I started on this.
It did seem a bit wandering regarding Kitty and Ethan's story, to start with (probably because I'm generally less interested in people working out who they like until there's bigger conflicts involved). I did like seeing the development of Theo's relationship with Sophie, which is told partially by flashback partially in the present too. I also liked seeing all the relationship strands between Kitty, Theo and Ethan converge and how that all panned out. The building and breakdown of relationships in this book are tumultuous, but good to read about.
I really enjoyed reading about different cultures - Jewish and Dutch. I especially liked that Keren provided characters with different attitudes to aspects of their culture, offering a range of characters within such an under-represented group.
The side characters made a good group. My favourite was Rachel, Kitty's sister, who was funny, and a good support for Kitty.
There's a lot of things our main trio have to deal with. Family relationships, working out friendships, health issues, fitting in when moving abroad... A lot is happening here, and I quite liked seeing how Theo and Kitty fit in after the move.
Part one is the climatic event, part two is before, part three is after. I liked this structure, as it catches your attention immediately, and establishes characters.
I loved the ending. Kitty's discussion with her friends is good for reminding all of us of some lessons in life. Characters' justifications for the way they wanted things were realistic, especially Ethan's (last paragraphs of chapter 44) and while the strands unpacked within the novel are tied up, there's still an openendedness for the future.
Overall:  
Strength 4 tea to a story that is not about love, but is about relationships, romantic, familial, and friendshippy, and overall about life.


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11. Happy Little Family (1947)

Happy Little Family. Rebecca Caudill. 1947. 107 pages. [Source: Bought]

I loved, loved, loved Rebecca Caudill's Happy Little Family. I bought this one because it was marketed for "those who love Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books." In fact, Rebecca Caudill was a contemporary author of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Happy Little Family was published in 1947, just a handful of years after These Happy Golden Years.

Happy Little Family is set in the Kentucky Mountains. The main character, for the most part, is a little girl named Bonnie who is about five years old. Bonnie has lots of siblings: Debby, Emmy, Chris, and Althy. (Readers also get to know the Mother and Father.) Each chapter is set in a different season of the year.

It opens in January with "Crack the Whip" a story about Bonnie wanting to go skating with her siblings and Father. She's "five" now--just turned five--and she wants to do everything her older sisters do. But skating isn't as easy as it looks, and, being the youngest has its advantages and disadvantages.

"The Pink Sunbonnet" is the story set in spring. Bonnie is jealous of her sisters who get new hats. She doesn't exactly want a new sunbonnet even if it is pink. She thinks only "little" girls wear sunbonnets. One really gets a sense of the family in this story. Even more so than in the first chapter. By this point, it was LOVE for me.

"The Arrowhead" is the story set in summer. The theme this time is BRAVERY.

"The Red Toboggan Cap" is the story set in fall. It is a lost and found story....

"The Journey" is the story set in December. Though she's not quite ready for school full-time, Bonnie gets to visit school for the very first time in this one. It is a bit about bravery too, I suppose, and a lot about growing up or trying to grow up! This story had its precious moments. Like when Bonnie thought she'd be brave enough to cross the oh-so-scary bridge by herself if only she could learn how to read and write the word CAT.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. Sesame Street: I Love You Just Like This! | Book Review

I Love You Just Like This! is an adorable story about love and all the ways parents feel it for their children.

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13. Not to make you feel old or anything, but

…Rilla is ten years old today.

rillaandbeanie2006day1

The posts from the week following her birth gave me a lot of smiles. And then I just sat here quietly freaking out for a while because that was TEN YEARS AGO.

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14. #840 – We There Are Yet? by Nina Laden and Adam McCauley

Are We There Yet? Written by Nina Laden Illustrated by Adam McCauley Chronicle Books   3/01/2016 978-1-4521-3155-9 32 pages    Ages 3—6 “We’ve all been there. Or more accurately, we’ve all been with kids in the backseat clamoring (over and over!) Are we there yet?” [back cover] Review It’s time for a trip to grandma’s. …

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15. StoryMakers On Location| The Art and Whimsy of Mo Willems

STORYMAKERS Mo Willems Featured Image

StoryMakers host Rocco Staino caught up with Mo Willems at the preview for The Art and Whimsy of Mo Willems, a retrospective of Willems’ work at the New-York Historical Society. The Art and Whimsy of Mo Willems exhibit contains many pieces that show Willems’ process as he created some of kid lit’s most memorable characters. He hopes children create their own art after they leave the museum. The author and illustrator briefly discussed The Thank You Book, the 25th and last book in the Elephant and Piggie series.

Mo Willems has had a huge impact on the lives of children. As a television writer for Sesame Street he garnered six Emmys. His witty one-liners inspired children to quote characters from Codename: Kids Next Door amongst other familiar cartoons. In 2003 his first picture book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, was published and since then it’s been a stream of accolades; three Caldecott Honors, two Geisel Medals, five Geisel Honors, and a place in the Picture Book Hall of Fame.

Willems’ surly pigeon, the mismatched pair of Elephant and Piggie, and everyone’s favorite Knuffle Bunny are a few of the characters visitors will get to see evolve via the exhibit.

The Art and Whimsy of Mo Willems exhibition brings together original art, sketches, and inspirational drawings from Willem’s most popular series, plus stand-alone classics such as Leonardo the Terrible Monster and That is NOT a Good Idea!. It displays the efforts behind the effortlessness, the seriousness behind the silliness, and the desire, as Willems says, “to think of my audience, not for my audience.” His ability to crisply weave together life lessons and humor creates artful volumes that speak to all, regardless of size.

The Art and Whimsy of Mo Willems is open now, until September 25, 2016. Click here for ticket information, directions, and more.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art organized the exhibition, which is supported by Disney Publishing Worldwide.

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StoryMakers On Location - Mo Willems
ACTIVITIES

Click the images or links below to access fun activities with characters from Mo Willems’ books!

Go Mo Fun Games Go Mo: Fun Games!

Pigeon Presents Fun

Pigeon Presents: Fun

Pigeon Coloring Sheet of the Month

Coloring Sheet of the Month

ABOUT THE THANK YOU BOOK


The Thank You Book
The Thank You Book - The Art and Whimsy of Mo Willems
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems (Disney-Hyperion, 2016)

Gerald is careful. Piggie is not. Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can. Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to. Gerald and Piggie are best friends. In The Thank You Book!, Piggie wants to thank EVERYONE. But Gerald is worried Piggie will forget someone … someone important.

ABOUT MO WILLEMS

#1 New York Times Bestseller Mo Willems began his career as a writer and animator for PBS’ Sesame Street, where he garnered 6 Emmy Awards for his writing. During his nine seasons at Sesame Street, Mo also served as a weekly commentator for BBC Radio and created two animated series, Nickelodeon’s The Off-Beats and Cartoon Network’s Sheep in the Big City.

While serving as head writer for Cartoon Network’s #1 rated show, Codename: Kids Next Door, Mo began writing and drawing books for children. His debut effort, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! became a New York Times Bestseller and was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 2004. The following year Knuffle Bunny: a Cautionary Tale was awarded a Caldecott Honor. The sequel, Knuffle Bunny Too: a Case of Mistaken Identity garnered Mo his third Caldecott Honor in 2008.

In addition to picture books, Mo created the Elephant and Piggie books, a series of “Easy Readers”, which were awarded the Theodor Suess Geisel Medal in 2008 and 2009 and  Geisel Honors in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. For older audiences he has published an illustrated memoir of his year-long trip around the world in 1990-91 entitled You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When it Monsoons and Don’t Pigeonhole Me!, a collection of 20 years of his annual sketchbooks. His books have been translated into over 20 languages.

Read more: Mo Willems FAQ

CONNECT WITH MO WILLEMS
Website | Twitter

ABOUT THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research, presenting history and art exhibitions, and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical is the oldest museum in New York City. New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered political, cultural and social history of New York City and State and the nation, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.

New-York Historical is recognized for engaging the public with deeply researched and far-ranging exhibitions. Supporting these exhibitions and related education programs are one of the world’s greatest collections of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States and New York.

The New-York Historical Society’s museum is the oldest in New York City and predates the founding of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by nearly seventy years.

Read more: New-York Historical Society

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StoryMakers On Location
Host: Rocco Staino
Executive Producer: Julie Gribble

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16. A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielson


      On the morning of Barbed Wire Sunday, the people of East Berlin woke up to the sound of sirens. Investigating, they found that the government had found a way to stop them from leaving: the Berlin Wall. It was a great fence separating East Berlin from West Berlin. The two parts of Germany had been on tight terms for a while, and rumors of a third world war were plentiful.

      The one hundred yards of smooth dirt leading up to the wall was called the "Death Strip." And the fence slowly evolved over the years into a 11.8 foot cement wall. Guardtowers were set on top, where soldiers would point their guns at anyone trying to escape East Berlin.

      For twelve year-old Gerta, the rise of the Berlin Wall takes something more than freedom from her. A couple of days before Barbed Wire Sunday, her father and brother had traveled into West Berlin. The fence had split her family into two parts just like Germany.

     Gerta knows she must take her remaining family members in the East to meet her family members in the West. But escaping isn't easy, and getting caught means death.

  The German police threaten Gerta's family often, but the violence is minimal up until the end. I recommend it for 11+.

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17. a monday in march

I say, old chap!

Well, I tried. Sat down at the start of my work time today, fully intending to transition with a blog post just like the old days, but a pressing email caught my attention…and here I am eight hours later.

It has rained on and off all day. Rose is in heaven—that girl was made for the Pacific Northwest, I swear—but I’m off kilter. Happy for the moisture, of course. My poor garden needs it. My freesia had just started to bloom, though—they’ll be a bit battered after the downpour.

Assorted things to chronicle:

Last Friday I was one of six guest authors at the Greater San Diego Reading Association‘s annual Authors Fair. This year we visited Bonsall West Elementary School in Oceanside. I had three classes of 4th-graders (in two groups) whose teachers are reading them The Prairie Thief. I love this event. The kids are already deep into my book and are excited to ask questions. I always start out by reading a chapter, picking up wherever the teacher left off. This time, I got to read the first encounter between Louisa and the brownie—a super fun for me because it’s a mini-reveal. Of course, that means I have to do a Scottish accent but that’s part of the fun. The kids don’t mind if I fumble it. :)

***

The other night I was in here working while Scott watched a movie with the kids. He pinged me with a question from our friend Devin (our brilliant writer friend Devin, I should say). She was working on a scene for her current book and needed help with a tree identification. Here’s a screen cap of the Google Street View close-up Scott sent me:

bleecker street tree

I couldn’t zoom in any tighter than that. Too fuzzy to make out the leaf shapes. But I figured someone out there would have compiled a list of common Manhattan street trees and I turned to my best friend Google. Turns out Someone did way better than that:

the most awesome Lite Brite I've ever seen

the most awesome Lite Brite I’ve ever seen

All those colored dots are trees. Specific trees. I zoomed in on the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal and found our friend the Callery Pear. Man, I love the internet. Major props to Jill Hubley, who created that rather astounding map. And Devin’s dedication to detail is one of the many reasons I love her. Nitty-gritty lovers of the world, unite.

***

Rilla has learned several speeches from A Midsummers Night’s Dream this year. And of course this means Huck is picking them up, too. Hearing them recite Puck’s monologues tickles me no end. “I go, I go, look how I go!” —or a world-weary yet amused “Lord what fools these mortals be…”

***

daniel smith watercolor chart

Here’s another thing Rilla and I have been doing with our free time. Color charts. Mmm, I could happily mix paints all day for the rest of my life if you let me.

How’s your week going?

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18. Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford

When 10 year-old Lizzie and her 7 year-old brother Peter are put on a train to be evacuated to Yorkshire at the beginning of World War II, neither are very happy about leaving the mum and Nana behind in Hull.  Both would rather risk the German's bombs than leave home.  In York, the children are chosen by Madge and Fred and then are placed in the home of Madge's very depressed sister Elsie, who has lost both her husband and her young baby Alice within a year of each other.

Young Elijah, part of a clan of Travelers, also called Gypsies, has a secret known only to the very mean-spirited Bill.  The Travelers are not very welcomes wherever they go, and the Yorkshire moors are no different.  As they prepare to leave and go the the big fair, Elijah's mother asks him to take baby Rose with him when he goes to check their snares to see if they caught anything.  But half way there, Elijah is confronted by Bill, who demands he leave Rose in order to go catch rabbits with him, or he will tell Elijah's secret.

Out walking, Lizzie and Peter hear Rose crying and not seeing anyone around, take the baby home with them.  Elsie, seeing the baby, believes that it is her Alice returned and immediately comes out of her depression and transforms into a relatively pleasant person.  But word is out that the Travelers are looking for a lost baby.  Elijah's mother, beside herself with worry and grief, wanders around looking for her when she comes upon Elsie pushing a baby carriage.  Elijah immediately realizes that Lissie knows something about the missing Rose, but can he get a gorgio or one of the settled or non-traveling people to help him get the baby back to her rightful mother, given how much the local people dislike the Gypsies?

First of all, this is not really a book about WWII.  The war is the way Lizzie and Peter end up in a place where she is faced with a mortal dilemma among strangers whose behavior is questionable. Lizzie has a much clearer, more defined sense of right and wrong than the adults around her, who have let prejudice blur the lines between the two. Had she been in a place where she knew with the people around her, it most likely would have been a very different story because of their possible influence over her, but distance and unfamiliarity put her on neutral, more objective footing as far as the locals and the Gypsies are concerned and make this a workable story.

Lizzie and the Lost Baby is a quiet story, without a lot of action, but it certainly asks questions about how people act in stressful times.  The dislike and mistrust the locals and Travelers have for each other is an interesting issue given the war that is being fought at the time.  Prejudice is evident on both sides, and you have to wonder it could ever be resolved, though the novel does end on a hopeful note regarding that.

This story reminded me of so many of the girls' novels I read that were written in the early 1940s in England, and in which the tension between locals and Gypsies were part of the main story.
Interestingly enough, the Gypsies (they were never called Travelers) were depicted in a much more sympathetic light than the locals, just as they are here.  Life and learn: because the name Travelers is used in Lizzie and the Lost Baby, I thought that perhaps they are English or Irish, although the use of the words like gorgio and kushti (meaning good, fine) would indicate that they were Romani.  Turns out that the names Gypsy, Traveller and Romani are interchangeable.

All in all, Lizzie and the Lost Baby is a interesting novel for readers who like historical fiction, but don't expect a real home front story.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from a friend.

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19. I’m back!!

Happy New Year everyone!  

Karen, Steven and the girls arrived from Australia on the 6th December, and life took on a different pace. We enjoyed a trip to Disneyland Paris, a few days in London, Christmas in a hotel with more of the family, a pantomime, numerous days out plus lots of time for simply catching up. Our son and daughter-in-law haven't changed a bit in the two years since we last saw them (Malaysia 2013), but the girls have changed a great deal. Zoe was five on the 21st of this month and will be going to school soon. Lilly will be four in May, and they both appeared very grown up in comparison to when we last saw them. 

Thanks to my hubby Terry and daughter-in-law Karen we have hundreds of photographs. Picking the ‘best’ is proving difficult, but I hope these and those in my next post will give you a flavour of the fun times we shared.

Knowing how arduous the journey from Australia to England can be we decided to stay close to home for the first few days.
Visiting Sherborne Abbey. The Abbey has featured on my blog in previous post (The filming of Far from the madding crowd) here  and (A Royal Visit) here .

Inside the Abbey
Back row L to R Terry, Karen, me, Steven. Front row L to R Zoe and Lilly

Zoe so loved the Christmas tree in the Abbey she had to give it a kiss!

The sun came out to greet our visitors, but rain is never far away in England much to the delight of two little girls from Australia. 

This and the previous photograph were taken on the site of the old railway line that used to run through Henstridge. As you can see the girls were beginning to feel the cold so it was time to hurry home and warm up.

 A couple of days later and time for a trip to the City of Bath, it's getting colder now but the family are suitably dressed.  Shame I didn't think to wear a hat it was pretty nippy around the ears.

Karen & Steven enjoyed a little light shopping. I don't think they intended the bags to be in the photo but Terry and I decided to keep hold of them – you can never be too careful! :-)

A Few days later it was time to catch the train to Disneyland, Paris. We spent four days at Disneyland and a further day in Paris.

We boarded the train at St. Pancras and it wasn't long before Zoe and Lilly made friends with a little girl called Delilah. The three girls spent almost the entire journey together. I'm enjoying all the attention especially the hug from Lilly.

Disneyland, Paris.



















More holiday photos next week.

Feeling very sad when the family left I decided a little Joanne Harris would be the perfect pick me up and Gentlemen & Players didn't let me down! In the words of Anne Marie over at Beetles, Bikes and Books  ... a very dark tale of events centred around a boys' elite Grammar School. Strange things happening relating to an event 13 years or so ago. I love trying to work out who dunnit! but I admit to being stumped. There's always something you miss in a book like this. If you're a Joanne Harris fan and haven't read this - do so

Did you enter the Joules Design a Welly Competition? If you did you might be interested to see the winning design...


The boots will be on sale at Joules.com later this year. To find out more visit Joules Facebook Page. The winner was a lady by the name of Andrea it would be nice to think she read about the competition on my blog! 


Thanks for your visit I hope to catch up with all my lovely blogging friends very soon.


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20. StoryMakers | Angela Dominguez

STORYMAKERS Angela Dominguez Featured Image

Maria Had a Little Llama/Maria Tenia Una Llamita and Knit Together author and illustrator Angela Dominguez creates heart-warming tales about family and togetherness. Angela Dominguez is a two-time recipient of the American Library Association’s Pura Belpre Honor (2014 and 2016).

It’s kind of a love letter to my mom.
— Angela Dominguez on “Knit Together”

Angela’s picture books are rooted in the themes of family, tradition, and friendship. Several of her books including Maria Had A Little Llama/Maria Tenia Una Llamita; Let’s Go, Hugo; and Knit Together pull from relationships with family members and artifacts from her childhood. A wind-up toy inspired French bird Hugo. Angela’s memories of wanting to be a skilled knitter like her mother led her to write a book to remind children they can be talented in their own way. An aunt’s interest in indigenous cultures informed the writing of a version of Mary Had a Little Lamb with a Peruvian twist.

Angela’s books aren’t only an option for children growing up bilingual; they are excellent for those who want to expose young readers to the Spanish language and Latino culture.

Aspiring illustrators will enjoy hearing about Angela’s process and seeing what a book looks like from start to finish.

We’re giving away three (3) sets of books from Angela Dominguez. Each set includes signed copies of Maria Had a Little Llama and Knit Together. Enter now!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All entrants must reside in the United States and be at least 13 years old.

ABOUT THE BOOKS

Knit TogetherKnit Together Cover
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

From an award-winning illustrator comes a sweet story of mothers and daughters, drawing and knitting, and learning to embrace your talents just right for Mother’s Day. Drawing is fun, but knitting is better because you can wear it Knitting isn t easy, though, and can be a little frustrating. Maybe the best thing to do is combine talents. A trip to the beach offers plenty of inspiration. Soon mom and daughter are collaborating on a piece of art they can share together: a special drawing made into a knitted beach blanket. For every mom and daughter, this is an arts-and-crafts ode creative passion and working together.

Santiago StaysSantiago Stays Cover
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Harry N. Abrams

Dominguez presents a humorous and endearing portrait of a stubborn French bulldog and a determined little boy.

Maria Had A Little Llama/Maria Tenia Una LlamitaMaria Had A Little Llama/Maria Tenia Una Llamita Cover
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Henry Holt & Company

Everyone knows about Mary and her little lamb. But do you know Maria? With gorgeous, Peruvian-inspired illustrations and English and Spanish retellings, Angela Dominguez gives a fresh new twist to the classic rhyme. Maria and her mischievous little llama will steal your heart.

Let's Go, Hugo! CoverLet’s Go, Hugo!
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

Hugo is a dapper little bird who adores the Eiffel Tower — or at least his view of it from down here. Hugo, you see, has never left the ground. So when he meets another bird, the determined Lulu, who invites him to fly with her to the top of the tower, Hugo stalls, persuading Lulu to see, on foot, every inch of the park in which he lives instead. Will a nighttime flying lesson from Bernard the Owl, some sweet and sensible encouragement from Lulu, and some extra pluck from Hugo himself finally give this bird the courage he needs to spread his wings and fly?

Marta! Big & SmallMarta Big and Small Cover (August 23, 2016)
Written by Jennifer Arena, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Roaring Brook Press

Marta is “una nina,” an ordinary girl . . . with some extraordinary animal friends. As Marta explores the jungle, she knows she’s bigger than a bug, smaller than an elephant, and faster than a turtle. But then she meets the snake, who thinks Marta is “sabrosa” tasty, very tasty But Marta is “ingeniosa,” a very clever girl, and she outsmarts the snake with hilarious results. With simple Spanish and a glossary at the end, this fun read-aloud picture book teaches little ones to identify opposites and animals and learn new words.

COMING IN 2016

How Do You Say/ Como Se Dice Cover How Do You Say? Como Se Dice? (November 8, 2016)
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Henry Holt & Company

Hello “Hola.” Some people speak Spanish. Some people speak English. Although we may not speak the same language, some things, like friendship, are universal. Follow two young giraffes as they meet, celebrate, and become friends. This bilingual tale will have readers eager to meet new friends and “amigos.”

COMING IN 2017
Sing Don't Cry CoverSing Don’t Cry
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Henry Holt & Company

Pura Belpre Honor winner, Angela Dominguez, based this musically driven story on her beloved grandfather. Her abuelo always encouraged her to stay positive and carry on.

ABOUT ANGELA DOMINGUEZ

Via AngelaDominguezStudio.com
Angela was born in Mexico City, grew up in the great state of Texas, and lived in San Francisco. She’s the author and illustrator of picture books such as Let’s Go, Hugo!, Santiago Stays, Knit Together, and Maria Had A Little Llama, which received the American Library Association Pura Belpré Illustration Honor. When she is not in her studio, Angela teaches at the Academy of Art University, which honored her with their Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013. She also enjoys presenting at different schools and libraries to all sorts of ages. Angela is a proud member of SCBWI, PEN America, and is represented by Wernick and Pratt Literary Agency.

CONNECT WITH ANGELA DOMINGUEZ
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21. #816 – The New Small Person by Lauren Child

The New Small Person Written and Illustrated by Lauren Child Candlewick Press    2/10/2015 978-0-7636-7810-4 32 pages    Ages 4—8 “Elmore Green started life as an only child, as many children do. He had a room all to himself, and everything in it was his. But then one day a new small person came along, …

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22. StoryMakers | Mike Curato’s Little Elliot Books

STORYMAKERS Mike Curato Featured Image

Mike Curato’s Little Elliot books are fast becoming a favorite of children and parents alike. The author and illustrator has created a little polka-dotted elephant with a big heart. The Little Elliot series — Little Elliot, Big CityLittle Elliot, Big Family; and Little Elliot, Big Fun — is heavily influenced by the zeitgeist of the1930s and conveys wonderful messages about family and friendship.

Mike Curato and MerryMakers president Clair Frederick joined StoryMakers host Rocco Staino to talk about the series of Little Elliot books and the huggably soft plush products created by the toy maker. Little Elliot is one of the newest members of the MerryMakers family.

We’re giving away three (3) signed copies of Mike Curato’s Little Elliot, Big City; Little Elliot, Big Family; and a MerryMakers plush toy. Enter now!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All entrants must reside in the United States and be at least 13 years old.

Watch Mike Curato read Little Elliot, Big City on “Read Out Loud,” then download the activity kit!

Read Out Loud Little Elliot Books

ABOUT THE LITTLE ELLIOT SERIES

Little Elliot Books: Little Elliot, Big City CoverLittle Elliot, Big City
Written and illustrated by Mike Curato
Published by Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers

Amid the hustle and bustle of the big city, the big crowds and bigger buildings, Little Elliot leads a quiet life. In spite of the challenges he faces, Elliot finds many wonderful things to enjoy like cupcakes And when his problems seem insurmountable, Elliot discovers something even sweeter a friend.

Little Elliot, Big FamilyLittle Elliot Books: Little Elliot, Big Family Cover
Written and illustrated by Mike Curato
Published by Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers

When Mouse heads off to a family reunion, Little Elliot decides go for a walk. As he explores each busy street, he sees families in all shapes and sizes. In a city of millions, Little Elliot feels very much alone-until he finds he has a family of his own.

Little Elliot Books: Little Elliot, Big Fun

Little Elliot, Big Fun
Written and illustrated by Mike Curato
Published by Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers
Available August 2016

In this third story of Little Elliot and Mouse, the friends head off in search of adventure . . . and lots of fun. Little Elliot, the polka-dotted elephant, and his friend Mouse go to the amusement park to see the sights and ride the rides water chutes, roller coasters, carousels, and more. But Elliot isn’t having much fun the rides are too wet, too fast, too dizzy, and just plain too scary until Mouse figures out a way to help him overcome his fears. Together, Mouse and Little Elliot can do anything.

Worm Loves WormWorm Loves Worm Cover Written by J. J. Austrian with illustrations by Mike Curato
Published by Balzer + Bray

Perfect for fans of And Tango Makes Three and The Sissy Duckling, this irresistible picture book is a celebration of love in all its splendid forms from debut author J. J. Austrian and the acclaimed author-illustrator of Little Elliot, Big City, Mike Curato. You are cordially invited to celebrate the wedding of a worm . . . and a worm. When a worm meets a special worm and they fall in love, you know what happens next: They get married but their friends want to know who will wear the dress? And who will wear the tux? The answer is: It doesn’t matter. Because Worm loves Worm.

ABOUT MIKE CURATO

Via mikecurato.com

Mike loves drawing and writing almost as much as he loves cupcakes and ice cream (and that’s a LOT!). He is the author and illustrator of everyone’s favorite polka-dotted elephant, Little Elliot. His debut title, Little Elliot, Big City, released in 2014 to critical acclaim, has won several awards, and is being translated into ten languages. The follow up book, Little Elliot, Big Family, was just released in October, 2015, and has received several starred reviews. At least two more Little Elliot books are forthcoming. Meanwhile, Mike had the pleasure of illustrating Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, which is available January 5, 2016. He is also working on several other projects, including his first graphic novel. Mike lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

CONNECT WITH MIKE CURATO
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23. Around the world in forty two days.

The title of this post might be a slight exaggeration but Karen, Steven and the girls did travel from Australia to England via Dubai before visiting France then back for a whirlwind tour of England and a return trip to Australia all in the space of forty two days. I realise they didn't exactly go around the world, but they certainly crossed it a couple of times.

We have hundreds of photographs so choosing the ones to share is proving difficult, but I hope you enjoy this selection. If you would like to see more, please visit my previous post.


Paris - Karen, Zoe, Steven and Lilly

Lilly's pose was entirely spontaneous, but I wonder if the inspiration came from her favourite Disney film.

Queen Elsa starring in a Frozen Sing Along at Disneyland Paris. Notice anything familiar in the pose?  

 Zoe had difficulty remembering the name of the Eiffel Tower but pointing first at her eye and then her tummy (Eye Full!!) did the trick. 

These two photographs make me smile, I love the way Lilly is copying her daddy with a sad and happy face. 

Is it just me or does anyone else think Lilly looks a little like Audrey Hepburn?  
Lilly on the left Audrey Ruston (Hepburn) on the right


As Zoe gets taller, I get shorter!

From Paris, it was back to London.

Karen and I enjoy a glass of champagne as we walk around a Christmas market alongside the River Thames.

We stayed at a hotel close to the London Eye, but the girls were more impressed with the playground (London Eye in the background)
Steven and Lilly

Zoe having fun

Why are playgrounds made for big people when I'm only little?


London by night


Fortnum and Mason all decked out for Christmas


Back at home and Zoe is very excited to see 'Postman Pat’ pulling up outside. The girls are more used to seeing the postman arriving on a motorbike.

 An Australia Post Postie
(Flickr: Vanessa Pike-Russell via News)


On the move again…this time it’s off to a hotel in Basingstoke to join more of our family.

L to R;  My sister Sue with her husband Brian and daughter Jackie, me with our two grandsons Kip and Tris from our son's first marriage, Terry, Karen, Paula (my niece and Sue's daughter) holding Zoe, Steven, Jean and Fred (my husband's parents), Dave (Paula's husband) and Lilly in the front. 

 
Our two little granddaughters treated us all to a surprise performance - don't they look adorable in their tutus. 

Lilly on Christmas morning

Zoe with her half-brothers Kip and Tris, the boys returned to England from Australia a few years ago so this was an emotional reunion.

Zoe and Kip getting to know one another again.

Steven taking Nanny for a spin around the dance floor.

With the excitement of Christmas behind us it was time to return home. 
Now I understand why adult colouring books are so popular there is something very therapeutic about getting out the paints and crayons. I loved ‘colouring in’ with the girls and also enjoyed sticker books and magic painting, something I hadn't done since our grandsons were small.  

We were delighted to see this little chap while out walking.

We couldn't be with Zoe on her actual birthday, so we had an unbirthday birthday tea a few days before they returned to Australia. Happy fifth birthday Zoe. 


Love and happy smiles...





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24. A Mama's Work is Never Done--Or is It?

by Sally Matheny

A Mother's Work is Never Done--Or is It?


Has your child ever called you an insulting name? One Saturday morning, after eliciting my eleven-year-old’s help with cleaning, he spewed the words, “You’re a Danny Tanner!” 

For those of you not familiar with the family television show, Full House, Danny Tanner is the parent obsessive with cleaning.




At first, I was insulted. I am notobsessed with cleaning. Danny Tanner uses a Dust Buster to clean his vacuum cleaner! He doesn’t allow anything out of its place. I vacuum once a week, and if we’re lucky, we may get the main pieces of furniture dusted. Also, I’m a stacker. I have little stacks of mail, magazines, and numerous slips of paper filled with writing ideas all throughout the house. Danny Tanner would go spastic in my house.

It only took a few minutes of comparing myself to Danny Tanner that I found the whole thing hilarious. I can overlook a messy house for almost five whole days before it begins to annoy me. And I prefer to do a multitude of other things instead of cleaning! But I feel responsible for maintaining a peaceful haven for my family. And let’s face it. An unorganized, messy home does not induce an atmosphere of serenity. Even my little name-caller will admit he likes the house better after all the work is done. I do, too. And so, for the next five to six days, we enjoy ourselves—before it’s time to clean again.

However, relaxing and having fun appear to come more easily for my husband and children. Seems like I have to be more thoughtful and intentional to stop doing whatever I think is "necessary" in order to join in the fun.
It’s a fact, a mother's work is never done. Truly. Never.
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25. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle | Book Review

A Wrinkle in Time is a classic novel from award-winning novelist Madeleine L'Engle.

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