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Gordon Korman isn't exactly a newbie in the realm of children's literature. As Canadian kids, we all read This Can't Be Happening at Macdonald Hall and as a librarian I know that he's been publishing solidly all along. But here comes my confession...I hadn't read his books for a long, long time. I am very happy that I picked up the first book in The Hypnotists series. Not only is this book a page turner, but it has humor, big ideas and suspense all rolled into a great story.
Jackson (Jax) Opus is a seemingly regular NYC kid. He's just trying to get to basketball with his best friend Tommy Cicerelli, but the bus just passes them by. In a fit of desperation, Jax jumps out into the bus lane in front of the next uptown bus and stares the driver down until he stops. Jax apologizes upon boarding the bus and implores the driver to get them to 96th Street as soon as possible. The bus takes off and is soon speeding through red lights, passing stops, and terrifying everyone. Once at 96th Street, the driver stops, lets the boys off, and resumes his regular route.
Then comes the basketball game. Jax is not evenly matched against Rodney, but somehow he is managing to hold him off. And when Jax wants him to miss, he does.
What is going on?
After a series of seemingly unrelated events, Jax ends up being recruited Dr. Elias Mako, founder and director of The Sentia Institute as a part of their New Horizons program. Dr. Mako seems to come with his own tagline - "Dr. Elias Mako has devoted his life to New York City education and is an inspiration to every single one of us." Anyone who comes into contact with Sentia seems to repeat these same words.
But Jax's parents are all for it. Jax learns that he comes from some very powerful bloodlines. Both of his parents families had the gift of hypnotism, and Jax seems to have inherited a rare command of his gift. After spending every extra hour at Sentia, Jax is getting uneasy with the whole thing. He has questions and nobody seems to want to answer them. Being able to hypnotize people seemed like no big deal when it involved extra gravy and hopping up and down, but add some political intrigue and scandal and throw in computers and blackmail, and Jax's abilities could take a very different and dangerous turn.
Korman has written a thriller that will get kids thinking big. How are our opinions formed? How are we influenced? Where would you draw the line when it comes to sticking by your values? The relationship between Jax and Tommy is perfect and laugh out loud funny. Their dialogue is authentic and readers will definitely want more from these two!
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Lauren is a girl who plans things. She checks and double checks. She loves having everything in its place. So it really comes as no surprise that when it comes to love, she has a plan. Lauren has come up with her love plan. This is the summer that she will get Charlie not only to notice her, but fall for her just like she has fallen for him. She knows from taking lots of multiple choice tests in teen magazines that she and Charlie are indeed soul mates. She will get him to notice her through her flowcharted Operation Cell Phone, where she has planned each detail of their "chance" encounter.
The problem is Lauren hasn't even left for the beach and there is a wrench thrown into her plans. Lauren's mom thought it would be fun to invite Chrissy along on vacation to keep only child Lauren company. Lauren likes Chrissy alright, but she certainly isn't part of her plan. And the worst part of it is that Lauren sort of told everyone at school that she and Charlie are already an item.What will Chrissy think when she sees the truth?
Lauren need not worry about Chrissy. It turns out she is super understanding and supportive of Lauren's love plan.
Things start off great. The girls get along famously, and Charlie is indeed at the beach with his friend Frank. Lauren thinks this is just perfect because she can hang out with Charlie and Chrissy can hang with Frank. But Lauren soon learns not only that the best laid plans don't always work out, but that crushing on someone from afar, is indeed different from knowing a person face to face.
This is an easy breezy beach read that gets the desperate tone of first crushes just right. What I like is that Darling gives Chrissy and Lauren agency, and put it right out there that sometimes the boy with all the looks can be lacking in other areas. This is a squeaky clean romance that will have tweensters flipping the pages to find out who Lauren will choose.
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"I'm obsessed with abandoned things." So begins LaFleur's quiet and enchanting book about friendship, family, choice, ghosts and history.
Siena's family is about to abandon Brooklyn for the beaches of Maine. Siena doesn't really mind. There's not much tying her to Brooklyn anymore. Her once deep friendship with Kelsey has fizzled since Kelsey no longer seems interested in Siena's dreams or imaginings. And honestly, Siena is a little frightening about what has been happening to her lately.
She has always had vivid dreams, but now these dreams are creeping into her waking hours. Scenery seems to shift and she finds herself viewing history, when she should be seeing what everyone else is seeing. Maybe Maine will help?
The move is not for Siena, however, but for her little brother Lucca. Lucca used to be a run of the mill little kid...sticky and loud. But now Lucca is silent. Siena's mom is desperate for anything that will give her son a voice again.
Once Siena is in the new house, she just knows that there are ghosts. What's more, is that Lucca seems to sense them too. She has no sooner unpacked her collection of abandoned things, when her vivid dreaming and visions start again. Only now Lucca is scared, and Siena promises him that she will get to the bottom of things.
When Siena finds an old lost pen high up in her closet, pieces of the past come forward and help her to understand not only her dreams and her visions, but her family as well.
This is a lovely slow reveal of a book that will delight detail oriented readers. LaFleur weaves the story together with invisible strings that form a delicate pattern that becomes clear in due time. Each character is fully developed and the past and the present storylines never compete with each other; rather they complete each other.
I told myself that while I was at ALA, I wouldn't pick up arcs. Then a school marketing person handed me two arcs, and publishers gave some to me, and you know how it goes! The result is that I've been reading a bunch, and now that it's summer and my commute is simply from my bed to the lake, I actually have some time to blog.
The first up, is Ellen Potter's new book Otis Dooda: Strange But True. Potter has stepped out of her wheelhouse with this illustrated novel for the younger set, but since Potter is writing it, you know the writing is tight.
Otis and the rest of the Dooda family are making a move to NYC. They are moving into the 35 story Tidwell Towers, which impresses Otis since it looks like it's made up of LEGO blocks! Otis notices the automatic door and thinks that moving is "kind of cool, like we were moving into a Price Chopper Supermarket!" (p8) The automatic doors aren't the only thing that is different from Otis' old place...there seems to be a kid skulking in a potted plant in the lobby. It turns out that he gives everyone the shakedown for candy and other goods when they come into the building, and if you don't pay up he curses you!
Otis finds this out the hard way, refusing to sacrifice his homemade LEGO lie detector. Otis gets the details when he befriends Perry, a kid on his floor with the strangest looking and smelliest dog you've ever seen. One of the great things about Tidwell Towers is that there are lots of kids, and before long Otis is hanging out with Perry, Cat and Boris and they are hatching plans to put the kibosh on the plant guy.
What follows is an often hilarious tale of the often dysfunctional apartment slash big city life. As I said, this isn't what I would necessarily expect from Potter, however, I know at my library I have daily requests for "something with lots of pictures, like Wimpy Kid", and this fits the bill. Strange parents, a creepy older brother, rats and poodles, friends with parents with odd jobs, and trying to dodge the inevitable summer enrollment in classes all come into play. The humor is sly and horse read oriented at the same time, and readers will likely laugh out loud along the way.
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Hubby, Oso and I went to a great BBQ potluck on the 4th. We love the mountains and hubby’s family has been going up there for generations. So, there were a lot of new and old friends at the BBQ. Not only did we celebrate the country’s birthday, but a few actual birthdays too Anyway, during most of the party there was this girl in purple pants sitting far away from everyone on her rock. She went and got her food (oh, man was there some AMAZING food!) and went back on her rock to eat by herself. When her brother came and sat beside her, she didn’t really get mad, but she didn’t want anyone to sit with her on her rock either
Delphine, Vonetta and Fern are on their way back to Brooklyn from Oakland where they have spent the last little while getting to know their mother, Cecile. Delivered unceremoniously back into the arms and admonishments of Big Ma, and back to Herkimer Street and Pa, Delphine knows that she has changed, but she surely didn't expect things in Brooklyn to have changed as well.
First off, Pa has lost his long face. He's whistling Tempations songs, instead of Old Man River. Right off, he wants to have a conversation with the girls, but Big Ma beats him to it. "Your Pa is keeping company with a woman in Brownsville." (p. 36) Marva Hendrix is her name, and while Vonetta and Fern think this is fine and silly, Delphine is not so sure.
Next, Uncle Darnell is back from Vietnam. But he isn't the same either. The old Uncle D would be smiling and singing and laughing, but now, he seems distant and sick. He wakes up shouting and isn't so interested in his nieces.
Readers follow Delphine's journey into sixth grade as she navigates a changing family, grows her friendships, and figures out how to have a relationship with her distant mother. P.S. Be Eleven is simply a joy to read. Each character is here for a reason and adds to the story. Delphine's voice is so perfect as are the voices of those around her. Williams-Garcia paints a picture of Bed-Stuy in the 1960s, and she weaves the historical details in seamlessly. This book seems timeless and should be on everyone's must read list!
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Ah, June…that lovely time of year when mothers everywhere are driven to a frazzle by endless activities, gatherings, ceremonies, and general running-around. I guess I’ve been maybe a bit…distracted?…lately? Dithered? Headless-chickened?
At least so I gather from the moment I had with my eerily perceptive seven-year-old this morning.
“Mommy, will you come outside with me for a minute?”
“Okay,” I toss over my shoulder, en route to the room with the printer. “Just let me do this one thing—” which of course turned into three things. Maybe four. Half a dozen max.
Finally, though, I told her, Okay, how about now. She took me by the hand and led me to the backyard. Paused at the edge of the lawn, looking out across the grass at the butterfly garden, the bird feeder, the trees beyond.
“See,” she said solemnly, all business, “I was noticing our mornings have been grumpy this week. People have seemed…tense. Now: listen. What do you hear?”
I’m breathless. She has this preternaturally serene expression on her usually animated little face: positively Charles Wallace.
“Birdsong,” I venture. Fluty house sparrows, a persistent scrub jay, the operatic mockingbird.
“Right,” she nods. “The music of nature.”
I’m hiding a smile. She’s so very serious. Any minute now she’ll call me Grasshopper.
“Now breathe deep,” instructs this tiny guru. “What do you smell?”
It’s a rare overcast day. You can hear the grass singing to the clouds, yearning for rain.
I’m feeling very humble now. “The good smell of green growing things?” I murmur.
Okay, so maybe just gnawing off a hunk of agave from your neighbor’s yard is not so delicious (or cool). You have to do stuff to it, like distilling, which is my favorite way of enjoying agave.
When you combine distilled agave (also known as tequila, people tell me) with limes and ice, magical things happen. I like to call it a “margarita.” Don’t steal that, I’m already working on the trademark.
Jenni and I have sipped a plethora of margaritas between designing, printing, shirt-folding, and child rearing. A few things we’ve decided:
Tequila. If it’s not 100% blue agave, it’s crap.
Expensive does not necessarily equal awesome (see above).
Throw away the mixes. They’re crap.
Margaritas are a valid source of vitamin C.
Don’t forget your margaritawear!
Jenni’s Superifico Margarita Recipe
Combine in a blender:
1 cup tequila (100% blue agave)
1/4 cup lime juice (freshly squeezed)
1/3 cup agave nectar (we like Tres Agaves)
Blend it up. Serve in ginormous margarita glasses.
Technically this makes four margaritas. But who’s counting?
Do you do ‘ritas? What’s your secret recipe? Favorite tequila? Share with us in the comments!
Have you ever tried to juggle? If you have, you probably noticed that it’s not a skill you pick up quickly. Some of us take years to get it down because we don’t juggle very often.
One of the things you notice when you start juggling is that if you stop paying attention for more than a second, it all goes right to hell. Let your mind wander and… splat! Balls down. Or chainsaws down. Whatever, although I highly recommend learning with the balls.
Life running our screen printing business and family isn’t kind of like juggling, it’s exactly juggling. Pile on the dog, the cat, the car that needs repair (again), the usual grocery shopping, laundry, birthday planning, and two kids in a local production of Grease, and you are very quickly juggling chainsaws. Did I mention that we also homeschool?
Even if you don’t homeschool, if you have kids, you know. Am I right?
Bourbon helps. If you don’t drink, try Calm. I use both.
Last week we were super focused on WorldFest. Which went swimmingly, by the way. We got a such a great response from our customers there and afterwards that we stopped looking at the balls (chainsaws) for a week. Oops. We had a few surprises get thrown at us.
It’s all good. We have our health! But it’s been a challenging few days for us as we start thinking about the Concerts on the Green this summer. We’ll have a t-shirt booth there every Sunday for 13 weeks this summer. It’s gonna be awesome, yes. We have a lot to do, for sure.
Oh! I need to remember to get gas for the chainsaws.
If you’re in the LA area, check out the free summer concerts here in Woodland Hills. My personal favorites Lee Rocker and Robby Krieger will be there. Come say hi!
Back in March, sj tweeted to me about this new informal club that Becoming Cliché was starting: the From the Bowels of Obscurity Children’s Book Club [pause while we wait for our inner 12-year-olds to stop giggling at “bowels.” Hee!] Y’all may remember some of my previous posts on nostalgic Juv/YA books (see the “nostalgia” […]
There are approximately 18,000 children under the age of 5 in Howard County, Maryland. And another 50,000 older children in school here. Yet when my family takes advantage of a treasure in the heart of the county, we never see another soul! The Howard County Nature Conservancy is a peaceful and beautiful sanctuary full of rolling hills, safe hiking trails, clear running streams, gorgeous gardens, interesting animals and picnic areas begging to be filled with families looking for a fun, easy, cheap way to spend an evening. Locals say it’s the place to be for bird watching, geocaching or growing your own organic vegetables in the lush community garden.
Part of the reason many don’t know about this area is that from 1692-1992 one family, the Brown’s, was fortunate enough to call The Conservancy their private residence. But in 1992, Howard County schoolteachers Ruth and Frances Brown passed away without an heir. The 232 acre farm has since been held in its natural state and glory. With some additions and improvements, you can come visit and see many buildings that have been a part of the pastoral setting for three centuries.
When I say that we never see another soul on our weekend hikes, that is not to say the spectacular landscape is not put to good use. There are summer camps for the kids, regular nature walks and talks, “Wine in the Garden” for the adults, “School is Out” programs for local students, and too many more exciting events to name. (Check here for a full list: http://www.hcconservancy.org/upcoming-events.html)
These programs, and this place, have helped my boys, (Will age 6, Luke age 4 and Sam age 23 months) to be better little men. I take them there as a part of our unofficial family plan. I want my sons to grow up valuing a day in the dirt with their brothers more than a computer. I want them to seek out places to think and find serenity more than places to blend in with the crowd. I want them to know that it is sometimes better to walk quietly holding my hand than it is to scream in the chaos of an amusement park (although we’ll be heading off to Dutch Wonderland in 10 short days and I can’t wait). I want my boys to have a place to take a date in a decade or two and really get to know her. Somewhere safe where they can walk hand-in-hand (God help me) and find out if they are lucky enough to build what we are lucky enough to have.
I just read the last paragraph aloud my opinionated family. According to my husband and the boys, everything I said is true…but way too girly. They just like to be able to run and play ninjas with sticks. I guess that is a part of our official family plan.
So my real question is this, why aren’t more young families joining us on a beautiful day? No matter what the season? Right now the tadpoles are changing week-to-week and day-to-day! The goats are climbing onto the roof of their habitat and the chickens are laying eggs. Ranger, the owl, is eating his mice and the crayfish and salamanders are hiding from eager little fingers looking to snatch them up. Log bridges with rope sidebars are waiting to be crossed by young explorers and the trees and logs give our young Luke Skywalker lots of convenient hiding places when bounty hunter Boba Fett (aka daddy) comes searching. Maybe you’ll luck out and see a snake while you skip rocks along the creek. If you’re quiet, you’re sure to see some deer and a fox or two. The children’s log garden allows the kids to jump and climb and play in an unusual and safe environment. The indoor playground at the mall is teaming with kids (and germs) every night of the week. Yet we are the only ones at the Conservancy! After seeing the animals, playing or checking out the simple indoor nature room, go for a hike. There is no need to hold hands! Let the kids run on the safe, grassy paths and lead the way as they leave their energy behind to light a trail for you.
Just this weekend I spoke to a young mom who lives within a half mile of the Conservancy. She had never been! What!?!? Why?!?!? Come on! I’ll meet you there on Friday night! We’ll bring sandwiches, juice boxes and kids ready to squeal with delight and satisfy the natural, scientific curiosity that fills their ever-expanding brains….and play ninjas with sticks. Honestly, what could be better?
Erin Schade is a wife, a mother to three fantastic boys, a teacher in Howard County, Maryland, a freelance writer and an aspiring children’s author. Questions or comments? Please contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a book I have been meaning to read for quite some time now. The Big Splash is a book that has a constant and steady flow of readers at our school. I enjoyed it very much, but somehow I had not gotten around to reading the sequel. Boy, I'm glad I finally did!
It's only 2 weeks after the end of The Big Splash. Matt is experiencing a bit of a moment of celebrity himself, and more and more kids are interested in his services. He is a bit surprised when beautiful cheerleader Melissa Scott, girlfriend of basketball star Will Atkins, want to hire him to follow her famously sporty boyfriend around. Matt isn't exactly used to dealing with the beautiful cheerleader type, and little does he know that Melissa is just the tip of the iceberg.
Of course, Vinny is still ruling The Frank, and he isn't about to leave Matt's talents untouched. He too, wants Matt's services and doesn't give him much of a choice about the matter. Liz, who is pulling away from Matt at this point, accuses him of having a lack of moral compass. Matt is left wondering if he is any better than Vinny and his thugs.
Throw in some twists and turns of the family mystery, a super twisty path toward a romance, and wrap it all in a noir package and you have The Quick Fix. And somehow it works. Readers totally buy into Ferraiolo's world with it's rules and slang. Kids have pixy stix addictions, water guns seal their fates, basketball games are fixed, and it all makes sense. There is a sensibility to Ferraiolo's writing that oozes commitment and authenticity. Kids get this and they enjoy every moment of it. If you haven't made time to read this one yet, you should.
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…a neighbor down the block finds a dead mole in her yard and strolls down to show it to your kids. “I brought you a teachable moment!”
In truth, she brought us dozens. We examined the mole, which looked nothing like the velvety-black Wind-in-the-Willows English mole of my imagination, but really very much like a mouse. It was her exterminator who’d told her that what she thought were rats in the attic were actually a species of mole. When she found a dead one (dead how, no one is quite sure—caught by something, knocked on the head but left unmauled on the grass), she thought my gang might like a look at this surprising creature, this species that confounded expectations. She was right. Just last week, Rose completed the (virtual) owl pellet dissection at Froguts.com and assembled a mole skeleton from the virtual bones. The lab included shrew and vole skeletons as well, and we’d studied the differences in paw bones and teeth. Beautiful timing, this poor dead mole, demonstrating its digger characteristics for us: the long, pointed front teeth; the strong back paws; the sturdy front claws.
Our neighbor, whom we’ve nodded at on many a walk but hadn’t had a real conversation with until today, was fascinated to hear of these computer dissection labs Rose is doing. Our talk wandered from amazing modern technology to the many staggering innovations her grandmother, born in 1899, experienced in her long life—99 years, her lifetime spanned, a century that brought telephones, indoor plumbing, automobiles, airplanes, television, and computers. “She saw man walk on the moon,” pointed out Miss Joanie.
And more stories: of her father, graduate of a one-room schoolhouse in Kentucky, who earned two PhDs: one in physiology and one in nuclear physics. Her mother, a graduate of Cornell, who suffered a stroke her 80s and reforged her lost access to language by way of crossword puzzles and incredible perseverance. She died a year ago at age 98, solving puzzles till the last. “She was such an inspiration to me,” said Miss Joanie, holding all of us rapt, wishing we’d met her mother. “I could tell stories about her all day.”
We wanted more, all of us. Decided there are tea and stories in our future. Rose was born the year Miss Joanie’s grandmother died. Joanie’s son must be about my age, because his first computer, like mine, was a Commodore, that fabulous box with the blinking green dots. I felt extremely cutting edge—mine was the 128, not the 64. Now my cellphone could kick that old thing around the block.
Remember when people used to look at you like you had multiple heads, when they heard you were going to homeschool your kids? Nowadays they just look at you and think, there’s a person who’ll be genuinely delighted if I show up in her driveway with a dead insectivore in hand. And they’re right!
Peanuts, Cracker Jack, cotton candy, and hot dogs! Those are my fondest memories of the ball park, and they certainly top my daughters' lists as well. But one equally hallowed tradition of baseball had been fading from the American scene, so I'm glad to see a picture book that's bringing it back.
Betsy's Day at the Game, written by Greg Bancroft and illustrated by Katherine Blackmore, describes a young girl's visit to the ballpark with her grandfather. The book captures all there is to love about baseball, and that's because author Greg Bancroft seems to be a baseball fan first and foremost. His words and Katherine Blackmore's images capture the sights, sounds, smells, and (my favorite part) tastes of the ballpark. Via their narrative, we spend a day vicarioulsy at the park. Simple enough, right?
As the story progresses and the game begins, however, we realize that much more is taking place. Betsy and Grandpa are teaching us, step by step and in plain English, how to keep score. For the those who are as clueless as me, keeping score in baseball goes way beyond tallying runs!
Codes and symbols are entered onto a scorecard, effectively chronicling every offensive and defensive play of the game. From what friends have told me, baseball fans can read a score book and see the entire game played out in their heads in the same way that musicians can read sheet music and actually "hear the song."
So while I started out as a true scoring novice, by book's end I had a pretty good idea of the whole process. And trust me, if I can figure it out, anyone can! Betsy's Day at the Game would definitely score a home run with any young baseball fan. Using the handy scorecards supplied in the back of the book, fans could easily follow along with and score their favorite team at the park or on TV.
You can enter to win a free copy of this book for your fave fan or yourself by simply emailing me at keithschoch at gmail dot com (standard email format) with PLAY BALL! in the subject line. Contest closes at 11:59 PM EST Friday, April 19, 2013.
Check out a tutorial on scoring if you want more examples, plus the formulas to figure out all the stats you would ever need. The actual scorecard isn't as nice as the one in the back of Betsy's Day at the Game, however.
Taking your child to the park for the first time? Definitely have a Plan B! We know how attention spans can dwindle as kids become hot, tired, cranky, over-sugared, and all of the above. TeachMama has a fabulous set of suggestions for surviving your outing using Kid-Friendly Learning During Baseball Games.
With 42, the Jackie Robinson movie, releasing in theaters this weekend, younger readers might interested in learning more about this courageous hero in baseball history. For readers in grades 2-5, I highly recommend Jackie Robinson: American Hero, written by the star's own daughter, Sharon Robinson. This transitional book features not only the perfect blend of images and text, but also the perfect blend of backstory and biography. Sharon Robinson provides young readers with just enough historical context to understand and appreciate what made JackieRobinson's accomplishments incredible not only for his time, but for all of time. If you're a teacher hoping to engage your reluctant readers with chapter books, this one is a winner!
There was just no way a chocoholic such a myself could pass on reading a book called My Chocolate Year. And I am glad I did.
It is September 1945, the war is over and Dorrie Meyers is starting fifth grade. And the best part is that her best friend Sunny Shapiro is in her class and their teacher is the very popular Miss Fitzgerald. Popular because each year, Miss Fitzgerald has a Sweet Semester, in which each student thinks up a dessert to make, writes an essay about it and in January they all bring in their entries and a prize goes out to one winner dessert and one winning essay.
Dorrie loves chocolate passionately and is very excited about Sweet Semester, except for one problem - she has no idea how to make anything, let alone a prize winning dessert. And this year is a special Sweet Semester because not only will family members be invited, but the winners will also get their pictures in the Chicago Daily News. In addition, since there are now so many orphans in Europe as a result of the war, the class will has a donation jar set up to collect money to send to a charity which cares for the orphans.
The subject of orphans soon hits home for Dorrie. Her grandparents had all migrated to America, but there were still relatives who had remained in Lithuania. No one knew what happened to them after war. Since they were Jewish the worst was feared and Dorrie's mother has been making inquires to find them. Then, one November morning, good news arrives. Victor Dubin, son of Dorrie's Aunt Mina and Uncle Joseph and grandson of Dorrie's Bubbie, was found living in a Displaced Persons camp. No sooner found, than arrangements begin to be made to bring Victor to America. Sadly, no other family members survived.
Victor, now an orphan, and orphan jar in school get Dorrie to thinking about the Margaret O'Brien and the movie Journey for Margaret, about a young girl orphaned during the London Blitz. How, Dorrie wonders, did she play such a convincing orphan? So she writes a letter to the actress to ask.
Meanwhile, Dorrie and Sunny experiment with different possibilities for Sweet Semester. The first idea, Chocolate Covered Gum, dissolves into a chocolaty mess. Their chocolate covered nuts and raisins clusters taste delicious, but was that all chocolate in them? Oh, and when you add flour to brownies using the electric mixer, it is much easier if you turn the mixer off.
It is really beginning to look like Dorrie isn't going to win that Sweet Semester competition despite the fact that both her mother and Buddie are excellent bakers. She just doesn't seem to have a natural instinct for baking. She really needs a miracle...could that miracle come in the form of both real and movie orphans?
This is a lovely story about the strength and importance of family. It is told in Dorrie's voice and even though it is not written as a diary, it reads like on. The book follows the year though all the Jewish holidays, starting with Rosh Hashanah and Dorrie explains the story and Jewish customs for celebrating each holiday for the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with them. She also talks about the war and it's effect on her family, and when Victor comes, we hear his story in detail, but not so much detail that it would be too much for the targeted age of intended readers. This is a book, after all, that is written for kids who are beginning to learn about the Holocaust.
Now, the 12 recipes. Not all are real recipes, but some are and they are made from scratch. My 10 year old budding chef liked that idea, since she is a cooking purist. We actually make Dorrie's Sweet Semester entry, which was so good that when I went to take a picture, they were all gone. Lesson learned - don't leave good tasting stuff unattended with kids in the house and without telling them hands off.
This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library
Racing along New York City streets one March 1945 day, Linus Muller stops to catch his breath when his attention is suddenly arrested by a familiar face on a poster. Noting the address on the poster, Linus changes course and sets off for it instead.
Flashback to September 1943: Linus is 12 years old and has just inherited his older brother's shoes and his job delivering groceries for his parent's shop. In fact, with six kids and a war on, everything is a hand me down, except for Linus's older brother Albie, who is off to war now that he is old enough to enlist. Linus has also inherited Albie's bed and has been made caretaker of Albie's superhero comic books collection, a love they shared, as well as Albie drawing of his own superhero Mr. Superspeed, with whom Linus keeps a running conversation while he makes his deliveries.
As Linus begins his life as a delivery boy, he meets all the customers and quickly learns their quirky ways, like Mrs. DeWinter who always has another task waiting for Linus to do when he brings her groceries. His job takes him all over the Upper East Side of Manhattan, an area Linus knows like the back of his hand. Late in the afternoon, on his first day, his mother hands Linus a crate of oranges and tells him to deliver them to 15 East 59th Street. Little did Linus know this would be his most interesting monthly delivery.
Living there is an elderly painter with a difficult to remember name and a studio that has stark white walls, except for the groups of brightly colored squares and rectangles here and there. Linus started called the painter Mister Orange and it turns out that Mr. Orange had recently arrived from Nazi-occupied Holland to escape Hitler's oppressive control on the arts.
Meanwhile, brother Albie is still excited to go to war and ships out to Italy as soon as basic training is over. At first, Albie's letters are still filled with enthusiastic descriptions about being a new recruit and the friends he has made. From Italy, he asks Linus to play a rather harmless practical joke on a friend's mother for her birthday and leave a card from her son at the same time. Linus carries out his mission with stealth, but then Albie's next letter is more somber and sad, as he reports his friend has fallen in battle.
Linus understands how it feels to lose a friend. It appears that he is losing his best friend to an older boy who dislikes Linus as much as Linus dislikes him.
And so his visits to Mr. Orange become a bright spot in his life and it is there that the two talk about life. Angry at the reality of war that Albie describes, Linus decides that comics and superheroes are imaginary escapes from all the horrors in life and rejects them completely. Now he doesn't even have the voice of Mr. Superspeed to accompany him. But as Mr. Orange talks to him about his painting and even teaches him how to dance the boogie woogie, he also tells Linus about the importance of imagination, especially during wartime: "If imagination were as harmless as you think...then the Nazis couldn't be so scared of it." (pg 122) All the while, Mr. Orange works on his latest painting, a freedom he would not have had if he has remained in Europe.
Can Mister Orange help Linus through this difficult time?
Originally written in Dutch and skillfully translated by Laura Watkinson, Mister Orange is itself a wonderful historical fiction work of imagination that skillfully portrays the daily hustle and bustle of life in one New York City neighborhood during WW2 as Linus makes his deliveries. I grew up in Brooklyn and Manhattan at a time when Mom and Pop grocery stores were still common (my brother's first job was delivering groceries), and if you had a fight with your best friend, you just went over to their house to make up - just the way Linus does - very simple, very easy. So I know that this and more of Mister Orange is pretty spot on. And so is the Action Comic that Linus buys for Albie - November 1943 No. 66. Matti has done her research well.
But the friendship between Mister Orange and Linus would be unusual, though maybe not impossible. In a way, however, it is a nice example of how even a short lived friendship can impact our lives, in this case from September 1943 to February 1944.
Mister Orange is a nice coming-of-age story that unfolds slowly and steadily, but should still engage young readers, though probably not everyone. Linus is a thoughtful, introspective, observant boy who really loves life, at least until reality comes knocking and he finds his world terribly shaken.
I put Mister Orange on hold at the library based only on the cover and knowing it was a WW2 story because I loved the cover of the American edition. Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) is one of my favorite abstract painters, so as soon as I saw the cover, I knew he would be in the story somewhere, someway. Jenni Desmond, the illustrator of Mister Orange, has really captured both the motion of the city as Linus travels around and the sense of movement that Mondrian's painting reflect, so that it becomes such a wonderful mixture of Linus's life, and Mondrian's painting, which is as it should be. I found myself going over it again and again after I finished reading the book.
In the back on the book is a section called Mister Mondrian. This FYI section describes his life and the paintings he did while live in New York City. The painting that he was working on during Linus's visit was his never completed Victory Boogie Woogie, see here:
Victory Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian
Mondrian's studio had an immediate, deep impact on Linus and helped him realize hope for the future. Here, though, are photos of that studio, almost exactly as Linus describes them (right down to the orange crates):
(click the images to enlarge them)
There are some who think this book would not appeal to young readers, but I think they will enjoy reading about Linus and his life, and the person who helped him work things out for himself.
Yesterday we had our Journey North Mystery Class wrap-up party. Huge fun all around: each family revealed its Mystery City location and we celebrated with a feast of dishes from the far-off locales. (Even the one American city in this year’s batch is far-off from us here in San Diego.) I won’t say more about the secret locations, since I know some of you are participating in your own groups and may not have had your big reveals yet. But ohhhh, was the food good.
I’ll give this much away: Beanie’s and my contribution were these Icelandic pancakes (pönnukökur).
(Beloved Carl Larsson print hiding a snarl of electrical cords.)
Here’s the recipe we followed, and here’s a delightful video demonstration by Icelandic cook Margret:
At the end of the video she demonstrates the most common ways to serve the pancakes: sprinkled with sugar (as we did above) or spread with jam and a generous dollop of whipped cream. I didn’t think the cream would hold up at a potluck, but you can be sure we’re going to give that version a go very, very soon.
*My sweet broom is in bloom, lightening my heart not only with its sunny blossoms but also the way it puts one of my favorite Scottish ballads into my head every time I glance its direction.
Tomorrow Jane, Rose, and I are off on a new adventure—a Peterson family first: open house at the university Jane plans to attend in the fall. Talk about blinking. Seems only last week this happened:
looking at baby Patty with my mom and grandmaLong, long ago, I was a seven year old girl waiting anxiously for my baby brother or sister to be born. It was a warm evening, and I had already put on my pajamas--yellow polyester ones with white eyelet trim. I wandered outside to look at the planting beds around our split level. Most of the tulips in my mother's garden had already bloomed and fallen apart.
Then came the news: my sister was born, and I could go see her! I insisted on clipping the last two tulips out of the garden. I remember one was yellow and the other was red with orange streaks. It's funny; I don't remember which adult was with me. My grandmother? My father? I do know they tried to convince me to let the tulips stay behind, that my mother would want to see them when she got home from the hospital. But I insisted.
After that argument the adult-in-charge likely didn't want to take up the issue of me wearing pajamas. So, clutching tulips and wearing a coat over my pajamas, off I went to the hospital.
They weren't supposed to let me into the baby ward--I was too young. Likely too germ-ridden. But someone sneaked me in--a pharmacist friend? A doctor friend? I don't remember that either, not exactly. I do remember he was kind and he said those tulips were beautiful. And so I got to give the flowers to my mother.
Then I got to see the baby who has become one of my very best friends: Patty. She was so little and red and already she had so much hair. I'd never seen such a beautiful baby. I couldn't wait until she came home and I could hold her.
Since then she has been my playmate, commiserater, confidant, bridesmaid, and critiquer. My sister is one of the best gifts my parents ever gave me. Even if she DOES have hair that is twice as thick as mine.
Patty celebrates her birthday in a few days. Happy birthday, Pattyricia! For an early present, I decided not to post any of the excellent family photos I have of you screaming your baby head off...maybe next year!
Welcome all to my first Author Spotlight feature where you will get a chance to meet a well known author and learn about the writing process.
1) What were your favorite children books, when you were growing up?
I read practically every Nancy Drew there was, plus Harriet the Spy, The Little White Horse, and I gobbled up all of Phyllis Whitney’s mysteries, A Wrinkle in Time, etc. I could go on, but I won’t. Basically, I read a book a day all during elementary school. Maybe that’s why I love writing for the middle-grade audience.
2) What was the inspiration behind writing your book?
Several things! The magical, mysterious world of butterflies . . . spooky Louisiana swamps, old plantation houses, islands in the South Pacific . . . and a girl who is connected to all those things through her Grammy Claire.
I love mysteries; too, as you can tell from my childhood favorite books, and I wanted to try my hand at writing an actual mystery that didn’t have ghosts or paranormal elements. Just a girl with a brain and secret letters and keys in a mysterious house, trying to help her grandmother who died in an untimely way and who slowly gives her secrets from beyond the grave to figure out the people who are trying to destroy these unusual butterflies.
It was also very rewarding to write about a very smart and very cool grandmother because I never knew my own grandmothers, (and I hope I can be a very cool grandma too someday!).
3) How many Drafts and rejections did you have before your book was published?
Since this isn’t my first book and it was already under contract to Scholastic through a proposal I sent to my editor, I didn’t have any rejections—but I racked up hundreds in the year’s previous to selling my first book. And, after my first three books were orphaned, and before I landed a three-book contract with Scholastic, I had a period of 8 years where I was writing like crazy, but not selling anything. Rejections come with the territory of publishing. Now I do about 3-5 drafts of a new book, and two more with my editor and one with the copy editor so each book goes through a lot of hand and eyes.
4) Why Butterflies?
Butterflies are inherently mysterious. They start out as a little tiny egg on a leaf, turn into a creepy-crawling green caterpillar, then become a white chrysalis or cocoon – and finally, almost like magic, this gorgeous, colorful creature hatches from a white blob and can FLY! And they look like dancing flowers.
Some of the most fun I had writing this novel was researching the butterfly quotes at the beginning of each chapter and putting them in a spot where they reflected what happened in a particular chapter. But two of the quotes do not come from *famous* or well known scientists or movies. One is from my daughter and the other is from Tara’s Grammy Claire herself.
5) What can "When the Butterflies Came" teach our children?
I write a lot about families with secrets; families who are going through tough times and upheavals and changes—and show how that affects my 11-12 year old main characters. The heart of every story is the knowledge that families are important and they love each other in the end. They can be crazy sometimes, but their core belief is that they work together despite difficult and heart-wrenching events. They stand up for each other, pull together, and can come through hard times stronger than ever.
6) Can you see your book on the Big Screen?
Not yet - and movie rights are still available! I’m hoping Hollywood—or even some small director—will hear my secret wish, or discover my book when his child brings it home from the library or the Scholastic Book Fair. . . a director that has always loved butterflies and falls in love with my book. I can always dream, right?
7) What future book plans do you have?
I just turned in my fourth manuscript to my editor at Scholastic for publication summer of 2014. She’s reading it now while I wait chewing my fingernails that she will like it and I won’t have to shred it and start all over (that’s actually happened to me before so I know first-hand how crazy-making it can be). This new book is middle-grade as well and has time slipping and a cursed doll and a girl who lives in an antique store.
Fall of 2014 will be my Young Adult debut with Harpercollins for a book I’ve been researching and writing for nearly ten years so I’m pretty thrilled about finally selling it. It’s an ancient Middle Eastern story about the roots of belly dance in the women’s world, including goddess temples, tribal warfare, camels, and frankincense.
Thank you so much, David, for a great interview and featuring me on your blog!
Here are a few links for your readers: http://www.kimberleygriffithslittle.com/ (I have some awesome book trailers on my website on the Home Page with on location filming in the swamps as well as original music by some friends of mine. Scholastic liked the one for The Healing Spell so well; they commissioned the music to put on their website.)