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1. Announcing… our Ninja Agents for 2014!

We’re so excited to be bringing you our NINJA AGENT program again this year!

This program will take place in the forums–so you must be registered and using the forums to participate. If you haven’t already done that, go HERE.

Here’s what you’ll do:
1. Post your absolute best, polished query letter or writing sample in the appropriate critique threads in the forums. (Please look carefully and ask questions if you’re unsure about where to post, and make sure you follow all our forum guidelines)
2. Don your thick dragon skin, cross your fingers, and keep checking your forum posts, because our Ninja Agents will be sneaking around, leaving feedback on whatever strikes their fancy–which could very well be YOUR QUERY.
3. Pray you’ve perfected your work enough to generate a request. Some agents may be requesting from the posts they read.
4. Remember your manners. Please don’t engage in hurtful behavior toward an industry professional because of feedback they might leave on your query. Remember, publishing is SO SUBJECTIVE.

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. All you have to do is use our forums the same way you should be using them anyway (because they’re AWESOME) and you could have a super-cool Ninja-Agent critique your work. And even if they don’t comment on your work (they promise they will try to comment/critique on as many as they can) you can learn SO much from the comments they leave for others. Because really, the best part about the forum is that you can go read the feedback whenever your schedule allows.

What the Ninjas will do:
1. Each Ninja Agent will be in the forum during the conference. You won’t know who, and you won’t know when…that’s the beauty of a ninja. They strike when you’re least expecting it.
2. Ninja Agents have been encouraged to leave feedback—as detailed or as vague as they want—on as many queries as they can. They can also request from the queries they read.

We are announcing who the Ninja Agents are, but not when they’ll be Ninja-ing or who’s who. So Ninja Agent Blue could be any of the following….

Our Ninjafied Nunchuckatorians are:

  • Pete Knapp, Park Literary
  • Victoria Marini, Gelfman Schneider Literary
  • Kathleen Zakhar,  Harold Ober Associates, Inc.
  • Katie Grimm, Don Congdon Associates, Inc.
  • Janine Hauber, Sheldon Fogelman Agency
  • Danielle Smith, Red Fox Literary
  • Jaida Temperly, New Leaf Literary
  • Danielle Barthel, New Leaf Literary
  • Jess Ballow, New Leaf Literary
  • Amy Sterm, Sheldon Fogelman Agency
  • Carlie Webber, CK Webber Associates
  • Renee Nyen, KT Literary
  • Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary
  • Laura Cummings, Foreword Literary
  • Brian Farrey-Latz, Flux
  • Alycia Tornetta, Entangled Publishing
  • Nicole Steinhaus, Entangled Publishing
  • Katie Reed, Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management
  • Jackie Lindert, New Leaf Literary
  • Alex Slater, Trident Media Literary
  • Annie Berger, Harper Collins
  • Rena Rossner, Deborah Harris Agency
  • Patricia Riley, Spencer Hill Press

The Ninja-Agent Program is open for business starting on Tuesday, August 26, though some of our ninjas may make an appearance before that!

We hope this program will benefit everyone, from those who post their query to those reading the comments/opinions from some of the top literary agents in the publishing world.

Questions? Ask them here!

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2. Read about female pilots on National Aviation Day

Today, August 19th, the U.S. is celebrating National Aviation Day. This day was first established by a presidential proclamation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 to celebrate advances in aviation. The date was chosen to coincide with Orville Wright’s birthday to recognize his contribution, together with his brother Wilbur, to the field of aviation — but it is a holiday meant to recognize all aviators who have advanced the field through their efforts. While the Wright brothers, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart come to mind as the premier pioneering pilots, there are many unsung aviators. The books below highlight the stories of some of the most famous early female aviators and are the perfect way to celebrate National Aviation Day!

Burleigh NightFlight 300x300 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayNight Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic by Robert Burleigh with illustrations by Wendell Minor (K-3)
This book tells the story of Amelia Earhart’s historic crossing of the Atlantic on May 20, 1932, which made her the first woman to complete a solo flight across that ocean. The flight was a dramatic one, including both mechanical difficulties and fierce weather and both the prose and the paintings of this book capture the tension of the flight and the elation when Earhart touches down in Ireland. The book also includes a brief biography of Earhart, a list of additional sources on the subject and a fascinating collection of quotations from Earhart’s speeches and publications.

Moss SkyHigh 300x272 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DaySky High: The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa Moss with illustrations by Carl Angel (K-3)
Maggie Gee knew from a young age that she wanted to fly planes. It was a dream that stayed with her throughout her childhood and when World War II started, she leapt at the chance to serve her country by flying for the Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs. Despite stiff competition for a limited number of spots amongst the WASPs, Maggie succeeded, becoming one of only two Chinese American pilots in the organization. This book traces her path from her childhood dreams to her work as a WASP. An author’s note at the end fills in more details about her life after World War II and includes pictures of Maggie and her family throughout the time covered in the book.

Cummins FlyingSolo300x294 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayFlying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared Into America’s Heart by Julie Cummins with illustrations by Malene R. Laugesen (K-3)
While many know the story of Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic, fewer people know that Ruth Elder attempted to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic years earlier in 1927. Though her attempt was cut short by a malfunction over the ocean, she nevertheless became famous, not only for her attempt but also for her later aviation exploits. This book tells her life story, focusing primarily on her attempt to fly across the Atlantic and her participation in a cross-country air race in 1929. Ruth’s story will excite fans of planes and flying and the illustrations will transport readers back to the 1920’s through their vivid details. The book also includes further sources of information about Ruth’s life as well as a final illustration that highlights a number of other important female aviators.

Borden FlyHigh 238x300 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayFly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden and Mary Kay Kroeger with illustrations by Teresa Flavin (4-6)
This book tells the story of Bessie Coleman, an African American woman who grew up in the south in the late 1800’s with a dream to get an education. When she moved to Chicago in 1915 for a chance at a better life, she discovered aviation and decided to head to France to pursue an opportunity to learn to fly. Once she had her license, Bessie returned to the U.S. where she flew in air shows and gave speeches encouraging others to follow her path. Though the book ends with the tragic tale of her death in a flying accident, the story is sure to inspire those interested in learning to fly.

Tanaka AmeliaEarhart 300x298 Read about female pilots on National Aviation DayAmelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka with illustrations by David Craig (4-6)
Illustrated with a combination of paintings and photographs from Amelia Earhart’s life, this book is an impressive biography of a woman who is arguably the most famous female aviator in American history. Starting in her childhood and continuing until her disappearance in 1937, it offers a look into Amelia’s entire life, including aspects that are often glossed over in other books, such as her time as a nurse’s aide in Toronto and her work with two early commercial airlines. Both the pictures and the illustrations bring Amelia to life for readers and a list of source notes and other resources at the end of the book provide lots of options for further reading.

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3. The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, and Inside the Maze Runner

Old and new fans will love the new movie tie-in version of The Maze Runner, complete with full-color pictures from the upcoming film.

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4. Snark week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Shark Week reading, click here.

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5. What’s the media Feeding us?

feed Whats the media Feeding us?For the past six weeks, I have had the pleasure of teaching an English course to a group of highly motivated high school students enrolled in the summer session of an Upward Bound program. This summer’s book selection — Feed by M. T. Anderson — has spurred a campus conversation that I keep catching snippets of while I wait in line in the cafeteria or when I walk down the halls in the dorm. (I’m serious — a large group of teenagers, in school in the summer, are really talking about a book in their free time!)

Feed never fails to generate intense feelings and is also one of those books that could be suited to almost any theme or purpose that a course might cover. It lends itself to discussions of identity, social class, gender roles and expectations, conformity, language, as well as the topics around which I organized my summer course: media and technology.

The overarching question my students and I have been grappling with over the course of the summer is “Does the media create or reflect reality?” Feed is the perfect title to use as a case study for exploring this question, as it presents a dystopian world where the majority of people have a device — the “feed” — implanted directly into their brains. The feed constantly bombards its users with advertisements that are responsive to their locations and emotional states and also offers seemingly unlimited access to information. Of course, it also leads the users to have tremendous blind spots in terms of their understanding of the world around them and is controlled by powerful corporations who may or may not have the best interests of their users at heart.

Feed is the perfect choice for a course focused on media literacy. The book itself articulates and reinforces the need for precisely the skills learned in media literacy exercises: how to think critically about the content present in media messages, how to actively engage with information rather than passively accepting it, and how to uncover who creates the media and what their agendas might be.

Over the course of the summer, I have watched my students develop an increasing awareness of the challenges and implications of growing up in a media-saturated world. In addition to reading Feed, we have analyzed videos, advertisements, and contemporary songs to see what is under the surface of the media messages that we too often accept without question — and with which we even find ourselves singing along! I can see my students’ blinders beginning to come off as they think more critically about the world around them and how media impacts their own lives.

While Feed projects a vision of a dystopian future and was published back in 2002, I am struck each time I reread the book by how close the world Anderson describes seems to our own. The media and technology are increasingly influential and already play a key role in shaping our reality. The time to think about the implications of a media feeding us constant messages that may or may not reflect the world we want to inhabit is now and Feed is a wonderful title to use to engage young people in these critical conservations.

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6. World Elephant Day 2014

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

Picture Books

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

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

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

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

 Fiction

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

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

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

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

Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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

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7. There’s bold but then there’s brazen.

BurnedBoldAndBrazen72lg Theres bold but then theres <i />brazen</p>.So much trouble in this world could be avoided if we all simply shutted up when we did not know whereof we spoke but here I go. I have never read Alfred Ollivant’s Bob, Son of Battle, but Lydia Davis’s explanation of the changes she made for a new New York Review of Books edition makes me eager to read the original if only to defend its honour honor.

In her afterword, Davis writes that “I did not want Ollivant’s powerful story to be forgotten simply because it was difficult to read.” (She said ominously.) Davis goes on to explain that she translated the Cumbrian dialect used heavily in the 1898 original and then thought oh, the hell with it, let’s fix this sucker:

“I decided that I would not only change the speech of the characters but also change the way the story was told, just enough so that almost everything could be understood without any problem, and there would be nothing to get in the way of the story.”

Trifles! I’m reminded of a letter Elizabeth once shared with me from a somewhat overconfident applicant for an editorial position who included with her letter Xeroxed pages of Steig and Lobel marked with her recommended word substitutions.

Here, for example, is the first sentence/paragraph of Ollivant’s (from the Gutenberg edition):

“The sun stared brazenly down on a gray farmhouse lying, long and low in the shadow of the Muir Pike; on the ruins of peel-tower and barmkyn, relics of the time of raids, it looked; on ranges of whitewashed outbuildings; on a goodly array of dark-thatched ricks.”

Here is Davis’s:

“The sun stared boldly down on a gray farmhouse lying long and low in the in the shadow of the sharp summit of Muir Pike; it shone on the ruins of a fortified tower and a rampart, left from the time of the Scottish raids; on rows of white-washed outbuildings; on a crowd of dark-thatched haystacks.”

Why bold for brazen, I wonder, but even more I wonder why Davis, clearly on a labor of love, doesn’t trust  today’s children to read past the same difficulties she had with the book in her own childhood: “The odd thing is that because the story is so powerful, you can read right over these hard words and puzzling expressions and not mind, because you are so eager to know what happens next. That is what I did when I first read it.” Readers do this all the time. Feeling that a book knows something that you don’t is one of the prime pleasures of reading.

Neither Ollivant’s original nor Davis’s adaptation are about to start a new craze for old Bob (I do admire NYRB’s optimistic publishing program), but I suspect that if I were the kind of kid who was going to read it, I would also be the kind of kid who would want to read the original, which is just what Davis has inspired me to do.

 

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8. Five questions for Judith Viorst

judith viorst by milton viorst Five questions for Judith Viorst

Photo: Milton Viorst

Judith Viorst, creator of Alexander (he of the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), writes about another little boy who might just wish he could curl back up in bed. The young protagonist of And Two Boys Booed (Farrar/Ferguson, 4–7 years) is excited to perform in the school talent show… until it’s almost his turn. With equal parts realism, reassurance, gentle humor, and inventive wordplay, Viorst sets up a familiar stage-fright scenario and gives her main character an ingenious way to get himself out of it.

1. What was your inspiration for this multilayered book?

JV: My inspiration was my granddaughter Olivia, daughter of Alexander, who came over to my house one afternoon after a talent show at her summer day camp. When I asked how her portion of the talent show had gone, she replied, “Two boys booed.” To my shame I didn’t immediately offer her a hug and sympathy. Instead, my first response was, “Great book title!” I then had to figure out a story to go with the title.

2. Who thought of those terrific flaps?

viorst and two boys booed Five questions for Judith ViorstJV: I believe it was Sophie Blackall, the amazing illustrator of the book, who came up with the brilliant idea of doing flaps. But her brilliance is evident in all kinds of other ways as well: in the richly detailed double-page spread of our narrator’s many, many varied activities during the course of which he practiced singing his song; in the delicious specificity of every child in the story; and in the depiction of our narrator shrinking deeper and deeper into his shirt as his stage fright mounts.

3. Those two boys: were they jealous? Mean-spirited? Or just acting like boys?

JV: The two boys were being rather unkind, booing a kid because he was too scared to do what he was supposed to do, and then continuing to boo even after he did it. I wish they had been more sympathetic, and I hope their teacher had a little talk with them after the talent show.

4. Would your Alexander be onstage with the narrator? Or in the peanut gallery with the boys? (Maybe it would depend on the day!)

JV: Alexander could be fierce, frustrated, grumpy, but I don’t think he’d be either scared to perform or unkind to those who were.

5. Do you get stage fright?

JV: I had terrible stage fright all the way through college. I remember being told I had to stand in front of one of my history classes and read a paper I had written and offering to write a second paper if I could just please hand them both in and not read them aloud. I now give talks to large audiences without the slightest flicker of stage fright, but don’t ask me how that happened.

From the August 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book

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9. Best Selling Kids Series | August 2014

This month we have a blast from the past on top of The Children’s Book Review’s best selling kids series list. Who remembers the Mr. Men and Little Miss books?

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10. Illustration Inspiration: Christopher Weyant

Christopher Weyant’s work has been published worldwide in books, newspapers, magazines, and online. His cartoons are in permanent collection at The Whitney Museum of American Art and The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL is his first children’s book.

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11. Who’s doing the thinking?

Over the summer, I’ve been doing some literacy work with an educational consulting group here in Boston — we’re taking some of their existing professional development (PD) and classroom tools and modifying them to better address the Common Core. Last week, I went with some other members of the team to a PD session for high school teachers titled “Who’s Doing the Thinking?” In light of the Common Core, this workshop was designed to help teachers accurately assess the thinking demands in their classroom, and to make informed decisions around when we should guide students in diving into complex texts, and when we should let them do it on their own.

As part of this workshop, we watched a video of a high-performing 9th grade ELA classroom. The students were seated in a modified semi-circle having a whole-class discussion around themes in the latest chapter of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — a literary nonfiction text they were reading together. As the teacher facilitated the discussion, she skillfully asked probing questions like “What makes you say that?” “Where in the text can you find evidence to support that?” “Why do you think that?”  Her questions enabled students to really ground their thinking in textual evidence — a key piece of Common Core reading.

However, I couldn’t help but notice another teacher move that happened often. After each student finished giving evidence and making a statement, the teacher almost always offered a “summary plus.” That is, she concisely restated the student’s point and added some of her own thinking to the student’s comment. I likely noticed this because I do it all the time: taking a student comment and adding more detail. Now, I think this is sometimes wholly appropriate, but after watching about ten minutes of this video and reflecting on my own practice, I wondered, Shouldn’t we be trying to get students to do these “summary pluses”? In a perfect world, wouldn’t we be nearly absent from the conversation?

The video clip I watched happened towards the beginning of a unit, and I have no doubt that the discussion was more “teacher heavy” than later discussions would be. But the video still got me thinking. In addition to simply probing students to give evidence, what can we as teachers say and do to encourage students to give those mini-summaries? One thing I’ve decided I’d like to try in my classroom this fall is to be very explicit about my “summary pluses.” During early discussions of text, I will tell my students exactly what I’m doing when I rephrase and add my own thinking, and then I’ll slowly try to release the responsibility to them.

Giving up control of the thinking in a classroom is so much harder than it looks, but as I delve into the Common Core this summer, I’m realizing more and more how necessary it is. I’m excited to really practice what I preach this fall, and I’m looking forward to hearing from other educators on how you navigate the thinking balance in your classrooms!

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12. Little Jimmy Says, “Same is Lame,” by Jimmy Vee | Dedicated Review

As a children’s entertainer, Jimmy Vee has combined his love for kids and passion of children’s books in his rhyming picture book by using his “Same Is Lame” philosophy—a philosophy that is all about self-­‐acceptance and knowing it’s okay to be different, as well as embracing the differences of others.

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13. Best Selling Picture Books | August 2014

Every single book on this list is purely entertaining, each in their own special way. Like all good picture books, the illustrations are winning. As per usual, we've shared our hand selected list of the most popular picture books from the nationwide best selling picture books, as listed by The New York Times.

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14. Best New Kids Stories | August 2014

This month we're featuring a decidedly fantastical themed list of popular kids stories perfect for ages 8-12. Star Wars fans will be stoked to read Jeffrey Brown's Goodnight Darth Vader (an all ages funny read) and Tom Angleberger's latest Origami Yoda book.

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15. Happy birthday, Harry!

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

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

 

Book reviews

Movie reviews

Editorials

mj12 Happy birthday, Harry!Articles

Blog posts

Recommended read-alikes list

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16. Why are we doing any of this?

Every teacher has heard it before: if you’re teaching students to succeed on the Test, then you’re teaching them the skills they’ll need to succeed in college and beyond.

And if you’re like me, you’ve either inwardly or outwardly scoffed at this claim.

As I use the summer to reflect on this past school year and to begin planning for the upcoming one, I’m thinking about this in terms of my Advanced Placement English Language and Composition course. Thankfully, I’m not under much external pressure to ensure all my students earn qualifying scores on the AP exam in May. But I do feel responsible for preparing them adequately for the Test since it has the potential to beef up their transcripts and earn them college credit.

But is the purpose of the class to pass the exam, or is it to prepare students for reading, writing, and thinking at a college level? Does preparing them for the exam do just that in this specific instance?

I would argue that part of it does but part of it does not. In particular, the reading section of the AP English Lang. & Comp. exam fails to imitate authentic college-level work. The section consists of four one-page passages — usually taken from varying disciplines and time periods — each followed by multiple choice questions testing a variety of reading and rhetorical analysis skills. Students have one hour.

But in how many college courses were you handed single-page excerpts accompanied by multiple choice questions? How many of your college exams looked like this?

In my experience (as an English undergrad and then as an Education grad student) the answer to both questions is zero. I had to read book upon book upon book, many of which were unfamiliar, dense, and complex. If we weren’t reading a book, then we were reading long, scholarly articles. We read. We thought. We discussed. We wrote. We did not answer multiple-choice questions.

Yet, answering multiple-choice questions like the ones on the AP exam is the kind of skill that can theoretically improve with explicit instruction and practice. So do I spend my time having my students do just that? Or do I spend it having them read/discuss/write about the kind of texts they will encounter in college and beyond?

The College Board and many others would probably say both — but if the point of practicing multiple-choice questions is simply to become good at answering multiple-choice questions, then why are we doing any of this?

While this isn’t a new question, I still haven’t heard a convincing answer.

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17. Chicks ‘n ducks ‘n geese

WONDERFUL FARM HARPER Chicks n ducks n geeseWe’re off tomorrow to spend a few days with the Sendak Fellows, Nora Krug and Harry Bliss, at a farm Maurice owned in upstate New York. (Why did he need a farm? Did he need a place to get away from it all from his place to get away from it all in the wilds of rural Connecticut?). The management tells me my job there is to “be Maurice,” but someone and his pal Wolfie are up in heaven laughing themselves sick at that suggestion. Instead, I imagine myself poking my head around easels, saying “perhaps a little more green there, Nora” or “Harry, you know, Brownie here would make an excellent companion to Bailey, yes?”

I guess the one thing I can tell them about is what Maurice loved and hated–and it was generally one or the other, whether it came to his taste in pictures, movies, TV, books, music or food. “I love it!” “I hate it!” The tricky thing with him, though, is that even though you coulda sworn he’d said he loved something, catch him ten minutes later and his passion had reversed. What I wish I had was Maurice’s talent for contagious enthusiasm: he could make you love what he loved, even if, years later, you finally–secretly and hoping he doesn’t overhear–admit you really don’t find Christa Wolf all that enjoyable.

I’m sure I’ll think of something to say. And we’re going to Tanglewood to meet Lizzie Borden; we’ll show Brownie the land of his birth (he was found wandering in the Berkshire woods); and I’m to be given the opportunity to milk goats. I hope I can see them run!

 

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18. The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern | Book Review

Readers will instantly fall in love with Maggie. Her narrative voice is smart, funny and clever, which makes her a highly entertaining, endearing, complex, triple threat.

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19. Using Dear Mr. Henshaw to encourage students to write

dearmrhenshaw 200x300 Using Dear Mr. Henshaw to encourage students to writeDear Mr. Henshaw, a Newbery medal-winning book by Beverly Cleary, is a great way to get students to think about some of the therapeutic benefits of writing. Of course, you don’t have to mention how helpful writing can be when you need to sort out feelings but you can let students figure this out on their own as they read the book.

Leigh Botts writes to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw, as part of a school assignment and when the author writes back and asks Lee questions, his mother says he has to respond. Through his correspondence with Mr. Henshaw Lee learns about accepting life’s difficulties and — with the encouragement of Mr. Henshaw — starts to keep a journal.

In addition to coping with his parents’ divorce and missing his father, Leigh also deals with moving, adjusting to a new school, and having his lunch continually stolen — certainly timeless topics.

While some children may not think of writing letters to an author, they may keep a journal or know someone who keeps one. There are a lot of projects that can be added to the study of this book, including writing letters or journal entries as one of the characters. Students could also write to offer advice to the characters. Introducing students to the basic format of a personal letter (or e-mail) will provide valuable experience.

Mr. Henshaw certainly proves to be more interesting (and interested) that Leigh probably imagined. Reading this book could also foster discussion about the kinds of people your students admire (authors, celebrities, athletes) and what makes a person worthy of admiration. Ask if there are any local, “hometown heroes” that your students admire in addition to people who are nationally or internationally famous.

One of the many takeaways from the book for adults is that adults encourage Leigh to write and while he is hesitant at first, it grows on him. Students who would not write on their own may learn to enjoy it more if a teacher or parent lays the groundwork for them to get comfortable first.

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20. Lately Lily Travel-Centered Books from Micah Player

The Lately Lily books and activity sets, bought together or separately, are beautifully designed items that not only tell an interesting story about travel and adventure, but also encourage children to be storytellers and chroniclers themselves.

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21. A winter’s tale

exit A winters taleIf you aren’t completely burned out on dystopian fiction, do go see* Snowpiercer, a big, violent, gorgeous, baroque movie about the end of civilization, its last remnant perpetually traveling the ice-covered globe in a nonstop great big train. There is NO love triangle, with eros limited to a couple of crypto-gay warrior-bonding types, and plenty to thrill your (mine, anyway) inner ten-year-old, like an exciting shootout between cars as the train curves around an enormous bend. There’s high camp, too, supplied by Tilda Swinton and Alison Pill as the banality of evil and a gun-toting schoolteacher, respectively. (Wait, did I just repeat myself?) And Ed Harris is on hand, playing–spoiler alert–the very same part he played in The Truman Show.

But best of all is the look of the thing, from the icy landscapes and ruined, empty cities the train charges through to the train itself, from the squalid cars at the back where the slave labor lives to the sleek sushi bar, spa, and disco for the more privileged passengers at the front. One of the more subversive elements of the film is the way it gets you to think “why, yes, I could totally enjoy watching from the dome car as the world freezes to death. Waiter!”

The ending–spoiler alert again–is beautifully and starkly ambiguous. Life or death. I understand that the French graphic novel on which the movie is based has a sequel, but truly: none needed.

*In a movie theater, if you can. While the film is available on TV as an on-demand feature, you really want the big screen and sound for this one.

 

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22. Never Fear…WriteOnCon 2014 Is Here!

Keep calm and carry on, folks. We know the announcement is a little late this year, but WriteOnCon 2014 is happening, and it’s going to be awesome! Mark your calendars for August 26-27, and get those pitches ready, because we’re in the process of lining up a stellar list of Ninja Agents and Editors who are looking for the next big thing.

You’ll notice a few changes this time around. This year, we decided to put more focus on the things you tell us you love the most. You come to us for unprecedented access to agents and editors. We’re bringing the Ninja Agents and Editors to our forums in force. And we’ll also be holding a couple of live events to give you a chance to ask all your burning questions. We’re eliminating some of the things like blog posts and vlogs that didn’t generate as much interest—at least for this year. We’d love to hear what you think about this pared down WriteOnCon when it’s all said and done.

Over the next month, we’ll be cleaning up the site and the forums and finalizing the schedule. Keep an eye on this space or follow us on twitter (@writeoncon) or facebook (writeoncon) to stay up to date on the latest and greatest. Until then, get to work on those pitches, because the countdown has begun!

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23. Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 Edition

This column is part of a series of recommended board book roundups, formerly published twice a year, now published every season. You can find the previous installments here. Don’t miss Viki Ash’s primer “What Makes a Good Board Book?” from the March/April 2010 Horn Book Magazine.

blair baby animal farm Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionBaby Animal Farm
by Karen Blair
Candlewick    18 pp.
4/14    978-0-7636-7069-6    $6.99

Blair, doing her best Helen Oxenbury impersonation (successfully!), depicts a gaggle of cutie-patootie toddlers (accompanied by a puppy and one of the kids’ teddy bear) visiting a farm populated by baby animals: ducklings, chicks, piglet, etc. Simple, active sentences include accompanying kid-pleasing sound effects: “Feed the lamb. Baa, baa, baa… / Time for lunch. Nom, nom, nom.”

 

deneux jojos first word book Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionJojo’s First Word Book
by Xavier Deneux
Twirl    60 pp.
3/14    978-2-8480-1943-7    $16.99

Little rabbit Jojo and his sister Lulu learn basic kid-skills: getting dressed, eating with utensils, using the potty, etc. Each clear, uncluttered illustration shows one or both bunnies with items around them labeled with simple words (in script, for what it’s worth): “Jojo and Lulu’s house: chimney, roof, window, mailbox, door.” The sweet illustrations feature lots of rounded edges and saturated colors. Sturdy pages include thick tabs to quickly flip to four sections (“Jojo and Lulu,” “Home,” “Out and about,” “Animal friends”).

 

holub be patient pandora Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionBe Patient, Pandora! [Mini Myths]
by Joan Holub and Leslie Patricelli
Appleseed/Abrams    26 pp.
9/14    978-1-4197-0951-7    $6.95

 

holub play nice hercules Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionPlay Nice, Hercules! [Mini Myths]
by Joan Holub and Leslie Patricelli
Appleseed/Abrams    26 pp.
9/14    978-1-4197-0954-8    $6.95

Board book master Patricelli (Yummy Yucky; No No Yes Yes; The Birthday Box, among many others starring the adorable gender-neutral baby with the single spiral curl) and Ready-to-Read maven Holub (recent coauthor of the middle-grade Goddess Girls series) team up for these witty introductions to Greek myths for preschoolers — and also starring preschoolers. Hercules’s bearded, jeans-wearing dad tells him to “play nice” with his baby sister (“I am not nice. I am strong!”). Pandora’s mom warns: “Do not open the box” — which turns out to contain cupcakes. The last page in each book gives a very brief synopsis of each Greek myth.

 

samoun how gator says goodbye Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionHow Gator Says Good-Bye!
by Abigail Samoun; illus. by Sarah Watts
Sterling    22 pp.
2/14    978-1-4549-0821-0    $6.95

 

samoun how hippo says hello Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionHow Hippo Says Good-Bye!
by Abigail Samoun; illus. by Sarah Watts
Sterling    22 pp.
2/14    978-1-4549-0820-3    $6.95

In each book the title animal character visits seven countries — France, Russia, Egypt, India, China, Japan, Argentina — then returns home to the U.S. (a map appears at the end). Left-hand pages include text (“He says ‘Alvida!’ in India”) with pronunciation (“[AL-veh-da]”), while right-hand pages feature friendly scenes of Hippo or Gator smiling and waving at the people (well, animals) who live in each place. Simple shapes and subdued hues make these useful books eye-pleasing and approachable.

 

thomas birthday for cow Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionA Birthday for Cow
by Jan Thomas
Houghton    38 pp.
4/14    978-0-544-17424-5    $7.99

Thomas’s gleefully silly picture book about turnip-obsessed Duck trying to hijack Cow’s birthday cake prep translates well into a board-book version. If anything, Duck’s personality is even more outsized in this smaller format, and little kids will easily be able to follow the action and the humor.

 

van genechten 8 9 and 10 2 Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 Edition8 9 and 10 [Odd One Out]
by Guido van Genechten
Clavis Toddler    20 pp.
2/14    978-1605371870    $12.95

 

van genechten happy angry sad Board Book Roundup: Summer 2014 EditionHappy Angry Sad [Odd One Out]
by Guido van Genechten
Clavis Toddler    20 pp.
2/14    978-1605371863    $12.95

These lively books reward close observation from little kids. Each spread features an array of adorable, nearly identical looking critters (flamingos, camels, rhinos, spiders). The text asks a series of questions, including those that are number-based in 8 9 and 10 and emotion-based in Happy Angry Sad: e.g., for ladybugs — “Who has 4 dots and who has 5? Who can’t keep up? And who is going to the beach?” Spoiler alert: at the end of 8 9 and 10 all the animals end up at the beach; the mountains are their destination in Happy Angry Sad.

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24. Yaqui’s text set

medina yaqui delgado1 Yaquis text set Since I wrote recently about using a text set built around the idea of respect and the title Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, a few people have asked what other texts we used alongside it. Our* essential question was “What makes someone worthy of respect?”

We were aiming for a set that spanned genres, and so the resulting set was both too big to use in our short time but also made of texts that weren’t only from the YA world. It included the some of the following:

  • Poems like “The Ballad of the Landlord” by Langston Hughes and “Ex-Basketball Player” by John Updike
  • A series of quotes about respect from famous people
  • The short story ‘Chuckie’ by Victor LaValle
  • A couple of articles about bystanding and upstanding when bad things happen to others
  • Lou Holtz’s famous first locker room speech at Notre Dame
  • A couple of pieces from the This I Believe collection having to do with self-respect (thisibelieve.org)
  • Several anecdotes from the book Discovering Wes Moore about choices, misunderstandings, and facing adversity

This group of texts are all related to the idea of respect and who gets it and who doesn’t, and the different readings allowed us to consider respect from a variety of vantage points as we tried to put ourselves in the shoes of Piddy and Yaqui in the anchor novel.  They also gave us lots of time to dabble in writing different genres.

Text sets are such a fun way to really think hard about important stuff, and I’m excited to keep adding to this set about respect.

*This curriculum for the BGA/BU Summer Institute was developed in collaboration with my awesome friends Marisa Olivo and Lucia Mandelbaum from BGA and Scott Seider from BU. 

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25. Reading about WWI

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

Picture Books

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nonfiction

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

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

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

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

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

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