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Results 1 - 25 of 183
1. The Sittin' Up - a review

I would never think of "North Carolina fiction" as a genre in children's literature, but I seem to have read quite a bit of it lately. I picked up Three Times Lucky  because my daughter is attending college in North Carolina.  I loved it!!  Later, I had the good fortune of reviewing The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (also by Sheila Turnage) for AudioFile Magazine.  I can't say enough how quirky and wonderful and timeless these books are!

Another North Carolina book caught my eye last year (I love the cover art!) but I just got around to reading it.

The Sittin' Up by Sheila P. Moses (Putnam, 2014).

The premise for The Sittin' Up is an interesting one.  The year is 1940, and former slave, Mr. Bro. Wiley has died.  Stanbury "Bean" Jones is 12 years old, finally old enough to attend his first "sittin' up," an area tradition with similarities to an "Irish wake" or Judaism's "sitting shiva."  There is not a lot of action in The Sittin' Up - something I've seen it knocked for in other reviews.  I, however, loved the opportunity to take my time and get to know the rich personalities of the Low Meadows community, where they treat death with sorrow, remembrance, practicality, and humor.

Mr. Bro. Wiley lived with Bean and his parents, Stanbury and Magnolia Jones, and was revered by the everyone in the closely-knit African American community. Bean's father, a stutterer, is generally accepted as a leader of the community and is a foreman on the tobacco farm where many of the Low Country men work for the white, wealthy, Mr. Thomas. Bean's mother is Magnolia, a kind, commonsense woman with a baby on the way.

Other characters include Miss Florenza (the bootlegging sinner who dares wear red to a sittin' up) and Miss Lottie Pearl (Pole's busybody mother and Magnolia's best friend),

"Yes, Lord. Please help us," Miss Florenza said.  Miss Lottie Pearl rolled her eyes at Miss Florenza.  Poor Miss Florenza can't even talk to Jesus without Miss Lottie Pearl putting her two cents in.  

Bean's best friend is Pole (they go together like a bean to a pole), and there's the preacher (who is more concerned with fancy clothes, cars, and women, than his parishioners),

"I thought we were in a Depression," Pole whispered to me.
"We are." I whispered back.
"Look like to me Reverend Hornbuckle should have been thinking about how the folk at Sandy Branch Baptist Church are gonna eat come winter instead of buying a new car," Pole said.  Wasn't sure if the preacher heard my sassy friend, but she didn't seem to care.  She got a whole of Miss Lottie Pearl in her as sho' as Mr. Bro. Wiley was dead in the house.
There's also Uncle Goat the liar,
Ma swears Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in Northampton County.  Papa said that ain't so.  He said Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in the state of North Carolina. That's how he got the nickname Goat.  Ma says he eats the truth up faster than a goat eats grass.

Even Mule Bennett has a personality,
"I will never forget Mr. Bro. Wiley," I thought as we headed to town.  Mule Bennett must have felt the same way.  He was slowing down and barely lifted his head.  Papa kept saying, "Get-get, get up, mule, get up." But Mule Bennett took his own sweet time.
Mr. Bro. Wiley,the reader gets to know through the remembrances of the living.

Yes, this is a story about segregation and how a great catastrophe serves as a catalyst for change, but that is the backdrop for a story that is mostly about people - wonderfully flawed people - people who sometimes do the wrong thing, but choose the right one when it matters - people who know the value of dignity and community - people who find sorrow and joy and humor in the small occurrences of daily life  - people - just plain people - just like us.

I may have nothing in common with North Carolina sharecroppers of 1940, but these people "spoke" to me, nonetheless.  If you enjoy historical fiction with a character-driven plot, you'll love The Sittin' Up.



Next on my list of North Carolina fiction: Stella by Starlight. More on that one later.

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2. Echo: A Novel - a review

If this is how the year is starting out, it's going to be a banner year for middle-grade books.  First, Gordon Korman's Masterminds (more on that fantastic new thriller another day) and now Echo: A Novel.

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. 2015. Echo: A Novel. New York: Scholastic.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of Echo from Scholastic and was intrigued that it was wrapped in musical notation paper and had a smartly-boxed Hohner Blues Band harmonica tied to it.


I was happy to see an apparently music-related book, and what somewhat surprised to find that Echo begins with a fairytale, "The Thirteenth Harmonica of Otto Messenger," a fairytale replete with abandoned princesses, a magical forest, a mean-spirited witch, and a prophecy,

"Your fate is not yet sealed.  Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed."

Though brief, I became enthralled with the tale and was surprised and taken aback when I reached Part One and found myself not in the fairytale forest, but in

Trossingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, 1933, home to the world's oldest harmonica manufacturer.  I couldn't wait to find out what became of the abandoned princesses, but soon found myself wrapped up in the story of young Friedrich Schmidt, a German Jew during Hitler's ascendance to power.  This kind-hearted, young boy of a musical family was surely destined to be gathered up in the anti-Semitic wave sweeping through Germany. I became engrossed in Friedrich's story, anxiously hoping that things would work out for him and his family, and was again surprised when I reached Part Two and found myself in

Philadelphia, 1935, home of the then-famous Albert Hoxie and the Philadelphia Harmonica Band, and of the Bishop's Home for Friendless and Destitute Children, where I found myself in the company of piano-playing orphans, Mike and Frankie Flannery.  Their story was no less heart-wrenching than Friedrich's, and I found myself desperately rooting for the young boys when I suddenly arrived

in a migrant worker's community in Southern California, 1942, where young Ivy Maria Lopez was about to play her harmonica on the Colgate Family Hour radio show, but her excitement was short-lived.  I fell in with this hard-working, American family and hoped, along with Ivy, for her brother's safe return from the war.

Of course, there's more, but this is where I will leave off.

Pam Muñoz Ryan has written a positively masterful story that will take the reader from the realm of magic through the historical travails of the infirm, the oppressed, and the poor in the midst of the 20th century.  Through it all, music gathers the stories together in a symphony of hope and possibility.  In music, and in Echo, there is a magic that will fill your soul.

It may only be February, but I predict that praise for Echo will continue throughout the year.


On a library shelf near you - February 24, 2015.

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3. Feathers: Not Just for Flying

As I've mentioned before, I had the great honor and opportunity to serve again as a second round judge on the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction book award panel for the Cybils Awards.  If you're not familiar with the Cybils awards, they are the Children and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.

Our judging panel chose the following as the 2014 Cybils Award winner for best Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction book:

Congratulations to Melissa Stewart,  Sarah S. Brannen, and Charlesbridge



The judging panel's description:
Using child-friendly similes, Feathers shows that there is both beauty and purpose in nature and that, although we do not fly, we have many things in common with birds, such as the need to be safe, attractive, industrious, communicative, and well-fed. The simple, large text is suitable for reading to very young children, while the inset boxes contain more details for school-aged kids. The scrapbook-style watercolor illustrations show each feather at life size, and provide a nice jumping-off point for individual projects. Science, art, and prose work together to make this the perfect book to share with budding young artists, painters, naturalists, and scientists, and it will be appreciated by parents, teachers, and kids.


Melissa Stewart's website offers teaching resources and activities to go along with Feathers.

Be sure to check out all of the Cybils award winning books (and apps!) at [http://www.cybils.com/2015/02/the-2014-cybils-awards.html ]

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4. Muddy Max - a graphic novel review

I have been busy lately with review and blogging obligations, as well as work and preparation for the holiday season, but I did take time out to read a copy of Elizabeth Rusch's graphic novel, Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Thanks to the hard-working intern who brought it to my attention and supplied me with a copy.


Rusch, Elizabeth. 2014. Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel.  Illustrated by Mike Lawrence.

Max lives in the aptly-named suburban town of Marsh Creek. In addition to the marsh on the outskirts of town, mud is everywhere in town as well, making it almost impossible for the child of neat-freak parents to stay clean!  Max becomes suspicious of his parents'secretive habits, frequent trips to the marsh, and fanatical obsession with his cleanliness.  When he accidentally discovers that mud gives him superpowers, he and his friend Patrick become determined to figure out exactly what is going on in Marsh Creek.

This is an easy-to-read graphic, sci-fi novel that should be popular with younger kids and reluctant readers. The panels are easy to follow, with simple, but expressive drawings in muted browns and grays that reflect the book's muddy locale. Hopefully, future installments will add some dimension to the Max's female friend. Not willing to completely divest herself of her nonfiction roots, Rusch adds some real science about mud and its denizens in the back matter.

I predict that more than one member of my book club will want to take this one home.  I'll have to place some holds on library copies.



A Teacher's Guide to Muddy Max is available here.


Elizabeth Rusch is also a talented author of nonfiction. Last year I reviewed her book, Volcano Rising.


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5. The Port Chicago 50 - a review


Sheinkin, Steve. 2014. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. New York: Roaring Brook.

The Port Chicago 50, as they became known, were a group of African American Navy sailors assigned to load munitions at Port Chicago in California, during WWII.  The sailors' work detail options were limited; the Navy was segregated and Blacks were not permitted to fight at sea. The sailors worked around the clock, racing to load ammunition on ships headed to battle in the Pacific. Sailors had little training and were pressured to load the dangerous cargo as quickly as possible.

After an explosion at the port killed 320 men, injured many others, and obliterated the docks and ships anchored there, many men initially refused to continue working under the same dangerous conditions. In the end, fifty men disobeyed the direct order to return to work. They were tried for mutiny in a case with far-reaching implications.  There was more at stake than the Naval careers of fifty sailors.  At issue were the Navy's (and the country's) policy of segregation, and the racist treatment of the Black sailors.  Years before the Civil Rights movement began, the case of the Port Chicago 50 drew the attention of the NAACP, a young Thurgood Marshall, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Through the words of the young sailors, the reader of The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights relives a slice of history as a Black sailor in 1944.

Steven Sheinkin combines excellently researched source materials, a little-known, compelling story, and an accessible writing style to craft another nonfiction gem.

Read an excerpt of The Port Chicago 50 here.

Contains:
  • Table of Contents
  • Source Notes
  • List of Works Cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Picture Credits
  • Index
See today's Nonfiction Monday roundup at http://nonfictionmonday.wordpress.com 



Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher.



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6. Favorites of 2014

As the years go by, I get less and less comfortable choosing “best of” books at year’s end.  There’s no way that I can read all of the deserving books, and what I may find moving or amusing may not resonate with others.  However, with that being said, and in no particular order,

here are my personal favorites of 2014:


Juvenile Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
Adult Fiction
Juvenile Nonfiction
Picture Books
Audio Books
Graphic Novels

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7. A Dog Called Homeless - a book trailer

In preparation for an upcoming 4-week club for kids that I'll be hosting, I created a book trailer for A Dog Called Homeless, winner of the 2013 Middle Grade Schneider Family Book Award,  The Schneider Family Book Awards "honor an author or illustrator for the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences."

A Dog Called Homeless is written by Sarah Lean and published by Harper Collins. I hope you enjoy it.


I'll be adding this to my Multimedia Booktalks page.

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8. The Accidental Highwayman - an audiobook review

Tripp, Ben. 2014. The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides. New York: Tor Teen.


Can I tell you how much I like this book?  I reviewed it several months ago for AudioFile Magazine and could hardly wait until they published my review so that I could freely blog about my affinity for it!  Although "swashbuckling" is the term I've seen most often in reviews of The Accidental Highwayman, I would characterize it as a mix of daring deeds and derring-do, of historical fiction and magical conviction.  You can read my official review here, I listened to the audio version, but would guess that the printed copy is equally enjoyable.

To summarize:

Amidst a grim 18th century English setting arises the accidental highwayman, Whistling Jack.  Teenager Kit Bristol makes the unlikely yet unavoidable transformation from circus performer to manservant to famous highwayman tasked with the rescue of a mysterious princess from an enchanted coach.  Narrator Steve West employs the English "standard accent" for his presentation of the gallant robber.  He delivers non-stop action and suspense while maintaining an air of wise contemplation suited to this retrospective narrative of daring deeds from a magical past.

This is the first in an expected series. Judging from the effort expended on the series' official website, http://kitbristol.com , they knew right out of the gate that this one would be popular!  Enjoy the goofy trailer (there are two more on the site).

 

Note:
As a fledgling ukulele player myself, I love that Ben Tripp plays the ukulele in this trailer.

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9. The Last Song - a review

Wiseman, Eva. 2012. The Last Song. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra.

Some locations and eras appear regularly in historical fiction  - the US during the Civil War, the Midwest during the Dust Bowl Era, the British Isles in the medieval period, Europe during the Holocaust, the list goes on ... but seldom does it include Spain during the Inquisition.

In this first-person, chronological account, teenager Doña Isabel learns her family's deepest secret - her parents are not devout Catholics as she was raised to be.  Secretly, they practice the Jewish faith - a practice punishable by death under the rule of Ferdinand and Isabella, and their Grand Inquisitor, Tomás de Torquemada.  Set in Toledo, Spain, 1491, Isabel is the daughter of the King's physician, a position that has always kept the family in wealth and privilege.  As the Inquisition grows more brutal, suspected heretics are forced to wear sambenitos (sackcloth), they are beaten, tortured, murdered, and burned alive at autos-da-fé.

I looked around to keep awake.  The church's walls were festooned with the sambenitos of the heretics who had been burned alive at the stake during different autos-de-fé. 

"So many sambenitos," I whispered to Mama.  "They should take them off the wall."

She rolled her eyes. "They are supposed to be reminders to the families of the condemned heretics.  They are warnings to them not to follow in the footsteps of their relatives," she whispered.  "They are a warning to us all."

 Her words filled me with fear.

Her parents decide that to keep Isabel safe from the Inquisition, they will promise her in marriage to the son of the King and Queen's most trusted advisor. Luis is loathsome, however, and instead of Luis, Isabel falls in love with Yonah, a young Jewish silversmith, Soon the lives of the entire family are in danger.

If Isabel abandons her lifelong faith a little too easily and if Eva Wiseman paints Isabel's future a little too brightly, this is a small price to pay for a book suits an older, middle-grade audience and draws attention to a terrible period of religious persecution that is not often covered for this age group, grades 6 and up.



Spoiler:
Ironically (in light of today's current political, social and religious climate), Isabel and her family leave Spain counting Moorish refugees as their friends.  Together they head to Morocco in search of freedom and a better life. How much has changed; and yet, how much remains the same.  We learn so little.


Note:
My copy of The Last Song was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I'm sorry that I did not get to it sooner.

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10. Egg & Spoon - an audio book review

I can save you some time today. If you'd like the short review of Egg & Spoon, click here to read my review for AudioFile Magazine. However, if you want to hear more about this wonderful book, read on!

Maguire, Gregory. 2014. Egg & Spoon. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio.  Read by Michael Page.

Can what we want change who we are? 
Have patience and you will see.

Set in the tsarist Russia of the late 18th or early 19th century, Egg & Spoon is an enchanting mix of historical fiction and magical folklore, featuring switched and mistaken identities, adventurous quests, the witch Baba Yaga, and of course, an egg.

Narrator Michael Page is at his best as the self-proclaimed “unreliable scribe,” who tells the tale from his tower prison cell, claiming to have seen it all through his one blind eye. In a fashion similar to that of Scheherazade, spinning 1001 "Tales of the Arabian Nights," our narrator weaves fantastical stories together and wraps us in their spell.

Ekaterina and Elena are two young girls - one privileged, one peasant - yet so alike that their very lives can be exchanged. Page creates voices so similar that one can believe the subterfuge, yet the voices are also distinct - a necessity in a book written to respect the reader's (or listener's) ability to discern the flow of conversation without the constant insertion of "he said/she said."

One girl finds herself en route to see the tsar, a captive guest of  the haughty and imperious Aunt Sophia on a train to St. Petersburg.  The other finds herself a captive guest of the witch, Baba Yaga, and her curious home that walks on chicken legs. As Baba Yaga, Page is as wildly unpredictable as the witch herself, chortling, cackling, menacing, mothering.

Michael Page is wonderful.  He brings each of author Gregory Maguire's many characters to life with a distinct voice.  He never falls out of character, and his pacing is perfect - measured to keep the listener from being overwhelmed by the story's intricate plot.

Grand and magical, Egg & Spoon is a metaphoric epic for readers from twelve to adult.
Notes:
If you find the egg (or eggs) elusive, you will find the spoon even more so!
My copy of the book was supplied by the publisher. My copy of the audio book was supplied by AudioFile Magazine.  

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11. The Map Trap - a review

Move over, Frindle. A new classic has arrived!

Below is my review of The Map Trap by Andrew Clements, as it appeared in the October, 2014, edition of School Library Journal.

CLEMENTS, Andrew. The Map Trap. 2 CDs. 2:29 hrs. S. & S. Audio. 2014. $14.99. ISBN 9781442357013. digital download.

Gr 3-6 -- Alton Ziegler is crazy about maps. He particularly loves the way they can visually display any manner of information in a variety of ways. Surreptitiously, he collects data and creates humorous maps detailing such trivia as the popularity of lunchroom tables (depicted as a topographical map of the cafeteria) or a weather map of a teacher's clothes. Striped tie today? Look out -- the probability of a pop quiz is high. He never meant for anyone to see his collection, but when it's "mapnapped," there's no telling where the road might lead. Keith Nobbs is perfectly cast as the narrator. He creates a pensive Alton that fits the mood of the story. Clements's (In Harm's Way) use of subjective third-person narration is interesting in that the listener is privy to the inner concerns not only of Alton but of his teacher Miss Wheeling as well. Rarely is a teacher's perspective presented with such honesty and clarity in a middle grade novel. Though Nobbs's voice sometimes cracks when portraying female characters, his delivery, nonetheless, is still pleasing and believable. The Map Trap is a thoughtful, holistic look at the middle school environment that will have wide appeal. 

Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.


The publisher's website contains an audio and a printed excerpt from The Map Trap, as well as a video with author, Andrew Clements.

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12. My Zombie Hamster - a review

Put some fear of the undead into your October reading!

McCreely, Havelock. 2014. My Zombie Hamster. New York: Egmont.
See below for print copy giveaway details.

Zombie Zappers and constant vigilence keep Matt and the residents of his community safe from "deadbeats" - the zombies that live outside the town's protective walls.  So on Christmas Eve, December 24,  Matt Hunter isn't thinking about zombies; he's thinking about the new video game he wants for Christmas.  His mother, however, had a more educational, more nurturing idea. On December 25,  Matt  receives Snuffles the hamster—a dumb, boring, little pet.  At least it was—until it died.

     I'll say one thing for zombie hamsters.  They don't move as slowly as their human counterparts. ...
     Snuffles had curled up and was rolling down the stairs like a bouncing ball.  I raced after him.
     He bolted along the wall.  Dad was carrying a huge pile of firewood inside so the front door was wide open. I tried to get ahead of Snuffles to slam it shut, but I tripped on one of the stupid throw rugs Mom insists on leaving everywhere and landed on my stomach.
     I pushed myself to my knees just in time to see Snuffles dart through the door and out into the front yard.
     Was it my imagination, or did I hear a little undead squeak of triumph as he did so?

In chapters titled with the days beginning on December 24,  Matt chronicles all the events until everything comes to a head at the annual town pet show on Saturday, February 4.

Matt doesn't do it alone, however.  He enlists the help of his friends,
(excerpt from "Thursday, January 2")
I emailed Charlie and told her to come over.  I couldn't keep it a secret any longer.
     "So let me get this straight," she said after I'd explained it to her. "Your dad bought you a hamster from a sleazy store and now it's turned into a zombie?"
     "Yes!"
     "And it's escaped?"
     "Yes!"
     "And you called it Snuffles?" she asked, trying not to laugh.
     "I didn't call it Snuffles! The name sort of came with the hamster.  But now he's called —" I paused dramatically.— "Anti-Snuffles."
At 208 pages, this is a quick read, but despite the adorable cuteness of the cover, it's a suitable choice for older kids, too.  My Zombie Hamster should appeal to grades 3-7.  McCreely does a great job of combining the fear factor with humor.  Matt and his friends are believable middle-schoolers - a little bit snarky, funny, sure of themselves, and prone to making poor choices. This is the first in a series that should have wide appeal.

Want your own copy of My Zombie Hamster?  
Check back tomorrow for an interview with Havelock McCreely
 and a chance to win a print copy of My Zombie Hamster.



(digital review copy provided by the publisher)

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13. My Zombie Hamster - interview and giveaway

With Halloween just around the corner, it's a good time for a zombie book - even better yet - a free zombie book for a lucky winner.  Even if you don't win the book, you can enjoy my interview with Havelock McCreely, author of  the very funny, My Zombie Hamster

Havelock McCreely was kind enough to answer three questions for me.  Here goes ...


Three questions for Havelock McCreely, author of My Zombie Hamster:

1. I’m shocked that MS Word will highlight McCreely as a misspelled word, but not Havelock. Do you need three syllables, or can you get it done in two?
HM:    The name is Irish in origin, so the correct amount of syllables for authentic pronunciation is eight. (Or nine. It depends if you have all your own teeth or not.) But for our purposes, three will suffice.
2. I can find little about you on your “official” bio, other than “Teller of Tall Tales. Adventurer. Swordsman. Discoverer of the Fountain of Youth. Author of many great works, the latest of which is My Zombie Hamster.” Did your discovery of the Fountain of Youth pique your interest in longevity, thus inspiring your interest in zombies, or did another path bring you to zombies? I’ve drunk from your Fountain of Youth, by the way.  It tastes terrible. One does wonder though, what would be the effect of the Fountain of Youth on a zombie?
HM:    Many good questions there. My discovery of the fountain of youth is a story that would put Indiana Jones to shame. And perhaps it will one day be told. Many are the times I’ve thought about writing down my own adventures in a series of easy-to-read volumes aimed at the younger audience. Thrilling is not the word. Well, it’s one word. But there are many others. Exciting. Dangerous. Death-defying. Amazing. (For instance, there’s the time I took up with the traveling circus as they crossed the planes of Africa. This is where I saved one of my young protégés from a life of mind-numbing boredom cleaning up after hippogriffs. Then there’s the time I saved an entire city from the Witch King of Mallidar. And this is where I saved my second protégé. They booth accompanied me on my many adventures and were with me when I discovered the fabled city of Shangri-La (which lead directly to my discovery of the fountain of youth.) Perhaps someday these tales will be told. 
As to the taste, yes, I agree.  Like rusted metal filtered through an old sock in which cabbage has been boiled. It’s not pleasant. 
Finally, as to my discovery of the fountain possibly inspiring my interest in zombies, yes. You are indeed correct. The fountain was guarded by a village of zombies who had all drunk from the fountain. It brought back their minds and consciousness (but did not repair their bodies.) That was where I got the idea of my little twist on zombies.
3. And of course, the most important question, what will Anti-Snuffles do next?
HM:    Never fear, he will be back. I have recently put down my fountain pen and completed the second book in the series, Attack of the Zombie Clones. It features everything from the first book, but bigger, better, and undead-er. 

Thanks for being a good sport, and best wishes to you for continued success with My Zombie Hamster.



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14. Mr. Ferris and His Wheel - a review

Davis, Kathryn Gibbs. 2014. Mr. Ferris and his Wheel. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Illustrated by Gilbert Ford.

Though written in a fully illustrated, engaging and narrative nonfiction style, Mr. Ferris and his Wheel is nevertheless, a well-sourced and researched picture book for older readers.

The story of the 1863, Chicago World's Fair debut of the world's first Ferris wheel (or Monster Wheel, as Mr. Ferris originally named it),  is told in a flowing and entertaining style,
     George arrived in Chicago and made his case to the construction chief of the fair.
     The chief stared at George's drawings.  No one had ever created a fair attraction that huge and complicated.  The chief told George that his structure was "so flimsy it would collapse."
     George had heard enough.  He rolled up his drawings and said, "You are an architect, sir. I am an engineer."
     George knew something the chief did not.  His invention would be delicate-looking and strong.  It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal—steel.
and

it contains sidebars that impart more technical information that might otherwise interrupt the flow of the story,
George was a steel expert, and his structure would be made of a steel alloy.  Alloys combine a super-strong mix of a hard metal with two or more chemical elements.
George Ferris' determination is a story in itself, but it is the engineering genius of his wheel that steals the show.  A "must-have" for any school or public library.

Some facts about the original "Ferris" wheel:
  • 834' in circumference
  • 265' above the ground
  • 3,000 electric lightbulbs (this itself was a marvel in 1893!)
  • forty velvet seats per car
Ferris wheel at the Chicago World's Fair c1893.
 Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division[/caption]

STEM Friday

It's STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
See all of today's STEM-related posts at the STEM Friday blog.


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15. Brown Girl Dreaming

Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.

Despite the title, Brown Girl Dreaming is most certainly not just a book for brown girls or girls.  Jacqueline Woodson's memoir-in-verse relates her journey to discover her passion for writing. Her story is framed by her large, loving family within the confines of the turbulent Civil Rights Era.

Sometimes a book is so well-received, so popular, that it seems that enough has been said (and said well); anything else would just be noise. Rather than add another Brown Girl Dreaming review to the hundreds of glowing ones already in print and cyberspace, I offer you links to other sites, interviews and reviews related to Brown Girl Dreaming.  And, I'll pose a question on memoirs in children's literature.

First, the links:

And now something to ponder:

As a librarian who often helps students in choosing books for school assignments, I have written many times about the dreaded biography assignment - excessive page requirements,  narrow specifications, etc.

Obviously, a best choice for a children's book is one written by a noted children's author. Sadly, many (by no means all!) biographies are formula-driven, series-type books that are not nearly as engaging as ones written by the best authors.  Rare is the author of young people's literature who writes an autobiography for children as Ms. Woodson has done.  When such books exist, they are usually memoirs focusing only on the author's childhood years.  This is perfectly appropriate because the reader can relate to that specified period of a person's lifetime.  Jon Sciezska wrote one of my favorite memoirs for children, Knucklehead, and Gary Paulsen's, How Angel Peterson Got his Name also comes to mind as a stellar example.  These books, however, don't often fit the formula required to answer common student assignment questions, i.e., birth, schooling, employment, marriages, accomplishments, children, death. Students are reluctant to choose a book that will leave them with a blank space(s) on an assignment.

I wonder what teachers, other librarians and parents think about this. Must the biography assignment be a traditional biography, or can a memoir (be it in verse, prose, or graphic format) be just as acceptable?  I hate to see students turn away from a great book because it doesn't fit the mold.  If we want students to be critical thinkers, it's time to think outside the box and make room for a more varied, more diverse selection of books.



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16. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus - good bye and thank you


Angleberger, Tom. 2014. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus. Recorded Books.

Sometimes you get lucky. I've had the opportunity to meet Tom Angleberger several times (including a Skype visit with my book club), I've had an enthusiastic group of Origami Yoda fans that frequent my library, and most recently, I won a copy of Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus from Recorded Books (more on that in a minute).

Since the first time I read and reviewed The Strange Case of Origami in 2010, I've been a fan, and so have legions of kids.  In addition to the fact that Tom Angleberger's writing style is perceptive, relevant, and flat-out funny; he, himself, is a great part of his success.  Just check his website, or his presence on Twitter (@origamiyoda).  He is unfailingly polite, positive, and accessible.  Kids love him and he loves them right back.

     

Back to Emperor Pickletine... so, I entered the Recorded Books contest because I hoped to win something for my book club members. With rare exception, after I've read them, I give away any book I receive gratis. Lucky me!  Not only did I receive the audio book, I received an Emperor Pickletine standee, some origami paper, and the biggest hit of all - pickle stickers - and boy, did they stink!

I was a little unsure about an audio book version of an illustrated book, however.  Would it be as good?  How can a narrator explain a comic? Will kids like it?

I discovered that, yes, it is as good.  The Origami Yoda books are written as "case files" with multiple students from  McQuarrie Middle School contributing to each file. The audio book version enhances that format because there is a cast of narrators, making it easy to differentiate between the student contributors.  

It's difficult to explain exactly how the printed illustrations from the book are narrated, because I don't have a transcript, but I can assure you that they retain their humor and flow easily into the narrative.  I was pleasantly surprised by this.

Will kids like it?  My book club meets next week, but I already have two kids who have let me know that they are already audio book fans.  I'm sure they'll like it. I did.

In the final chapter, Origami Yoda (voiced by none other than Tom Angleberger himself!) is heard to say,
"The end this is not,"  
however, this is the end of the series. And yes, you will find out if Origami Yoda is indeed real.  

A fond farewell, Origami Yoda!  You'll be sorely missed.

My reviews of other Tom Angleberger books:

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17. Audio book reviews - recent fantasy favorites

*
I'm back from vacation and have some catching up to do!  If you're a frequent reader, you'll know that I review books for AudioFile Magazine.  Once submitted, I cannot reprint my reviews here, but I can offer a quick rundown, and link to the reviews as they appeared for AudioFile.


I am smitten with the unflappable Jennifer Strange, protagonist of Jasper Fforde's Chronicles of Kazam series. I recently reviewed the second book in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast. A quirky, funny, and smartly-written fantasy series.  Book 3, The Eye of Zoltar just published last month, so get reading!  Read my review of The Song of the Quarkbeast here.  Suggested for ages 10-14. (I think older readers may enjoy it as well.)

I love Cornelia Funke's dark fantasy titles.  The Inkheart trilogy is a favorite series, and I thoroughly enjoyed Reckless, the first in the Mirrorworld series. I was thrilled when offered an opportunity to review her new early chapter book fantasy, Emma and the Blue Genie, especially when I discovered that she is the narrator.  My review of Emma and the Blue Genie is here.  Suggested for ages 7-10.
 (I only reviewed the audio copy, but the print copy is lovely - small and special and delightfully illustrated)




* Headphone image courtesy of Openclipart.org.

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18. The Paper Cowboy

Levine, Kristin. 2014. The Paper Cowboy. New York: Putnam.

In the seemingly idyllic, 1950s, town of Downers Grove, Illinois, handsome and popular 12-year-old Tommy Roberts appears to be a typical kid.  He lives with his parents, older sister Mary Lou, younger sisters Pinky and Susie, and a devoted family dog. He and his older sister attend Catholic school, his father works for Western Electric, and his mother stays at home with the younger girls.

Amidst the backdrop of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, Tommy's discovery of a Communist newspaper in the town's paper drive truck, and a horrific burn accident to Mary Lou, begin a chain of events that uncovers secrets, truths, and lies in his small town populated with many Eastern European immigrants.

Perhaps the biggest lie is Tommy's own life.  Though he never gets caught, Tommy is a bully, picking on kids at school, especially Little Skinny. When he plants the Communist newspaper in a store owned by Little Skinny's immigrant father, he's gone too far - and he knows it.  Now it's time to act like his cowboy hero, The Lone Ranger, and make everything right, but where can he turn for help?  His mother is "moody" and beats him relentlessly while his father turns a blind eye. His older sister will be hospitalized for months. He has his chores and schoolwork to do, and Mary Lou's paper route, and if Mom's in a mood, he's caretaker for Pinky and Susie as well.

It's hard to understand a bully, even harder to like one, but readers will come to understand Tommy and root for redemption for him and his family.  He will find help where he least expects it.

     I couldn't tell Mrs. Glazov about the dinner party. Or planting the paper.  But maybe I could tell her about taking the candy.  Maybe that would help.  "There's this boy at school, I said slowly, "Little Skinny."
.....
     "I didn't like him.  I don't like him.  Sometimes, Eddie and I and the choirboys, we tease him."
     "Ahh," she said again.  "He laugh too?"
     I shook my head.  I knew what Mary Lou would say.  Shame on you, Tommy! Picking on that poor boy.  And now she would have scars just like him.  How would I feel if someone picked on her?
     "What did you do?" Mrs. Glazov asked, her voice soft, like a priest at confession.  It surprised me. I'd never heard her sound so gentle.
     "I took some candy from him," I admitted.
     "You stole it."
     I shrugged.
     "Ahh."
     "It's not my fault! If Mary Lou had been there, I never would have done it!"
     Mrs. Glazov laughed.  "You don't need sister.  You need conscience."
     I had the horrible feeling that she was right.  I wasn't a cowboy at all. I was an outlaw.
Author Kristin Levine gives credit to her father and many 1950s residents of Downers Grove who shared their personal stories with her for The Paper Cowboy. Armed with their honesty and openness, she has crafted an intensely personal story that accurately reflects the mores of the 1950s.  We seldom have the opportunity (or the desire) to know everything that goes on behind the doors of our neighbors' houses.  Levine opens the doors of Downers Grove to reveal alcoholism, mental illness, abuse, disease, sorrow, and loneliness. It is this stark realism that makes the conclusion so satisfying.  This is not a breezy read with a tidy and miraculous wrap-up.  It is instead, a tribute to community, to ordinary people faced with extraordinary problems, to the human ability to survive and overcome and change.

Give this book to your good readers - the ones who want a book to stay with them a while after they've finished it.


Kristin Levine is also the author of The Lions of Little Rock (2012, Putnam) which I reviewed here.

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19. GUs & Me - a review

Richards, Keith. 2014. Gus & Me: The Story of my Granddad and my First Guitar. Hachette Audio.

Keith Richards, the rough-edged, raspy-voiced, Rolling Stones guitarist, is hardly the man that comes to mind for a picture book writer and narrator, but then again, who better to tell the story of his first guitar?

Richards wins the listener over immediately with his folksy, working class Estuary English accent (think dropped h's and "intrusive" r's) and unmistakable fondness for his topics - his first guitar and his beloved Granddad, Gus. It was the musically talented Gus who introduced a young Keith Richards to the guitar, teaching him how to 'old it, and suggesting the classical Malagueña(r) as the pinnacle of guitar mastery.

I have yet to see the print version of this story, but I don't believe it could surpass the audio book.  A story with music at its heart needs music to be understood. Richards plays bits from Malagueña in appropriate spots throughout the story, and during a visit to a music shop in London, we hear Steve Jordan on drums.  Once, the listener even hears a little chuckle - not musical, but surprisingly sincere.  Richards collaborated with other authors, but this is obviously his story, and he delights in telling it.

(Run time: about 7 minutes)

My review of Gus & Me for AudioFile Magazine appears here with a small excerpt.  Take a listen!



Visit the Nonfiction Monday Blog, "rounding up the best nonfiction for children and teens."

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20. The Terrible Two - a review

Barnett, Mac and Jory John. 2014. The Terrible Two. New York: Amulet.



Miles is moving away from his beloved home at the beach to Yawnee Valley, where the slogan is "Come Look at our Cows."  Miles Murphy, the best-known prankster at his old school, will be attending the Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy,

     Miles awoke with a sense of dread.  He opened his eyes and stared at his blank ceiling.  Last night he'd dreamed it had all been a dream, and now he wished he were still dreaming.
     Miles shut his eyes tight.  He tried to fall back asleep, but downstairs he could hear his mother shuffling around the kitchen, preparing breakfast.  Breakfast smelled like eggs. And cows. Although that might have just been the cows.
     Miles ate his eggs.  They tasted like dread, although that might've just been the dread.

When he's paired up with the insufferable school helper, Niles Sparks, Miles thinks things can't get worse, but they do. Someone else in school is a prankster, and whoever it is, he's outpranking Miles.

What's the best part about pulling a great prank?  Getting away with it, or getting credit for it?  Miles is about to find out!

This illustrated novel is the first in a series that's sure to appeal to middle-grade jokers and pranksters.  The writing style is conversationally funny with great black-and-white illustrations that add to the humor, A goofy, cud-chewing cow with a bell stands in a pasture adorning half of page one, which reads,

Welcome to Yawnee Valley, an idyllic place with rolling green hills that slope down to creeks, and cows as far as the eye can see. There's one now.
The Terrible Two has more than just humor. There are some intricate pranks woven into the plot, and there are well-developed characters in Miles, Niles, and Principal Barkin - all of whom are sure to reappear in future installments. It's got more text and fewer illustrations, but this series should be popular with Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans.


Note:
I have to add that this book had the best Advance Reader Copy promotion ever!  I was totally pranked!  I received a large box in the mail marked "Perishable."  Inside was the big milk carton, and inside the milk carton was my copy of The Terrible Two, a coffee cup featuring cartoon images of the authors, and a signed certificate from The International Order of Disorder proclaiming the holder to be "a distinguished member of the International Order of Disorder."  I will raffle this off to the members of my book club.  Someone is going to be as happy as a cow in a cornfield!

Advance Reader Copy supplied (with coffee cup and milk carton) by the publisher.

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21. Space Case - an audiobook review

Below is my review of the audiobook Space Case by Stuart Gibbs, read by Gibson Frazier, as it appeared in the December 2014, issue of School Library Journal.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

GIBBS, Stuart. Space Case. 6 CDs. 6:28 hrs. S. & S. Audio.
2014. $29.99. ISBN 9781442376397. digital download.

Gr 3–7— The year is 2040. Dash, his sister, and their scientist parents are inaugural inhabitants of Moon Base Alpha (MBA), Earth's extraterrestrial colony. Housing only a few dozen people and governed by a strict commander, MBA is not exactly a barrel of laughs for a 12-year-old boy. However, when one of MBA's scientists dies suspiciously and a supply ship brings new residents (including a girl his age), life in space becomes much more intriguing. Though the story has many humorous moments—especially involving the insufferable wealthy space tourists—it also has some plausible science. Each chapter is preceded by a reading from "The Official Residents' Guide to Moon Base Alpha," NASA's part propaganda/part instruction manual, containing such riveting topics as "Exercise" and "Food." Narrator Gibson Frazier keeps the story moving at a good pace, conveying suspense without melodrama. Rather than create pitched character voices, he relies on intonation to differentiate among the large cast. His own voice is deep and clear but boyish enough to suit Dash. The narration flows smoothly, broken only by the humorously intended commercial quality of the "Official Resident's Guide." Space Case should appeal to a broad range of listeners but especially space enthusiasts.

Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.

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22. Sisters - a review

Telgemeier, Raina. 2014. Sisters. New York: Scholastic.

(Advance Reader Copy)

Sisters is the companion graphic novel to the award-winning Smile. In Sisters, Raina, her mother, younger sister Amara, and little brother Will are on a road trip to Colorado.  Past experiences and grievances, both large and small are unwelcome baggage on this family road trip. Raina and Amara feud for much of the trip, until one event brings the family together.

Prior events are relayed as flashbacks and appear on yellow-tinted pages.

I have sisters and I have daughters. I can attest to the fact that Raina Telgemeier tells it like it is. It's not the good times that make a family strong, but rather, how it deals with the bad times... and if everything turns out well, the bad times make the best stories.


Publishers Weekly has a 7-page preview of Sisters on their blog.



On a shelf near you, August 26, 2014.

I received my copy of Sisters at Book Expo America. Raina was kind enough to pose for a photo as she signed it. One lucky reader from my book club will be taking it home to preview on Wednesday!

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23. The Time of the Fireflies - a review

I was actually searching for a fantasy book, but stumbled upon a good old-fashioned ghost story instead.

Little, Kimberly Griffiths. 2014. The Time of the Fireflies.  New York: Scholastic.

Larissa Renaud doesn't live in a regular house. As she tells it,

"My parents moved us into the Bayou Bridge Antique Store—a fact I do not brag about. It's embarrassing to admit I share the same space as musty, mothball-smelly furniture, dusty books, and teacups that dead people once drank from."
Sometimes she wishes they had never come back here from Baton Rouge, but her family has a long history in the bayou town, much of it is tragic.

When Larissa receives  a mysterious call on a broken antique phone, she's got a real mystery on her hands.
"Trust the fireflies," 
the ghostly girl tells her, setting Larissa on  a strange and eerie path of discovery. Can Larissa right the wrongs of the past to save her family's future?

Though it highlights rural poverty, bullying, and new sibling issues, The Time of the Fireflies is at heart, a ghost story with a remarkably likable and resourceful protagonist.

To avoid giving away too much, I'll merely mention that readers may see some similarities to Rebecca Stead's Newbery Medal-winning, When You Reach Me. The spunky Larissa and author Kimberly Griffiths Little will draw you into the rich world of the Louisiana bayou until you too, are carried away by the fireflies.

A link to The Time of the Fireflies trailer is here.  I'm not posting the trailer here because, honestly, I think the book is better than its trailer.

(My copy of the book was provided by the publisher as an Advance Reader Copy.)

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24. The Badger Knight - a review

Erskine, Kathryn. 2014. The Badger Knight. New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy)


After the great plague, Adrian's father is overly protective. Having lost his wife and daughter, he is determined to protect his12-year-old son, Adrian.  Small and weak, Adrian has what we now call asthma and albinism. In the rural England of the 1300s, however, his condition is more often considered an unlucky and unholy affliction - rendering him only slightly more popular than Thomas the leper. Though he is quick of mind, skillful with a bow, and able to scribe, he is nonetheless treated as useless and dim-witted.

When the Middle March is threatened by war with the Scots, Adrian sees a chance to prove his mettle,

"Soon I hear the blacksmith's voice in my head: Nock! Mark! Draw! Loose! I spread some dirt under my eyes to counteract the bright sun, close my left eye, ready  my bow, and take aim at a single leaf fifty feet away.  On my second shot I split the leaf in two.  As I practice more, I can hit a leaf on my first try, even when it sways in the breeze.  I lose all sense of time and feel like I'm in another world.
Until I hear someone approach through the woods, and I grab my arrows, stowing them quickly with my bow inside the tree trunk.  For years I haven't been discovered and I don't intend for anyone to find me out now.  When the time is right, I will shock them all.  So I stand and look up at the branches to divert attention away from the trunk and to show that I'm simply addlepated Adrian looking at birds."

The Badger Knight is a historical fiction adventure that touches upon many common themes (bullying, friendship, gender bias, coming of age, survival, the nature of good and evil) as Adrian goes off to war and becomes a man - not by might, but by right.

 "... I'm reminded of Nigel and his search for the truth.  I think of what I always believed to be truths — Scots are pagans, thieves are bad, knights are noble, girls are weak, war is glorious — and how these "truths" aren't real at all.  They're things I was taught or everyone believes, just as all people who look like me are supposedly angels or, more often, devils.  I didn't believe Nigel when he said that scribing was power, that seeking the truth and sharing it is mightier than being a soldier.
     Now I see what he means."

The Knight Badger is rich in historical details - from the minor particulars of everyday life and the societal hierarchy of medieval England to the gruesome manner of medieval warfare. Erskine offers an unvarnished look into the lives of serfs, tradesmen, religious leaders, free lances, city street urchins, and robber barons. The author's thoughts on the nature of war are on display throughout, but readers are encouraged to come to their own conclusions and examine their own biases.

A solid adventure story that should appeal to boys and girls.  There is room for a sequel.

On shelves 8/26/14.   Target audience: ages 8-12, Gr 3-7
352 pages

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25. Middle School Ultimate Showdown - an audiobook review

Below is my review of the audio version of Middle School: Ultimate Showdown by James Patterson and Julia Bergen, as it appeared in the June, 2014 edition of School Library Journal.



PATTERSON, James & Julia Bergen. Middle School: Ultimate Showdown. 2 CDs. 2 hrs. Hachette Audio. 2014. $18. ISBN 9781478952619.

Gr 3–6—Rafe Khatchadorian and his younger sister, Georgia, here engage in a series of rants about bullies, school dances, dress codes, and other middle school concerns. However, this work is not simply about rants. It centers on a showdown between the siblings—with listeners acting as judges. Included on the CD is a 66-page PDF offering. Listeners who print it out can vote, draw, play, and create, adding their own opinions to Rafe's and Georgia's. Narrators Bryan Kennedy and Cassandra Morris make it easy for listeners to follow the inevitable disagreements between the siblings. Morris, as Georgia, is likable, confident, and youthful. Kennedy's Rafe is perfect for the wisecracking troublemaker, but he suffers from the lack of character depth in the showdown format. Listeners not familiar with his character from other books in the series will find him shallow and arrogant. While considerable adaptations were made for the audiobook format, the necessity of printing and constantly referencing the lengthy PDF will likely limit this audiobook's appeal to book group facilitators and die-hard fans of the series.



Copyright © 2014 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
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