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Results 1 - 25 of 195
1. Diary of a Mad Brownie - an audiobook review

I can't republish certain reviews that have already appeared in print or elsewhere online, but I can point you to where you might find them.

The Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville. (Listening Library, 2015)
Suggested for ages 8-12.  298 minutes.


Diary of a Mad Brownie is the first book in Bruce Coville's new series, The Enchanted Files.  I listened to the audio book, and I can tell you that it was the most fun I've had listening in a long time. And it's read by a full cast!

Read my review here: http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/102097/

My copy of the book was supplied by AudioFile Magazine.

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2. Fab Four Friends - the blog tour

Today I'm happy to share in the celebration for the publication of Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles, written by Susanna Reich, illustrated by Adam Gustavson, and published by Macmillan.

Author Susanna Reich has written an inspiring book chronicling the early years of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Each is highlighted in turn with a focus on the events and people that shaped his future and his interest in music.

The final pages feature the band's early successes.  Readers will be impressed by the boys' dedication to their musicianship and their ability to overcome family tragedy, illness, and in John Lennon's case - a lack of musical training and a guitar that his mother taught him to tune like a banjo.

John attacked the guitar, strumming as fast he could.  He didn't give a fig about wrong notes.

Eventually Paul traded in his trumpet for a guitar.  From then on, his brother said, "he didn't have time to eat or think about anything else."

At school, George sat in the back and drew pictures of guitars. But when it came to practicing, no one was more serious.

Back home, Richy [Ringo] couldn't stop his hands from tapping.  Listening to all kinds of music—country and western, jazz, blues, skiffle—he'd rap on the back of a chair, bang on a box, or pound an old bass drum with a piece of firewood.

The text is small and in simple font on a plain background, leaving ample room for Adam Gustavson's stellar illustrations in "oil paint on prepared paper."  It is a difficult task to render likenesses of these four men who are known and revered the world over.  Gustavson has done a remarkable job in capturing their youth, signature expressions, and intensity of mood. In quiet acknowledgement of the post-war era that engendered the rise of rock and roll, the book opens with double-spread illustration of "a dark October night in 1940," the night when John Lennon was born in the midst of war with Germany. The final double-spread is the one that appears on the book's jacket.

More illustrations from Fab Four Friends are on the publisher's site.

Rounding out Fab Four Friends are an Author's Note, Glossary (I'm sad that phonograph needs to be in the glossary!), Notes, and Sources.

I asked only one interview question of author Susanna Reich. With so many songs to choose from and her obvious love of her topic, I knew it would be a tricky question:
Q: "What's your favorite Beatles tune?"

It sent her to her headphones for an hour of listening. Her final answer:
A: "Let it Be."
It's certainly hard to argue with that.

The publisher's site lists a suggested age range of 6-10.  I think older kids, particularly those with musical inclinations will be interested in this one as well.

 A book's case and jacket are often (usually) the same.  Library books are typically processed with protective coating on the jacket that secures it to the cover. So, if you're a librarian, or a library user, you may never see the books' case.  If possible, however, take a peek under the jacket of Fab Four Friends. The front cover features individual portrait style paintings of Paul, John, George, and Ringo.  They appear youthful and suited and are presented in square frames reminiscent of yearbook photos or 1970s era Beatles posters. They are joyful and boyish - four fab friends.

My copy of Fab Four Friends was provided by the publisher.  You can find yours on a library or bookstore shelf, beginning today, August 18, 2015.

Follow the blog tour for Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the Beatles.  Tomorrow, the tour will stop at UnleashingReaders.com .

Happy book birthday to Fab Four Friends!

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3. Divorce is the Worst - a review

Higginbotham, Anastasia. 2015. Divorce Is the Worst (Ordinary Terrible Things). New York:The Feminist Press at CUNY.

I didn't think I'd like this book, and I didn't; I loved it. It is honest; it is practical; it is a beautifully artistic rendering of a sorrowful event.  If you know a child in need of a divorce book, look no further; this is it.

Please, do watch the trailer.


Today is Nonfiction Monday.  See what else is new on the Nonfiction Monday Blog.

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4. The Lightning Queen - a review

When I was a small child, I read and sang folksongs like other children read books. One of my favorite songs to sing was "The Wraggle-Taggle Gypsies, O."  I was enthralled with my idea of gypsy culture. The images in my family's book of folksongs were of music and dancing and cards and horses.  It all looked so wonderful. And so it was that I was thrilled to receive the story of The Lightning Queen from Scholastic.  It was as enchanting as I'd hoped it might be.  Middle grade readers will enjoy this finely crafted story of two outsider cultures - Mexico's indigenous people and the Roma, or gypsies.  Look for it on shelves in October.

The Lightning Queen  by Laura Resau. (2015, Scholastic)

Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher.  Final version subject to changes.

Mateo travels with his mother every summer to visit his relatives on the Hill of Dust in Oaxaca, Mexico.  This year, his grandfather Teo says that he needs young Mateo's help;  he begins to tell Mateo a fascinating story of his youth,

     As he speaks, his words somehow beam light onto an imagined screen, flooding the room with people and places from long, long ago.  "Mijo, you are about to embark on a journey of marvels.  Of impossible fortunes.  Of a lost duck, three-legged skunk, and a blind goa - all bravely loyal.  Of a girl who gathered power from storms and sang back the dead.  Of an enchanted friendship that lifted souls above brutality.
     He pauses, tilts his head, "Perhaps there will even be an itermission or two.  But as of yet, there is no end.  That, mijo, will be up to you."  He winks, clears his throat, and begins.
     "There once was a girl called the Queen of Lightning ..."
The story then retreats to the Oaxaca of the mid-1900s, a time when Mexico's indigenous Mixteco people crossed paths with the mysterious Roma in the hills outside Oaxaca.

Grandfather put his hand on my shoulder and said, "They are like us, outsiders in Mexico.  Both our people have little voice in the government.  City folk consider us backward.  We live on the fringes, the wilds of our country.  So it is with the Rom." 


I looked at Esma and her grandparents, who were admiring the sawdust mosaic of the flowered caravan.  And I wondered if the key to her people surviving had been separating themselves from outsiders -  gadjés. Maybe that's what bonded them together as they danced around their bonfires, night after night for hundreds of years.

     As was foretold by the fortune teller and against impossible odds, young Teo becomes "friends for life" with Esma, the young Romani singer.  It is as if they are bound to each other by magic and music and the power of lightning - their destinies tied inexplicably to one another.

Teo reminisces to his grandson Mateo,

She could work magic.  One moment, I'd felt hurt and angry.  The next honored that she'd confided in me.  And now, inspired, as though anything were possible, if I believed it enough.
     She climbed onto the rock, raised her arms. "If you believe you're weak, you'll be weak.  You're cursing yourself.  Yet if you believe you're strong, you'll be strong.  Give yourself a fortune and make it come true."
There is definitely magic between Teo and Esma, the indio boy and the Roma girl, and there is magic in the pages of The Lightning Queen.

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5. Thoughts for a Thursday

I'm blogging at the ALSC blog today with a post on "Putting it all together" - books, technology, creative space, diversity, and kids.  Please hop over and check it out. 

In other news, if you haven't checked out the new lineup yet, SYNC will  be returning on May 7th.  As they do every summer, they will offer free downloads of classic books paired with current books with a similar theme.  Each week features a different pairing. Week #1 begins with Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, paired with Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

And finally, here's a link to an audio book review that I wrote for AudioFile Magazine.  I don't think I ever posted it here. The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio, read by Mike Chamberlain.  Brilliance Audio, 2014. 

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6. Audiobook reviews

I recently reviewed two audiobooks with a peculiar connection.  Masterminds is a thriller set in the seemingly perfect town of Serenity, New Mexico.  The Way to Stay in Destiny is a character-driven novel set in the woefully imperfect town of Destiny, Florida.  Neither town is quite what it seems.  Click the links to read the complete reviews.

Masterminds by Gordon Korman.  Read by a cast of five(2015) 

A contemporary science thriller set in New Mexico - a real page-turner!  This is the first in a planned series.  I'm not sure how he can top this one!

Historical fiction set in 1970s Florida by the author of Glory Be. Another paean to the power of music.  (Try Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan, too!)

I'm confident that either of these is great in print as well.

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7. Graceful - a review

When I reviewed The Last Present by Wendy Mass, I wrote the following:
The Last Present is the final book in the Willow Falls (or "birthday") series, realistic fiction with just the right amount of magic, courtesy of Angelina, the mysterious old woman with the duck-shaped birthmark. Angelina is seemingly the architect of all that occurs in Willow Falls, the town where nothing happens by coincidence and everything happens for a reason. Readers of the series will delight in revisiting their favorite characters - Leo, Amanda, Tara, Rory, David and all rest, as their stories intertwine and the story of Angelina is finally revealed. ... I'm sad to see it come to an end. It's been great fun!
Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was sorry to see the Willow Falls series come to an end. In the forward to Graceful (Scholastic, 2015), Wendy Mass writes that her readers let her know "IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS" that they were not ready for the series to end.  Graceful (due out tomorrow) is a gift to her readers.

I think fans of the series will be happy with Graceful, in which Grace fills in (somewhat unwittingly) for the mysterious Angelina as the architect of all that occurs in Willow Falls.  This is a series about friendship and family and the cosmic connectedness of all things. It can best be described as magical realism, and it is a series that should be read sequentially.  Mass does her best to catch the reader up with previous occurrences, but the series is so intricately plotted that it is difficult to skip a book or read them out of order.

Willow Falls has been a great place to visit, but I think Ms. Mass is ready to move on now.  All of our questions have been answered and all loose ends are tied.  It's been fun!  Enjoy!

The Willow Falls series by Wendy Mass

My Advance Reader Copy was supplied by the publisher.

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8. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France - a review

You've heard the term mesmerized before, and you've likely heard of a blind study in medical research (in which study participants are unaware of whether they have been given a treatment or a placebo).  But do you know what these two terms have in common?  Benjamin Franklin!

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France
Written by Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. Candlewick, 2015

When Benjamin Franklin arrived in France seeking support for the American cause, Paris was all abuzz about recent advances in science, but one man in particular was drawing much attention - Dr. Franz Mesmer.  Like the invisible gas that was recently proven to buoy giant passenger-carrying balloons when burned, Dr. Mesmer claimed that he, too, had discovered a powerful new invisible force.

Dr. Mesmer said this forced streamed from the stars and flowed into his wand.  When he stared into his patients' eyes and waved the wand, things happened. 

Women swooned.

Men sobbed.

Children fell down in fits.
Mesmer and his practitioners claimed to cure illnesses in this manner, but was is true?  Or was it quackery?  King Louis XVI wanted to know, and Benjamin Franklin was sent to find out.

Mesmerized is one of those wonderful books that combines history with science and humor.  Using the scientific method, Benjamin Franklin was able to deduce that Dr. Mesmer had indeed discovered something, but not the something he had claimed!

Delightfully humorous and informative illustrations, a section on the scientific method (Oh La La ... La Science!). and a list of source books and articles make Mesmerized a triple-play - science, humor, and history.  Go ahead, be mesmerized!

*This post also appears on the STEM Friday blog today

STEM Friday

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

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9. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition

The story of William Kamkwamba is so inspiring that three books have been written to tell it. I listened to the audio book version of the 305-page, young reader's edition. 

My review of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition
written for AudioFile Magazine, is linked here. 

I cannot recommend this one enough.  I hope you have time to read at least one version of this inspiring true story of a teenager who created electricity for his impoverished, starving village in Malawi with nothing more than garbage, an elementary education, an old borrowed Physics book (in a language that he did not speak or read!), and a will to make things better!
  1. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (William Morrow, 2009)
  2. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Picture Book Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Dial, 2012)
  3. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Young Readers Edition by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (Penguin, 2015)

Here are William Kamkwamba's two TED Talks.  They're short and well worth a listen.


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10. Cody and the Fountain of Happiness - a review

I don't review many early chapter books, but I requested this one from LibraryThing Early Reviewers. because it's published by Candlewick Press (always a plus), and Eliza Wheeler's cover illustration sealed the deal.

Cody and the Fountain of Happiness by Tricia Springstubb.  Candlewick Press, 2015.  Illustrations by Eliza Wheeler.

Here's why I like Cody and the Fountain of Happiness:
  • Cody's an average kid - Mom works in a shoe store, Dad's a truck driver, she argues with her older brother Wyatt, though it's clear that they love each other.
  • Cody is positive and decisive.
  • Her new found friend, Spencer, is an African-American boy with a super hip grandma. (The percentage of African American characters in early chapter books is rather slim, so this is a plus.)
  • Cody's mom and dad are positive role models.
  • Eliza Wheeler's illustrations are simple, soft, and expressive.
  • Spoiler alert! Mom gets a promotion at the shoe store. 

Here's an excerpt.  Cody is waking her brother on their first day of summer vacation and refuses to be daunted by his grumpy mood.

     "Want to go to the dog park and pick what dog we'd get if only we were allowed to get a dog?"
     Wyatt put his hands over his eyes.
     "No?" said Cody.  "How about we look for rocks and have a rock stand and use the money to buy a skateboard?"
     Wyatt slowly got to his feet.  He was very tall and skinny.  If he were a building, he'd be a skyscraper, but a droopy one.
     "Silencio," he said.  He toppled back into bed and pulled the covers over his head.  "You are causing me pain.  A big fat pain in my cerebral cortex."
     "Do you want some tea?"
     "No, Brain Pain. I want you to disappear.  Preferably forever."
     "I can't," said Cody.  "I promised Mom to take care of you.  I never break a promise."

Give Cody a try.  Though you may wonder about her peculiar fondness for ants, I think you'll like her, her family, and her friends!

My Advance Reader Copy is 151 illustrated pages.

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11. The Great War ... - an audiobook review

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War by by David Almond, John Boyne, Tracy Chevalier, Ursula Dubosarsky, Timothee de Fombelle, Adele Geras, et al. | Read by Nico Evers-Swindell, JD Jackson, Gerard Doyle, Richard Halverson, Sarah Coomes, Nick Podehl
(2015, Brilliance Audio) is a powerful collection of short stories that view World Ward I and its repercussions from many different points of view.  

The link to my short review for AudioFile Magazine is below.  An audio sample is available at the link as well. Publisher recommended for grades 5 and up.

 I'm still working on a follow-up post to my trip to the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco. It was a great experience.

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12. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler - an audiobook review

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. Narrated by Phillip Hoose and Michael Braun.  (2015, Recorded Books)

This is the heretofore little-known story of schoolboys who challenged the Nazi army even as their country's leaders collaborated with the Germans. Alternating first-person accounts of young saboteur, Knud Pedersen, with carefully researched narrative, Phillip Hoose tells the compelling story of these daring young boys who were willing to risk their lives to free Denmark from German occupation. Without their parents' knowledge, the boys raided, stole, and destroyed German property with nothing more than bicycles for transportation! Their heroic actions sparked the Danish resistance.

Michael Braun narrates the chapters containing Knud Pedersen's first-hand recollections of the events. While his delivery is weighty, it lacks personality. It is through the actions of Knud that the listener learns to like and admire him, rather than through his speech. Because the book is targeted at a young audience (ages 12-18) and Knud himself was only a teen at the time, a younger narrator may have been more appropriate. Author Phillip Hoose does an excellent job with the alternating chapters. He reads precisely and takes great care in the pronunciation of Danish names and places.

This is a well-researched, captivating story that proves the ability of individuals to effect change against overwhelming odds.

4 CDs

Review copy supplied by LibraryThing.

Today is Nonfiction Monday

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13. 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.
     "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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14. 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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15. 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.

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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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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.

  • 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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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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).


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

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22. 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.

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.

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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23. 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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24. 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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25. 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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