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1. A Clatter of Jars - an audiobook review

A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff
Read by Ellen Archer
2016, Listening Library

Quirky magical realism.
Read my full review at AudioFile Magazine.

A Clatter of Jars is Lisa Graff's follow up to 2013's, A Tangle of KnotsI reviewed A Tangle of Knots in 2013, and declared, "If you read no other middle grade fiction book this year, you will have made a good choice." The magic doesn't wear off in A Clatter of Jars, a deftly woven, magical realism story set in the same world as the preceding book, where many people possess Talents - from the mundane (ability to understand frogs) to the powerful (telekinesis).  I particularly enjoyed this story because it features a boy who we may assume has some sort of spectrum disorder, and it has a subtle Lord of the Rings reference.

I often tell kids at the library that it's OK to start with a second book in a series if the first book is unavailable. (I don't like to see them go home empty-handed!)  Most authors do a fine job of catching the reader up on prior events.  However, because of the rich details of the world Lisa Graff has created, A Clatter of Jars is best read after A Tangle of Knots.


An audio excerpt from A Clatter of Jars and my review for AudioFile Magazine may be found here. [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/114587/a-clatter-of-jars-by-lisa-graff/]

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2. The Wild Robot - an audiobook review

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

Read by Kate Atwater
Hachette Audio, 2016

AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award Winner

I recently reviewed The Wild Robot for AudioFile Magazine.  You can read my full review and hear an audio excerpt here. [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/110681/the-wild-robot-by-peter-brown/]

The Wild Robot, a novel for ages 8 and up, is a departure from Peter Brown's usual offering of picture books (Creepy Carrots, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, My Teacher is a Monster - and more), but his customary excellence is just as apparent.

The link to my review is above, however, I'd like to highlight a few things.  The Wild Robot premise is unique and thought-provoking - a robot designed with AI and programmed for self-preservation and nonviolence, is marooned on an island with animals, but no humans from which to learn.  The narrator, Kate Atwater, does a stellar job (see review) and sounds a bit like Susan Sarandon. The audio book is unique in that the beginning and the closing chapters have sound effects including music and sounds of nature.

Overall, it's very well done!  If you'd prefer to check out the print version, Little Brown Books for Young Readers offers an excerpt of the print version of The Wild Robot here. [http://openbook.hbgusa.com/openbook/9780316382014]

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3. Sticks and Stones - a review

Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper

Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2016
(Advance Reader Copy provided by NetGalley)

 "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

This adage has been told to innumerable children, but in Elyse's case, words do hurt. Elyse has a rare condition called cognadjvisiblitis, or CAV. When she hears nouns or adjectives describing her, they appear as black words on her arms and legs.

In elementary school, Elyse could count on her best friend Jeg, the kindness of young children, and the assistance of teachers and school administrators to ensure that only positive words would appear on her skin, HAPPY, CUTE, SMART. These words were not only complimentary, they were non-irritating. Unkind words surfaced dark, large, and bold - causing extreme itching and discomfort.

Middle school behaviors cannot be controlled so easily. First, she is dumped by her boyfriend, and then she loses Jeg to the cool girls clique. No one can ensure that only positive adjectives find their way to Elyse's ears. It's no wonder that she takes to wearing long sleeves and pants, regardless of the season.

Things begin getting both better and worse as Elyse follows the advice she finds written on mysterious, but mostly encouraging, blue notes. The notes exhort her to compete for the school's coveted position of class trip Explorer Leader, but the contest exposes her to social situations that aggravate her CAV. Her nervous mother takes her, yet again, to the doctor renowned for, but mostly ineffective in treating CAV,

     "People go to meetings, I said. "And take walks. It's not that crazy."

     Dr. Patel scooted closer to get a better look at my words. DUMB was still there. So were IDIOT, LOSER, STUPID, UNLOVABLE, WORTHLESS, and FREAK, the whole crew. They were going in all different directions, and some were bigger than others, but they were all thick, dark, mean, and itchy, and felt like ridiculously scratchy clothes-the ones that also have ridiculously scratchy tags-I couldn't ever take off. 

While the postulate of a school choosing a class trip leader in reality-TV-style, seems a bit far-fetched, the underlying middle school drama rings true, and the book's unique premise of CAV will give readers pause for thought.

Sticks and Stones offers more than just middle-school angst and coming-of-age experiences. Similar to the lives of real children who deal with name-calling everyday, Elyse's story is not one of overcoming this adversity, but of living with it. Elyse's story is a reminder that not all things can be made "right," but we should all take care that we do not contribute to making things "wrong."

(An added bonus: it's a mystery - who is writing those blue notes?)

This is a debut novel for former teacher and school librarian, Abby Cooper.  She's off to a great start.  Look for this one in July, or pre-order a copy.

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4. The Forest Feast for Kids - a review

 My daughter has been encouraging me to adopt a vegetarian diet. I do make an effort to eat meatless often, but a completely vegan or vegetarian diet takes a certain amount of commitment that I've never been willing to expend.  Recently, this same daughter (she is both environmentally conscious and persuasive) talked me into watching the documentary, Cowspiracy. (I challenge you to watch this and not be affected.)  In any case, The Forest Feast for Kids landed on my shelf in time to take advantage of my renewed interest in vegetarianism.  Good timing, Forest Feast!


The Forest Feast for Kids: Colorful Vegetarian Recipes That Are Simple to Make
By Erin Gleeson
Abrams, 2016

From the whimsically painted watercolor endpapers and chapter title pages to the lusciously photographed finished recipes, The Forest Feast for Kids is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.  These are recipes that are as beautiful to present as they are healthy to eat.

Contents in this generously sized book contain cookbook standards - table of contents, index, introduction, and pages of helpful hints and cooking techniques.  The chapters run the gamut of gastronomic needs: Snacks, Drinks, Salads, Meals, Sweets, and Parties.   Each chapter contains about six recipes, each one displayed on across two pages.  The left page has a painted recipe title, simple instructions in a large typewriter font,  handwritten notes offering serving hints, "cut into wedges and enjoy hot!" , and hand-drawn arrows pointing to the appropriate ingredient photo (not every child may recognize a cilantro leaf or bay leaf).  Photos are not insets or bordered, they are part of a lovely integrated palette of ingredients and text.  Beautiful photos of the finished dishes appear on the facing page.

Simplicity of ingredients (most recipes have only four) combined with attractive presentation make these recipes irresistible not only to young chefs, but also to harried caregivers who would love to put a healthy, attractive meal on the table, but have trouble finding the time.  I know that I'll be making Strawberry-Cucumber Ribbon Salad soon!

Enjoy!



I've never seen the adult version of the same book.  I'm willing to bet that it's equally wonderful!

http://nonfictionmonday.wordpress.com


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5. Drowned City - a review

 The National Council of Teachers of English recently named Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) the winner of its prestigious Orbis Pictus Award.

The NCTE Orbis Pictus Award  was established in 1989 for promoting and recognizing excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children. The name Orbis Pictus, commemorates the work of Johannes Amos Comenius, Orbis Pictus—The World in Pictures (1657), considered to be the first book actually planned for children. (from the NCTE website)


Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans is a spare, but powerful graphic novel account of the tragedy that befell the City of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  Don Brown researches and illustrates Drowned City in his usual fashion.  It has extensive Source Notes and a corresponding Bibliography.  Every direct quote is sourced.  The illustrations are serious and in muted colors to accurately convey the gravity of the events; but they are sufficiently vague to spare the individual horror experienced by victims, survivors, and rescuers.  As he has done with other topics, Don Brown creates a focused, accurate, and powerful story - suitable for visual learners and for readers in a wide age range.


Other Hurricane Katrina books reviewed on this site:
Also by Don Brown and reviewed by Shelf-employed:

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6. My favorite books of 2015

It's the end of the year and I had great plans of writing about all my favorite books of the year - there were so many!  But there was also ALSC committee work, my fledgling freelance writing career, that five days a week thing they call work, and my family.  As I write this, I'm waiting for the last of my children to arrive home for the holidays (one's flight was canceled, the other one's delayed).

So, for now, the best that I can do is this:

In middle grade fiction, I loved Echo: A Novel by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Here's a link to my review: http://shelf-employed.blogspot.com/2015/02/echo-novel-review.html  




In picture books, If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson is simply perfect. My review is here: http://shelf-employed.blogspot.com/2015/03/picture-book-roundup-new-or-coming-soon.html



I listened to lots of great audiobooks, but I think Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was tops. I reviewed it for AudioFile Magazine.  Here's the link: http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/101740/  (Diary of a Mad Brownie is a very close second!)



For the best in dealing with sad news, I was taken by Anastasia Higginbotham's, Divorce is the Worst (for school-aged kids), and Todd Parr's, The Goodbye Book for little ones dealing with loss.


In adult books, it was Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah VowellIt's no surprise.  I love everything she writes. I love my well-researched history with a humorous dose of irony and sarcasm.

Whether I review a book or not, if I've read it, I log it and star it in LibraryThing.  Yes, I know that Goodreads is more popular, but LibraryThing's aesthetic matches mine.  I'm comfortable there.  You can see my virtual library of over 1600  searchable books and 800 reviews on LibraryThing.

I may take the next week off, perhaps not, but just in case - best wishes for a safe and happy holidays.

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7. The last word goes to Mo and Dale of Tupelo Landing

I can't let the year end without a shout out to Sheila Turnage's Mo and Dale.  Her latest Mo and Dale Mystery is The Odds of Getting Even (Penguin, 2015).  The Mo and Dale Mystery series is my favorite middle grade series. Each new book is as good as the last.  Each is filled with insightful humor, Southern-style hospitality, and all the eccentricities of small town living. The characters in Sheila Turnage's fictional town of Tupelo Landing, NC, will leave you begging for another chance to visit.

In The Odds of Getting Even, Mo and Dale, a.k.a. The Desperado Detectives, have another case on their hands.  Dale's no-good dad is on the lam and the whole town is on edge.

As usual, the café run by Mo and her "family of choice," the Colonel and Miss Lana, takes current events in stride,

I turned back to the Azalea Women. "Welcome and thank you in advance for your generous tips."  Generous tips equals a flat-out lie, but like Miss Lana says, you don't stop pitching just because nobody's swinging.  I draped a paper napkin over my arm. "Today, our Get Out of Jail Free Delight feature Free-Range Eggs, Potatoes at Large, and Bacon a la Parole.  We also got the Colonel's famous Tofu Incognito--a vegan delight featuring tofu scrambled up to look like somebody else.  A Special runs six dollars and includes a basket of All Rise Biscuits.  May I take your order?"

"Get Out of Jail and coffee," they chorused.  "How's Dale holding up?"

Once again, Sheila Turnage has written a book that deals with a serious topic (a father who is frequently on the wrong side of the law) in a humorous way. As narrator, Mo LoBeau offers up witty, often hilarious dialogue and commentary. There is much homespun wisdom in the the little town of Tupelo Landing.  Here are just a few examples from The Odds of Getting Even:

Mo (on the perceived indignity of wearing hand-me-down clothes):
"Dale's a musician.  He enjoys vintage outfits," ... "Besides, Miss Lana says most everything in life worth having is handed down."

Dale (voicing his opinion to a news reporter):
Your articles make it seem that way.  But a lot of people thinking flat don't change round.
Mo (her take on beauty):
Attila's face would be pretty if she didn't live behind it.
Dale (on "getting even"):
The only even you ever get is inside yourself--when you don't need to get even anymore.


If you haven't read them yet, don't miss the first two Mo and Dale Mystery novels.

Book 1

Three Times Lucky - a link to my review of the audiobook read by Michal Friedman
[http://shelf-employed.blogspot.com/2013/08/three-times-lucky-audiobook-review.html]

Book 2
The Ghost of Tupelo Landing - a link to my review for AudioFile Magazine
[http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/88494/]


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8. The Official Scratch Jr. Book - a review

Because I've shown an interest in coding in the past, No Starch Press was kind enough to offer me a review copy of The Official ScratchJr Book by Marina Umaschi Bers and Mitchel Resnick. (2015)



Sadly, I don't have an iPad or Android-based tablet, so I was unable to download the ScratchJr app to test it, but judging by the book and my experience with Scratch, I'm sure it's a wonderful tool for inspiring creativity and logical thinking.

Here's what I like about The Official ScratchJr. Book:
  • It targets a very young audience - ages 5 and up
  • It can be useful for parents and teachers and librarians - especially those who might find coding to be intimidating
  • Unlike the Hour of Code (which I love and have used as a resource for library programming), The Official ScratchJr Book focuses more on inspiring creativity than learning the nuts and bolts of logical thinking
  • The above statement notwithstanding, it still can be used to learn the nuts and bolts of simple coding and logical thinking
If at first there was a great rush to teach kids to code, there is now a push in the opposite direction. Just Google "Should kids learn to code?" and you will find a wealth of opinion on either side. Personally, I liken the "argument" to car repair.  In days gone by, many people knew how to do most repairs on their automobiles.  Now, cars' systems are so intricate, that most people have trouble doing anything other than the simplest of repairs.  Most people have cars.  Should we know how to repair them?  No, I don't think so.  There will also be a need for an auto mechanic. But, knowing how to change a flat tire sure comes in handy!  If working on cars appeals to you, become a mechanic.  The same is true of coding.  Give it a try.  If your kids are looking for a follow up to the Frozen Hour of Code project, "Code with Anna and Elsa," The Official ScratchJr Book is probably a good place to start (if you have a tablet that can run the ScratchJr app).



I'm going to pass my copy along to my school district's media specialist.  The kids have Chromebooks and should be able to make good use of it.

Visit the STEM Friday blog for reviews of more great STEM books for kids and teens.

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9. Dead Boy - an audiobook review



Below is my review of the audio book version of Dead Boy by Lauren Gale and read by Robbie Daymond.  Great plot with some unexpected turns.
GALE, Laurel. Dead Boy. 5 CDs. 6 hrs. Listening Library. 2015. $35. ISBN 9781101916827. digital download.

Gr 5-7–Crow was once a regular boy who played baseball and had friends and loving parents. But now, he’s dead. At first, being dead wasn’t so bad, but then his rotting flesh began attracting maggots. He couldn’t eat or sleep. His parents divorced. His mother will tell him only that his parents “wished him back to life,” but what kind of life? He’s trapped in a house kept purposefully cold to slow the putrefaction of his flesh. When Melody and her father move in next door, she and Crow become secret friends against the wishes of their parents. Together, they begin to unravel the terrible secret of his parents’ wish. Their forbidden friendship will be tested as they face a series of deadly challenges in their quest for the truth. Though the book’s description promises humor, narrator Robbie Daymond’s presentation of Crow is morose and forlorn. His cheerful portrayal of Melody offers the only break from the macabre atmosphere. VERDICT - Not for the squeamish, this one will be best for middle school fans of ghoulish favorites like The Night Gardener (Abrams, 2014) or The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (S. & S., 2012). [“A great recommendation to middle grade fans of dark humor”: SLJ 7/15 review of the Crown book.]

  Copyright © 2016 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.

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10. Thoughts on Last Stop on Market Street

In 2008, librarians surprised everyone by choosing the 533-page, The Invention of Hugo Cabret as the winner of the Caldecott Medal honoring the "most distinguished American picture book for children."  This year, the award committees surprised us again with the choice of a picture book, Last Stop on Market Street, as the winner of the Newbery Medal, given to "to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." 

The short video below featuring author, Matt de la Peña, reading from his book will convince you that this is a wonderful book. 
My concern as a public librarian, however, is how best to share this book with kids.  The book is a little lengthy for my usual storytime crowd, and school-aged kids can seldom be convinced to check out a picture book.  It's in instances like these, that I envy school teachers and media specialists, who have such a wonderful opportunity to share great books with large numbers of kids.  This is perfect book for reading aloud in school.

But, how to share it in a public library setting?

Last week, I had a last-minute inspiration and it was a rewarding experience.  I have a small book club that meets every month. This month, I asked each of the kids to read Last Stop on Market Street - right then. In addition to positive comments about the book, I loved two of the observations that they reported:

  1. I never would have chosen this book if you didn't hand it to me.
  2. The people at the soup kitchen look like regular people.
We then discussed public transportation (none of the kids had ever been on a bus) and soup kitchens (none had ever been to one).  Working in a suburban library with poor public transportation, I can understand this. However, as a suburban parent, I can tell you that I made sure that my own children volunteered at the local food pantry and experienced public transportation (I made all of them ride the public bus with me to the mall even though it was more expensive than driving my minivan and took twice as long).  As a suburban librarian, I can't take kids on the public bus or to the soup kitchen, but at minimum, I've ensured that a few more children are now aware of the lives that others lead.This is one of the many things that makes my job worthwhile.

One of the missions of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks (TM) campaign is to make sure that "all children can see themselves in the pages of a book."  This is important, but also important is recognizing that all people are just "regular people."  We always have more in common than we think.


Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Read it. Share it.

**Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal
**A 2016 Caldecott Honor Book
**A 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
A New York Times Bestseller
Four Starred Reviews
Finalist for the 2014 E.B. White Read-aloud Book Award
A Junior Library Guild Selection

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11. Vacation


I'm on vacation this week - escaping the cold.

Until I get back, perhaps you'll enjoy my recent reviews for AudioFile Magazine:


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12. Most Dangerous - a review

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (2015) Roaring Brook Press

As he did with the spy, Harry Gold, in Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, Steven Sheinkin uses one man to tell a much larger story in Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War.  That man is the infamous leaker of the so-called Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg.   A veteran himself, and a former Pentagon employee, Ellsberg initially believed that the war in Vietnam was a noble cause.  However, the more he learned, the less he believed so.  Eventually, based on the information to which he was privy and the US populace was not, he changed his mind completely.

Whether you believe Edward Snowden to be a patriotic whistleblower or a traitorous leaker, and whether you believe that Apple's refusal to hack into the phone of the San Bernardino murderers is reprehensible or ethical, it cannot be denied that these are weighty matters worthy of national discussion.  In the time of Daniel Ellsberg, people read newspapers and watched a generally unbiased nightly newscast.  In contrast, many people today derive their news from "sound bites," political analysts, and partisan news stations. These issues deserve more thoughtful consideration.

While Most Dangerous is an excellently researched biographical and historical account, and can be  appreciated for that aspect alone, Steve Sheinkin's book also will also promote reflection on the nature of national security, personal privacy, democracy, freedom of the press, and foreign intervention.  We have been on very similar ground before. 

Selected quotes:

page 149
"They all drove to the Capitol for the traditional outdoor inauguration ceremony.  Johnson watched Nixon take the oath of office, wondering what lay ahead.  "I reflected on how inadequate any man is for the office of the American Presidency," he later recalled.  "The magnitude of the job dwarfs every man who aspires to it.""

page 160
"He had often heard antiwar protesters shouting that Americans were fighting on the wrong side of the Vietnam War. They were missing the point. "It wasn't that we were on the wrong side," Ellsberg concluded, "We were the wrong side.""

FBI agents began questioning the Ellsbergs friends and relatives.  They even attempted to obtain Patricia Ellsberg's dental records, but her dentist refused to cooperate.  Nixon's operatives broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg's doctor in a failed attempt to steal his medical records.  They were searching for anything to use in a campaign to discredit Ellsberg. 

page 263
 "Psychologically, it's not so bothersome, because we believe in what we're doing," Patricia Ellsberg said about the feeling of being watched by one's own government.  "But I think it's troublesome for the country that there is surveillance of citizens, and that the right of privacy is being threatened."

Read an excerpt from Most Dangerous here.
Awards and accolades:
Other Steve Sheinkin books reviewed on Shelf-employed

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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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.


Note:
 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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16. 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.

http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/102097/

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/


Note:
My copy of the book was supplied by AudioFile Magazine.

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17. A Night Divided

As a child, I remember the Olympics mainly as an opportunity to root against the Eastern Bloc countries.  That may seem petty, but my family has/had relatives in the former Czechoslovakia, and that's what we did.  In our family, a loss by an Eastern Bloc country was a win for democracy - as if beating East Germany in pole vaulting could somehow make things better.  In reality, for the people of the Eastern Bloc, losing likely made their miserable lives worse - if they even knew about it at all.

There are many historical fiction books about wartime Germany.  A Night Divided deposits the reader in post-WWII Germany — in Berlin, on the wrong side of the wall.

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
(Scholastic, 2015)



In A Night Divided, 12-year-old Gerta, narrates the dangerously oppressive lifestyle into which she was unwilling thrust,

It was Sunday, August 13, 1961, a day I would remember for the rest of my life.  When a prison had been built around us as we slept.

Erected without warning, the fence (and later, the wall) that separated East Germany from West Germany sprang up overnight - a night when Gerta's father and brother had been visiting the West.  Gerta is trapped in the East with her resigned mother, and her rebellious older brother, Fritz.  Rebellion in East Germany is costly, and the price can be your life.

     "We will never be able to leave," Mama said. "The sooner you both accept that, the happier you will be."
     I nodded back at her. But I new I could never again be happy here. And I refused to accept my life inside a prison."
This is a deeply affecting novel that does not gloss over the reality of living under the constant watchful eyes of the police, the Grentztruppen or border police, and the brutal secret police, the Stasi.  In 1960s, East Germany, even a casual comment to a neighbor can be life-threatening.

Each chapter is introduced with a quote or German proverb that sets up the rationale for Gerta's continued, secretive resistance. "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. — Albert Camus, French novelist"

Gerta Lowe is a character that the reader will cheer and remember.  A Night Divided is a chilling and riveting book, balanced by the hope of one family's love and courage.

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18. Completely Clementine - an audiobook review

Below is my review of Completely Clementine, as it appeared in the October 1, 2015, edition of School Library Journal.


PENNYPACKER, Sara. Completely Clementine. 2 CDs. 2 hrs. Recorded Books. 2015. $25.75. ISBN 9781490625225. digital download.

Gr 2–4—Clementine faces a host of rising fourth-grader issues as the school year ends. She’s feuding with her father over his refusal to become a vegetarian like the rest of the family, she can’t bring herself to say goodbye to her third-grade teacher, and the family’s new baby is due soon and they haven’t even chosen a name yet. Picking the baby’s name should be easy, but her other problems are more serious. She’s avoided her teacher and given her dad the silent treatment for so long that she begins to regret it—but it’s so hard to stop! Clementine and her friends sometimes exhibit the concerns of adults (school friends worry about future wedding plans), but Clementine’s steadfast good nature and silliness are endearing and relatable. Jessica Almasy narrates, bringing infectious enthusiasm to Clementine’s usually upbeat and slightly sassy personality. Other character voices are clearly defined, with Clementine’s parents sounding especially authentic. VERDICT Fans of the series and kids ready to move up from Junie B. Jones will enjoy. [“This last title in the popular and laugh-out-loud chapter book series is a must-have for library collections": SLJ 2/1/15 review of the Disney-Hyperion book.]

 Copyright © 2015 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc.
Reprinted with permission.

 ##

Note:
The review was edited slightly and did not include the following:
Jessica Almasy narrates all of the Clementine books. A New Yorker herself, she sounds more Southern Californian than befits Clementine’s Boston environs, but she brings infectious enthusiasm to Clementine’s usually upbeat and slightly sassy personality. 

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19. Fuzzy Mud - a review

Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar, winner of the Newbery Medal and National Book Award for Holes.  Narrated by Kathleen McInerny with a full cast and an author's note read by Sachar himself. (Listening Library, 2015)
4 hours
Target audience: Grades 5 and up

I reviewed Fuzzy Mud for AudioFile Magazine, and loved it. As I should have expected from Louis Sachar, there is much more to it than I first expected.  It's a sci-fi, adventure thriller,that focuses on the very broad concept of ecology as well as the more intimate problem of bullying. A link to my review for AudioFile Magazine is here. [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/104469/]

I highly recommend it.

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20. New Jersey - The 50 States Fun Fact Blog Extravaganza!

New Jersey knows that it's the butt of jokes throughout the nation, but we also know that we've got a great state with unique features that no other state can match.  From the mountains to the shore, from the cities to the Pines, we've got a wealth of natural beauty, history, and culture.  It's like a well-kept secret.  But now, The Fifty States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps, written by Gabrielle Balkin and illustrated by Sol Linero (Quarto, 2015) is bringing some of our secrets to light.


Take a peek at the New Jersey page, and then I'll share a few of my favorite NJ gems.



Three of my NJ favorites which are featured in The Fifty States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps:
 BRIGHT IDEA In West Orange you can visit inventor Thomas Edison’s lab and house.
Thomas Edison National Historical Park is a fascinating place to visit.  In my opinion it beats visiting Thomas Edison Center in Menlo Park, NJ and his winter estate in Fort Myers, Florida.  He didn't just invent the light bulb, he invented everything you need to use a light bulb - from the lamp to the power grid.  And of course, he invented much more than the light bulb.  Not a perfect man, by any means, but a perfectly brilliant inventor!
"Edison labs Main St Lakeside Av jeh" by Jim.henderson - Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edison_labs_Main_St_Lakeside_Av_jeh.jpg#/media/File:Edison_labs_Main_St_Lakeside_Av_jeh.jpg

LUCY THE ELEPHANT In 1881 the U.S. Patent Office granted inventor James Lafferty the right to make animal-shaped buildings for 17 years. His first creation, Lucy, still stands in Margate, Atlantic City.
She's a whopping 6-stories high and 134 years old, and she sits right next to the beach.  And what a view from inside!  I'm not positive but I do remember that her interior paint color is "stomach," or something similarly intestinal.
By Harriet Duncan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
FEBRUARY 1913: Silk workers in Paterson begin a six-month-long strike for better working conditions.
Paterson, NJ, may not be your first thought when seeking tourist sites, but it's well worth a visit.  Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park is one of the nation's newest National Parks. The falls (one of the largest in the nation) and park sit in the midst of an urban city of more than 145,000 people. The falls and the people of Paterson were powerhouses of the U.S. Industrial Revolution.
Photo by L Taylor (c)
If you want to know more great sites in NJ, you'll have to come see for yourself. (BTW, Come See For Yourself, was once our state slogan. I think they should have gone with the more popular, "New Jersey - You got a problem with that?")

Note:
Book images and quotes were provided by the publisher.  I have no publisher or bookseller affiliations and received no compensation.  I am participating for love of state.

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21. The Other Side of the Wall - a review

The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Schwartz

Translated from German by Laura Watkinson
Published by Graphic Universe, 2015
112 pages, best for grades 6 and up
Paperback

Simon Schwartz was born in East Berlin in the 1980s.The Other Side of the Wall is his graphic memoir of growing up in the divided city, of his parent's three-year struggle to obtain an exit permit to leave East Berlin, and of his later forays between the two Berlins.

His parents met in college. His father came from a family of staunch Communist Party members.  His mother's family was secretly more liberal, though any deviation from expected Party behavior was cause for examination and surveillance by the Stasi, or secret German police.  It was dangerous to stray from party orthodoxy, particularly if you were a teacher, as Simon's father was. His parents became disillusioned with life in the restrictive East German city.

The Soviet Union had recently invaded Afghanistan. My dad worked on his speech, night after night.
     "God, how can you describe a war as just?  They want me to use fancy words to justify this invasion."
     "Just write something you can square with your own conscience -- at least in part."
     "I don't know if I can do that."

When his parents requested exit permits, their lives became fraught with poverty,ostracism, and physical danger.

The book's layout is as structured as Communist life - with few exceptions, four blocks per page - each bordered in black. The artwork is monochromatic, fitting for the stark reality of life behind the Wall. The story is told  in speech bubbles, text blocks that set the scene or relay back story, and the occasional footnote explaining terms that may not be familiar to readers (well-known  politicians or artists of the time, and uniquely German or Communist terms). Several panels are wordless - vague remembrances of the young Schwarz.

Back matter includes a glossary, a timeline of the Berlin Wall, and maps of Germany and Berlin 1961-1989.

I recently reviewed the historical fiction novel, A Night Divided, that describes life in East Berlin in the immediate aftermath of the Berlin Wall's construction.The Other Side of the Wall is a perfect companion book - a nonfiction, graphic novel account of the Wall's waning days.  For younger readers not familiar with day-to-day life in the Cold War Era, this is a chilling introduction.


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22. Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America's First Private Eye - an audiobook review

Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America's First Private Eye by Samantha Seiple, Read by Danny Campbell
Scholastic Audiobooks
3.5 hours
Best for upper middle grades and/or high school

I recently reviewed Lincoln's Spymaster for AudioFile Magazine.  A link to my review of this biography of the nation's most famous private investigator is here: [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/107600/]  Pinkerton's is a compelling story, well-told and read.


Antietam, Md. Allan Pinkerton ("E. J. Allen") of the Secret Service on horseback, Creator(s): Gardner, Alexander, 1821-1882, photographer, Source: Library of Congress 

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23. The Green Bicycle - a review

The Green Bicycle by Haifaa Al Mansour
(Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015)

Eleven-year-old Wadjda lives with her parents in Saudi Arabia.  Lately, however, she's seen very little of her father. Rumor has it that he is seeking a second wife.  Because money is scarce and women are not permitted to drive, Wadjda's mother takes an hours-long cab ride each day to a remote village to teach school.  Covered in black from head to toe, she shares the ride (without air-conditioning) with other teachers - crammed in a dilapidated cab in the sweltering desert heat.  Wadjda, due to her young age and family's financial circumstances, has a special note that allows her to walk alone to school each day—but she longs to ride a bike like Abdullah.  She and Abdullah were once friends, but now that she is older, she is not permitted to fraternize with boys.

Wadjda, however, does not easily take "no" for an answer.  She rebels against the tedious rules of her girls-only school. Why shouldn't she be able to sell mix-tapes of Western musicians? She rebels against her mother and father. Why can't she play video games in her living room designated for men only. She rebels against the constraints of her culture. Why can't she talk to Abdullah if she wants to? And why can't a girl have a bicycle?  Despite the obstacles and consequences, Wadjda is determined to have her way.

     A lecture she'd heard in science class tickled her memory.  Again and again, her teacher had told them that dark colors absorb heat, while lighter colors reflect it back.  She ended the lesson my stating that this phenomenon was one of the miracles of the universe.  It proved there was one almighty God, Allah, and that he had created everything for a purpose.
     Beneath her hot black veil, Wadjda twisted her lips.  She wondered if people knew this scientific secret when the tribal code assigned black to women and white to men.  Maybe the real miracle of the universe was that she was able to walk home in Riyadh's sweltering afternoon sun without passing out!
     The boys were gone now.  Their bicycles moved like a flash around the corner.  Wadjda squinted into the dusty afternoon and continued slowly on her way.  As she walked, she pitched the stone Father had given her at various targetst— a can, a stick, a funny-colored brick on the side of a buildingt—thinking all the while about the different miracles of the universe.  It had taken so much to get her to this exact spot, at this exact moment.  So what was her purpose, now that she was here?
Wadjda is an endearing protagonist because, despite a setting that is foreign to the American reader, Wadjda is familiar to us.  She is just a girl like most girls—sometimes obedient, sometimes rebellious, sometimes remorseful, sometimes not.  To women and girls of the West, life as a female in Saudi Arabia seems oppressive, cruel, unfathomable. To a girl like Wadjda, it is just life—a life in which she must eke out moments of hope, happiness, and laughter.  Along with heartache, Haifaa Al Mansour has showed us those moments.

I've heard that the movie is phenomenal.  Whether by book or by movie, I urge you to know Wadjda's story, The Green Bicycle. I think you will love this spirited young girl.

Below is the trailer for the movie Wadjda, on which The Green Bicycle is based.
What makes this even more inspiring is that this movie, made in Saudi Arabia was written and directed by a woman, Haifaa Al Mansour, in a country without movie theaters and where women are not even supposed to be outside without a male relative. You can read highlights of an interview with Haifaa Al Mansour here: [http://www.npr.org/2013/09/22/224437165/wadjda-director-haifaa-al-mansour-it-is-time-to-open-up]

My copy of The Green Bicycle was provided by the publisher at my request.

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24. The Blackthorn Key - an audiobook review

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands
Read by Ray Panthacki
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2015
7.25 hrs
Grades 5-9


Christopher Rowe, is a lucky lad.  Plucked from the orphanage for his intellectual potential, Christopher is apprenticed to the kindly apothecary, Master Benedict Blackthorn. Despite his lowly upbringing, relayed by narrator Ray Panthacki's hint of a Cockney accent, Christopher receives training in Latin, astronomy, ciphers, potions, and other tools of the apothecary's trade. In the midst of a suspicious atmosphere following great political upheaval, a mysterious cult of murderers arises. Christopher will need all his skills and more to decode a series of clues to a dangerous plot that threatens to upset the balance of world power. Panthacki clearly defines each of The Blackthorn Key's large cast of characters, creating distinctive voices that reflect their standing in British society.  Christopher's best friend is Tom, an apprentice baker.  Like Harry Potter and Ron, they are a memorable pair, and their dialogue sounds honest and warm.   Whether in terror, danger, or mere horseplay, the listener feels the emotion in and between the characters.  The only thing that slows the pace of adventure in this gripping mystery is the occasional reading of lengthy ciphers. Print readers may well try their hand at decoding them, but for listeners, they're primarily a drag on the action. The setting is as rich as the plot in this mid-17th century adventure brought to life by veteran actor Ray Panthacki.

 


My review copy was provided by AudioFile MagazineMy review of The Blackthorn Key for AudioFile Magazine (along with an audio excerpt) appears here. [http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/107274/]

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25. Bunjitsu Bunny's Best Move - a review

Bunjitsu Bunny's Best Move


by John Himmelman
(Henry Holt, 2015)

When Bunjitsu Bunny's Best Move came across my desk, my nose wrinkled and I thought, "Oh, this is going to be goofy."  But yet, I loved the cover art, and dove in anyway - taking it on my lunch break.  I'm so glad I did.

In fourteen, short, illustrated chapters, Isabel, John Himmelman's "bunjitsu" expert, learns important lessons of wisdom that are the perfect complement to her martial arts prowess.  In the second chapter, "Bunjitsu Bunny Fails," the usually perfect Isabel fails to master the "bunchucks."  She is profoundly disappointed,

     "You should not be unhappy," said Teacher.
     "But everyone passed the test except me," said Isabel.
     "Do you know what you did wrong?" asked Teacher.
     "Yes," said Isabel.
     "Can you do better?" asked Teacher.
     "Yes," said Isabel.
     "Lucky you," said Teacher. "They passed the test, but you learned the most."
Bunjitsu Bunny learns wisdom through action and observation.  Her lessons are similar to those imparted in John Muth's award-winning Zen Shorts picture books. However, the Bunjitsu Bunny books are simple chapter books for a suggested age range of 6-8 years.  The words are large, and the red, black and white illustrations are bold and full of expression.  The final chapter includes instructions for making an origami bunny face. Bunjitsu Bunny is a winner.

This is the second book in the series.  The first was Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny. (Images and excerpts here: [http://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250068064]) 


Bunjitsu Bunny is similar in reading level with one of my other favorites, Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson books.  I reviewed Mercy Watson to the Rescue in 2012


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