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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.
"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."
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."
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.
"I thought we were in a Depression," Pole whispered to me.There's also Uncle Goat the liar,
"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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.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.
Children fell down in fits.
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."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.
"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."
"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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
HM: The name is Irish in origin, so the correct amount of syllables for authentic pronunciation is eight. (Or nine. It depends if you have all your own teeth or not.) But for our purposes, three will suffice.2. I can find little about you on your “official” bio, other than “Teller of Tall Tales. Adventurer. Swordsman. Discoverer of the Fountain of Youth. Author of many great works, the latest of which is My Zombie Hamster.” Did your discovery of the Fountain of Youth pique your interest in longevity, thus inspiring your interest in zombies, or did another path bring you to zombies? I’ve drunk from your Fountain of Youth, by the way. It tastes terrible. One does wonder though, what would be the effect of the Fountain of Youth on a zombie?
HM: Many good questions there. My discovery of the fountain of youth is a story that would put Indiana Jones to shame. And perhaps it will one day be told. Many are the times I’ve thought about writing down my own adventures in a series of easy-to-read volumes aimed at the younger audience. Thrilling is not the word. Well, it’s one word. But there are many others. Exciting. Dangerous. Death-defying. Amazing. (For instance, there’s the time I took up with the traveling circus as they crossed the planes of Africa. This is where I saved one of my young protégés from a life of mind-numbing boredom cleaning up after hippogriffs. Then there’s the time I saved an entire city from the Witch King of Mallidar. And this is where I saved my second protégé. They booth accompanied me on my many adventures and were with me when I discovered the fabled city of Shangri-La (which lead directly to my discovery of the fountain of youth.) Perhaps someday these tales will be told.
As to the taste, yes, I agree. Like rusted metal filtered through an old sock in which cabbage has been boiled. It’s not pleasant.
Finally, as to my discovery of the fountain possibly inspiring my interest in zombies, yes. You are indeed correct. The fountain was guarded by a village of zombies who had all drunk from the fountain. It brought back their minds and consciousness (but did not repair their bodies.) That was where I got the idea of my little twist on zombies.3. And of course, the most important question, what will Anti-Snuffles do next?
HM: Never fear, he will be back. I have recently put down my fountain pen and completed the second book in the series, Attack of the Zombie Clones. It features everything from the first book, but bigger, better, and undead-er.
Davis, Kathryn Gibbs. 2014. Mr. Ferris and his Wheel. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Illustrated by Gilbert Ford.
George arrived in Chicago and made his case to the construction chief of the fair.The chief stared at George's drawings. No one had ever created a fair attraction that huge and complicated. The chief told George that his structure was "so flimsy it would collapse."George had heard enough. He rolled up his drawings and said, "You are an architect, sir. I am an engineer."George knew something the chief did not. His invention would be delicate-looking and strong. It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal—steel.
George was a steel expert, and his structure would be made of a steel alloy. Alloys combine a super-strong mix of a hard metal with two or more chemical elements.
|Ferris wheel at the Chicago World's Fair c1893.|
Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division[/caption]
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2014. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York: Penguin.
Despite the title, Brown Girl Dreaming is most certainly not just a book for brown girls or girls. Jacqueline Woodson's memoir-in-verse relates her journey to discover her passion for writing. Her story is framed by her large, loving family within the confines of the turbulent Civil Rights Era.
Sometimes a book is so well-received, so popular, that it seems that enough has been said (and said well); anything else would just be noise. Rather than add another Brown Girl Dreaming review to the hundreds of glowing ones already in print and cyberspace, I offer you links to other sites, interviews and reviews related to Brown Girl Dreaming. And, I'll pose a question on memoirs in children's literature.
First, the links:
Angleberger, Tom. 2014. Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus. Recorded Books.
Sometimes you get lucky. I've had the opportunity to meet Tom Angleberger several times (including a Skype visit with my book club), I've had an enthusiastic group of Origami Yoda fans that frequent my library, and most recently, I won a copy of Emperor Pickletine Rides the Bus from Recorded Books (more on that in a minute).
Since the first time I read and reviewed The Strange Case of Origami in 2010, I've been a fan, and so have legions of kids. In addition to the fact that Tom Angleberger's writing style is perceptive, relevant, and flat-out funny; he, himself, is a great part of his success. Just check his website, or his presence on Twitter (@origamiyoda). He is unfailingly polite, positive, and accessible. Kids love him and he loves them right back.
"The end this is not,"however, this is the end of the series. And yes, you will find out if Origami Yoda is indeed real.