Wednesday, December 30, 2015

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/]


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

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.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

I am Princess X - the sleeper hit that I didn't review this year

I received an advance copy of I am Princess X months before the book's actual release. The artwork wasn't completed—but it didn't matter.  Even with sample art and text descriptions of illustrations, I loved it.  I shared it with my colleagues, I gave it to one of the kids in my book club, I nominated it for a 2015 Cybils Award in the YA Fiction category (fingers crossed).  The one thing I didn't get around to doing is reviewing it. So, better late to the party than never ...

I am Princess X is a unique mix of webcomic and prose. Set in Seattle, it's a mystery, a thriller, and a look into a lifestyle that includes the literal Seattle underground and the dark web

Here's a quick booktalk you can use:
May is 16-yrs-old when she begins seeing stickers and graffiti of Princess X throughout Seattle.  When May was younger, she and her friend, Libby, created the Princess X comic.  May wrote the story and Libby illustrated it—but that was years ago—before Libby died.  So who's drawing Princess X now?

I think it's a sleeper hit, that will only become more popular with time. It received starred reviews in School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.


You can listen to an audio excerpt of I am Princess X here: [http://iamprincessxbook.tumblr.com/post/124693032795/listen-to-an-excerpt-from-i-am-princess-x] (not sure how that will work without the embedded comic book pages)

The Canadian Scholastic site also posted a print excerpt.  You can access it here: [http://www.scholastic.ca/books/view/i-am-princess-x]

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Under a Painted Sky - an audiobook review


Under a Painted Sky, a debut YA novel set in 1849,, was recommended to me by an adult library customer who said his mother enjoyed it.  I was happy to receive an opportunity to review this unique historical fiction, adventure, romance novel for AudioFile Magazine.  A link to my review is below, as well as the official book trailer. The review contains an audio excerpt.  Enjoy.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee.  Read by Emily Woo Zeller.
Tantor Audio, 2015.  10.25 hrs.

A link to my review for AudioFile Magazinehttp://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/102637/

Monday, December 7, 2015

Picture Book Roundup - December Holiday edition

Each year, hundreds of new holiday books are printed. Many are trite, forced, or pedantic—but not these gems.  Here are my five new favorites. Readjoice! 
  If you have trouble viewing the slideshow, visit it on Riffle.
Featured books:
  • A Homemade Together Christmas
  • Oskar and the Eight Blessings
  • Me and My Dragon: Christmas Spirit
  • Too Many Toys!
  • Miracle on 133rd Street

Monday, November 30, 2015

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:

Monday, November 23, 2015

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


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

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/]

Monday, November 16, 2015

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 targets— a can, a stick, a funny-colored brick on the side of a building—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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What Does Otis See - thoughts on beginning readers

What Does Otis See? - Thoughts on beginning readers and a roundabout recommendation for a very "beginning reader."

I don't usually review beginning reader books, because I don't like many, and I'm frustrated by the lack of publisher consensus on what constitutes the levels.*  I've seen harried parents grab a selection of "Level 2" books off the shelf and assume that their second grade child will be able to read them (not a totally unreasonable assumption). However, aside from the obvious fact that not all children in a particular grade read at the same level, not all "Level 2" books are the same level of difficulty.  I intervene with assistance whenever possible, but pity the poor child whose parent doesn't receive assistance and returns home with insistence that the child slog through a book that doesn't match her ability. This is not the recipe for an enthusiastic reader!

Choosing books for Kindergarten children can be even more frustrating.  "Pre-level 1," "Emergent reader," "Ready to read," "Level 1" -- the choices are endless and the books often much too difficult for the earliest of readers. I love David Milgrim's Pip and Otto books, but ours are coming out of circulation due to age-related wear and tear.  BOB Books are wonderful, but too flimsy for library circulation.

Aggravated is an understatement for my feelings about the whole easy reader situation.

And then along comes What Does Otis See?

What Does Otis See? by Loren Long
Penguin Young Readers, 2015
Level 1, Guided Reading Level C (for those of you keeping score - I'm not)

What Does Otis See? features Otis the tractor exploring the farm. Here's what I like about it:
  • There are only three or four simple words to each double-spread illustration, "Otis sees a calf."
  • The illustrations are detailed, but simply presented with ample use of white space - not busy or distracting.
  • The illustrations offer foreshadowing and invite examination. The page preceding "Otis sees a calf," depicts Otis examining a flowery meadow with the calf partially obscured by grass and flowers.
  • Otis and the dog are adorable.

 
That Otis is an old tractor might make him unfamiliar to urban and suburban kids, but any child who has watched Disney/Pixar's Cars will certainly remember the tractor tipping scene.

Until publishers come to an agreement on a standard of leveling, I will continue to ignore the numbers on the book jacket.  I'll look on the inside and find the right book for each reader.  It takes more time, but it's what needs to be done.  If you're looking for a very easy, "easy reader," What Does Otis See? is worth checking out.


Note:
*In 2010, I wrote a piece for Children & Libraries titled "The Conundrum of Choosing Book Levels." My frustration level hasn't changed much.

Monday, November 9, 2015

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 

Monday, November 2, 2015

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.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Some library humor at the ALSC Blog



You can find me over at the ALSC Blog today with a little bit of library humor.  Please stop by and read about one of my favorite library patrons.  [http://wp.me/p5Z0QG-32Q]

And if you know of a good, new, middle-grade book trailer, please tell me about it in the comments.  My book club is meeting this afternoon.  Thanks!

Monday, October 26, 2015

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.

Monday, October 19, 2015

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.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

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. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

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.


Note: My copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Picture Book Roundup - October 2015 edition

This edition of the Picture Book Roundup features three funny books, a hilarious cautionary tale, and a sweet bookish story to melt your heart. Enjoy!

Review copies of Night Animals by Gianna Marino (Viking, 2015) and In! Over! and On! by Ethan Long (Penguin, 2015) were provided by the publishers at my request. The Good Little Book by Kyo Maclear (Tundra, 2015), Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2015), and Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy (Candlewick, 2015)

If you can't access the slide show with reviews below, you can see it on RiffleBooks at this link. [https://read.rifflebooks.com/list/185319]

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Death Knell for Show-and-Tell

 The Death Knell for Show-and-Tell
For  Library Card Sign-Up Month, I visit every Kindergarten class in town.  I talk about all the great reasons to have a library card, drop off applications for each student, and read a book - preferably a funny one.  Because I visit at least 12 different classrooms, I usually bring an assortment of books so I don't get bored reading the same one in each class.

This year, I brought Otto the Book Bear by Katie Cleminson (not funny, but a perfect choice for pitching libraries!) A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell (the "what not to do with your library book" book), and Elise Parsley's, If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!.


If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't (2015, Little, Brown) is a new book that I find hilarious.   A little girl brings her alligator to school for show-and-tell, and all havoc breaks loose.  I thought it would bring some giggles to Kindergarten kids.  At my first visit, I asked the teacher if the kids had begun show-and-tell yet. I wanted to make sure they would get the joke.  I was told that the new, more rigorous Kindergarten curriculum did not allow the time necessary for the rather lengthy process of show-and-tell.  The teacher suggested that the book would be best shared with preschoolers as they are the only ones with time for show-and-tell.  How sad.

This isn't an individual teacher's decision, it is a by-product of strict, standards-based education.  I get it.  I truly do, but I am glad that I am not a child today.  Today's body of knowledge is so much greater than it was when I was in school, and the process of educating children has moved to a business-like model.  These factors combine to remove much of the joy of early learning - free play, music, art, and show-and-tell.

If you're a parent or librarian or teacher with a few minutes of free time, spread some joy wherever you can.  Life is hard - even in Kindergarten. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Banned Books Week 2015

If everyone adhered to this great advice from Dav Pilkey, there would be no need to call attention to Banned Books Week!  Grab a good book and celebrate your freedom to read.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Beast of Cretacea - a review

The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser 
(Candlewick, 2015)

Seventeen-year-old Ishmael has volunteered for a dangerous assignment - a vaguely outlined stint on Cretacea, where he will work with other adventurers in an untamed environment, harvesting resources bound for Earth. Only the dismal outlook on Earth makes this option seem appealing. Stripped of its natural resources, covered in a perpetual shroud, and dangerously low on breathable air, Earth holds few attractions for Ishmael. His foster family is his only concern, but his foster brother is now headed for assignment, too, and Ishmael hopes to earn enough money on Cretacea to pay for passage from Earth for his foster parents. 

On Cretacea, a prophetic warning from an old neighbor haunts Ishmael as he works onboard the Pequod under the command of the mad Captain Ahab who has set the ship's course to capture the Great Terrafin, a deadly sea creature of near mythical proportions. For Ishmael and his onboard companions, adventures abound in this cleverly crafted homage to Moby Dick. References to Moby Dick (for those familiar with them) are plentiful; however, despite its similarities to Melville's classic, The Beast of Cretacea is a sci-fi book for the modern age. The Beast of Cretacea confronts modern issues of environmental degradation, resource depletion, wealth and privilege, scientific possibility, and of course, the transcendent coming-of-age issue. Breathtaking excitement is measured with thought-provoking ideas, a rich plotline, and occasional flashbacks. At least one great twist awaits. 

For ponderers, sci-fi enthusiasts, and adventure fans seeking a little something extra. Best for ages 12 and up.

On a shelf near you 10/13/15


Note:
 
Members of my monthly book club recently Skyped with Todd Strasser.  They were impressed by his perseverance (only a summer's worth of reading kept him from repeating the 3rd grade!) and the sheer volume of his work (more than 140 books!). They appreciated his affability and willingness to delay an afternoon of surfing to accommodate us.  As an added bonus, when his daughter (who created the beast on the book's cover) accidentally passed in camera view, he introduced us and gave us a short lesson in the evolution of a book's cover art.

I have two copies of The Beast of Cretacea.  One was provided at my request from Todd Strasser, and the other was subsequently provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers.  Both will given to members of my book club who cannot wait to read it!!

 More fun Beast of Cretacea content:

A Beast of Cretacea Quiz created by the author:https://www.goodreads.com/quizzes/1115313-do-you-know-the-beast 

A humorous video trailer:

The Beast of Cretacea from todd strasser on Vimeo.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Storytime picks for Hispanic Heritage Month

Each year, I try to do something new for Hispanic Heritage Month at the library.

This year, I fell in love with Susan Middleton Elya's, Little Roja Riding Hood (Putnam, 2014), so I based a program around that title.  We had a fun time retelling the classic story as we knew it, recreating it with felt board pieces,  reading Susan Middleton Elya's version, using the globe to find Spanish-speaking countries, playing a game of Color, Colorcito, and finally some free play with the felt board pieces and a rojo coloring page.

Below is a slide show with reviews of other bilingual favorites that I've used for storytime.  I also have a list of fun preschool songs, music, and activities for Hispanic Heritage Month.  Feel free to ask me about them.  If you have trouble seeing the slideshow, you can access it on Riffle. [https://read.rifflebooks.com/list/181065]
 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

#YA audiobook reviews

Here are two #YAlit audiobooks that I recently reviewed for AudioFile Magazine. I am not permitted to reprint the reviews here, but have provided the links (which include audio excerpts).  Both books offer a unique viewpoint of the adolescent male experience - Me and Earl and the Dying Girl through the medium of film making, and 100 Sideways Miles through the medium of abstract conceptsBut now I've had my fill of angsty boys for a bit.  Time for a change of pace.  Up next:  Sci-fi and a new picture book roundup.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. by Jesse Andrews, 2013
Read by Thomas Mann, R.J. Cyler, Keith Szarabajka, Hillary Huber, Kirby Heyborne, Abigail Revasch, Adenrele Ojo
6.25 hrs.

I didn't see the movie, but the audio book was fantastic! Here's the link to my review:



100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith, 2015
Read by Kirby Heyborne
7 hrs.


 If you're looking for a change of pace, this may be the one for you.  It's quirky in a good way.

Monday, August 31, 2015

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.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Vacation!

The annual Summer Reading Club season at the public library is winding down, and it's time to head out for my annual "take the kids back to college" road trip.

See you in two weeks!

(or on Twitter @shelfemployed)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

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!



Monday, August 10, 2015

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.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Bee Dance - a review

9780805099195Bee Dance by Rick Chrustowski (Henry Holt, 2015)

Suitable for sharing with a story time group, Bee Dance is presented as a conversational entreaty to bees,
Waggle faster, honeybee! Buzz louder! Your dance points the way to the prairie."
Bee Dance is lyrical nonfiction with large, bright, cut-paper illustrations.  An author's note contains additional facts and the author's source material.


  • You can watch an actual "waggle dance" below.




It's STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy

The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy: A handbook for girl geeks by Sam Maggs, 2015
Read by Holly Conrad, Jessica Almasy
5 hrs.


Although it is essentially a book about fandoms of all types (Trekkers, Potterheads, cosplayers, and the like), The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy it is also a motivational book that entreats young women to embrace their fangirl passions without apology.

Here's a link to the audiobook review that I wrote recently for AudioFile Magazine. http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/101132/





Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Night Animals - a review

I think I am predisposed to like anything done by Gianna Marino, so I requested an Advance Reader Copy of Night Animals, which is on shelves now.  I was not disappointed.

Marino, Gianna. 2015. Night Animals. New York: Viking.

Full bleed illustrations let the night sky offer an expansive and inky stage for highlighting a comical group of nocturnal animals that are afraid of noises in the night.  The large illustrations clearly detail the animals' antics, wide-eyed fear, and varying reactions to things that go "aaaarrrrooo!" in the night.  The skunk is often depicted with a noxious greenish cloud behind him (much to the dismay of Possum), while the possum (appropriately) plays dead,

"I'm not here."

Minimal text is presented in cartoon-style word bubbles,

 "What are we hiding from?"  "Night animals!  Now keep QUIET!"

Bear, Wolf, Skunk and Possum run from the "night animals."  It takes a bat to tell them the real danger in the nighttime forest.

Night Animals will tickle the funny bone of any young child.  This is a perfect book for sharing with a group.  Possum is hilarious!