Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie (Part 1)

It's been too long since I've been to the Leaky Cauldron. I just found out that the new HP7 trailer is up! Check out the trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, and all things Harry Potter at the Leaky Cauldron.

If you haven't read The Deathly Hallows is a while, it's time to read it again! And of course, it's time to ask for a vacation day - November 19th!

Monday, June 28, 2010

"Happy Birthday"

Allen, Nancy Kelly. 2010. "Happy Birthday" The Story of the World’s Most Popular Song. Gretna, LA: Pelican.

We take the song, “Happy Birthday” for granted, but did you know that it was first written by school teachers, Mildred and Patty Hill? It had different lyrics and an original title of “Good Morning to All.” The Hill sisters first published the song in 1893. An improvisational inspiration at a birthday party led Patty Hill to create the new lyrics that we all know.
The catchy song was easy to remember, and people began singing it at parties. The song found its way out of Louisville, across the nation, and around the world.
I love nonfiction books that lend themselves to story time. Most kids will know the Happy Birthday song and will be interested in hearing its origin. Of course, they’ll love singing it as well! "Happy Birthday" will  make a great read-aloud for older children.  I often host a story hour for adults with various disabilities.  It's difficult to choose books with the right mix of ease and interest.  This title will be perfect for my group as well.

This week's Non-Fiction Monday is at Bookish Blather.  Check it out!

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

One Crazy Summer

Williams-Garcia, Rita. 2010. One Crazy Summer. New York: Harper Collins.

If you haven't heard of One Crazy Summer, you will.  Rita Williams-Garcia's latest middle grade fiction is getting a lot of buzz, and justifiably so.

One Crazy Summer is set in a poor neighborhood of Oakland, California, 1968.  Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern (three African-American girls, aged 11, 9 and 7) travel on their own from Brooklyn to Oakland.  Their father, against the judgment of the girls' grandmother and caretaker, Big Mama, has decided that it's time for the girls to meet Cecile, the mother that deserted them.  With visions of Disneyland, movie stars, and Tinkerbell dancing in their heads, they set off on the plane determined not to make, as Big Mama says, "Negro spectacles" of themselves.  This is advice that Delphine, the oldest, has heard often.  She is smart and savvy with a good head on her shoulders, and she knows how to keep her sisters in line.  Not much can throw her for a loop, but then, she hasn't met crazy Cecile yet.  Cecile, or Nzila, as she is known among the Black Panthers, is consumed by her passion - poetry.  She writes powerful and moving poems for "the people" - important work, and she is not about to be disturbed by three young girls and their constant needs for food and attention. She operates a one-woman printing press in her kitchen - no children allowed. Instead of Disneyland and the beach, she shoos the girls off daily to the local center run by the Black Panthers.  There, in the midst of an impoverished, minority neighborhood, the girls receive free breakfast, kind words, and an education the likes of which they would never have gotten in Brooklyn.  Slowly, they begin to understand the plight of "the people" - the Blacks, the poor, the immigrants, even Cecile.

Although this book has several great themes (Civil Rights, sisterhood, community) and well-rounded strong-willed characters, you can read about them in any number of reviews.  As for me, with my teenage daughter preparing to take a trip to Europe next month with the Girl Scouts, one thing from One Crazy Summer jumped out at me - the mind-opening, positive power of travel.  Had Delphine, Vonetta and Fern stayed in their quiet, stable Brooklyn home, they would have been safe and well-cared for, however, they would have missed many experiences (both good and bad) that would likely shape their lives, their attitudes, their opinions, forever.  Visiting new places and seeing the world through the eyes of people different from ourselves is a powerful experience.  Delphine's wise father recognized that. So do I.

A heavy topic made light by the hearts of three winning sisters, smart and practical Delphine, carefree and adaptable Vonetta, and Fern, small, but determined  Highly recommended.

A detailed review of the book is at Fuse #8 and another at Dog Ear.

An excerpt read by the author is available at
Jacket Knack offers an interesting post about the inviting cover art by Sally Wern Comport.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Handiest Things in the World

Clements, Andrew. 2010. The Handiest Things in the World. New York: Atheneum.  (Photographs by Raquel Jaramillo)

I couldn't resist another 140 character (count 'em!) Tweet review.
See all of my tweets @shelfemployed.

Clement’s The Handiest Things in the World are combs, fans, most of all, hands! Rhyming, dandy, full of eye candy! Storytime fun (Atheneum).

Read a graphic excerpt from The Handiest Things in the World. 

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Keening

LaFaye, A. 2010. The Keening. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed.

Funny thing - I began making the tags for this book before I finished it.  Other than the obvious tags - Maine, rural life, historical fiction, epidemics, ...  I had planned to add - mental illness, autism or spectrum disorder, but I had it all wrong.  It's a matter of perception, and The Keening may change yours.

The Laytons keep to themselves.  Folks in their rural area think Lyza's Pater is crazy - fit only for the "farm" down the road, Elysian Fields, a home for the insane.  Mater's family thinks she's a bit touched as well - must be for marrying Evan Layton.  As for the protagonist, 14-year-old Lyza Layton, she loves both her parents, and cannot imagine life outside her remote, coastal home of 1918 Maine.  The influenza epidemic has hit the area hard and Lyza sees the regular march of keening mourners heading to the cemetery.  She and Pater have survived the influenza, but many others in the community are not so lucky. 

Pater says little.  He carves beautifully intricate faces into wood and then sets them adrift.  He spends hours writing letters, though he has no known friends. Mater takes in sewing and sees to it that Pater eats, sleeps and wears weather-appropriate clothing - difficult chores for a wife whose husband has no concept of time or hunger or other worldly concerns.  Pater talks to angels, writes his letters and disappears into his workshop for hours or days on end, carving, carving, always carving.

But there is love in the Layton household.  Lyza feels it - even from Pater. Despite the scorn and ridicule of local folks, the Laytons are happy in their solitude.  Mater is kind, unflappable and devoted to her husband.  Lyza is enveloped in the cocoon of her family, but Mater encourages her to go to college - to the big city - to Portland. 
" will show you a thousand other paths." Are you sorry you took this one?"  Mater startled like I'd poked her. "Not hardly!"  She turned to me, her face pale and waxy in the faint light. "Life's hard, Lyza. Filled with little invisible walls you have to climb over.  The walls surprise you.  Or, who knows, maybe you put them there yourself to keep your parents out, but the climbing's the thrill of it.  The real work.  I love your pater.  I love you.  And this house. My sewing.  And God forgive their stubbornness, my family."
Lyza is afraid, but her only close friend, Jake, entreats her to go.  He will be tied to a life of fishing.  He wants Lyza to see more.  He wants to go with her.  When tragedies strike, Lyza will go to Portland; and she will find the way into her father's world, willing or not.

The Keening is eloquently written with phrasing that captures the mood and period - the remoteness of the community, the sadness of the epidemic, the resourcefulness of Mainers,
I headed down a shoreline road just wide enough for a horse and a body to pass each other.  Trees lined either side.  As darkness filled the road with shadows, I cursed myself for forgetting a lantern.  The moon pitied my foolishness and lit the way.

Perhaps the grand questions that author A. LaFaye hopes to inspire are ones of purpose, the soul, and the afterlife.  The one, however, that comes most immediately to mind is one of perception.  If a home is filled equally with madness and love, is that not a better home than one filled with judgment and sanity?  The Keening is a short and thoughtful book, sure to leave the reader pondering his own grand questions. Recommended reading for Grades 7 and up.

Read an excerpt from The Keening.

The Keening is published by Milkweed Editions, a non-profit publisher with a mission of "making a humane impact on society, in the belief that good writing can transform the human heart and spirit."  This is the first book that I've read from Milkweed Editions.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

39 Clues: In Too Deep

Watson, Jude. 2009. The 39 Clues: In Too Deep. Read by David Pittu. Scholastic Audio.

The 39 Clues Book 9, Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park is out and I'm struggling to catch up, just finishing Book 6, In Too Deep, in which:

Irina Spasky gets a conscience, Nellie reveals some mysterious abilities, Dan and Amy travel to Australia and Indonesia, Alistair Oh turns up unexpectedly, Amy has flashbacks from the night her parents died, Isabel Kabra joins the story, and the first of the clue hunters perishes (or appears to).

As with the other audiobook versions, bonus material follows the final chapter. In this case, a recorded interview with Isabel Kabra.

I continue to be amazed at the seamless manner in which so many well-known authors can maintain the character and voice of the series.  I would love to know what guidelines each author is given and how much latitude each is allowed in making his/her mark on The 39 Clues brand. I'm looking forward to checking out a woman's touch in Books 9 & 10 by Linda Sue Park and Margaret Peterson Haddix.  David Pittu is the reader for all the books in the series and does well with the many accents and characters he must portray.  He even does Nellie's Hispanic accent mimicking an Aussie accent.  Try that!

Listen to a sample from the Barnes and Noble site, or download the audiobook free from your public library.

If readers are interested in more information about the famed Krakatao Volcano (featured in the book), point them to the fascinating nonfiction title, The Day the World Exploded.

Check out all things 39 Clues related at The 39 Clues official site.

On to Book 7, The Viper's Nest.  I can't stop now!

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Jim Murphy, a nonfiction treasure

Today is Non-Fiction Monday. Rather than review a nonfiction title, I'd like to highlight a nonfiction author.  Jim Murphy has been a favorite of mine since I read The Great Fire as required reading in library school.  Since then, I've read other Jim Murphy titles and have never been disappointed. His books are thoroughly researched, well-written, gripping accounts of history that are more affecting than fiction.  Filled with photographs, maps, and other primary source facsimiles, readers are immersed in history.  His ability to recount catastrophic events from numerous perspectives, offers historical insight not readily available in textbooks or historical fiction.  If you've never read one of Jim Murphy's books, you're missing a wonderful experience. 

This year, Jim Murphy is the winner of the Margaret A. Edwards award.
I try to keep abreast of the many awards for children's books, but because I read and review juvenile titles, I was unaware of ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association's (YALSA) Margaret A. Edwards Award.
The Margaret A. Edwards Award, established in 1988, honors an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. The annual award is administered by YALSA and sponsored by School Library Journal magazine. It recognizes an author's work in helping adolescents become aware of themselves and addressing questions about their role and importance in relationships, society, and in the world.
An interview with winner, Jim Murphy appears in this month's School Library Journal.  What makes Jim Murphy such a wonderful and interesting choice is that although he was chosen by YALSA, his books are also appropriate for younger (and older) readers, and most importantly, he is the first nonfiction author ever chosen for this award.

He is the winner of over 16 major awards including 2 Newbery Honors, the Robert F. Sibert Award, and 3 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis Pictus Awards for Nonfiction.  His website offers a complete list of his many honors. I'm also pleased to mention that Jim Murphy resides in the beautiful Garden State - New Jersey. He is one of our many treasures. :)
Selected Books by Jim Murphy
Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting
The Great Fire
BLIZZARD! The Storm that Changed America
An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
Savage Thunder: Antietam and the Bloody Road to Freedom
and coming this year
The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution

Check out all the Nonfiction Monday reviews at Books together, today's host.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

One Too Many: A Seek and Find Counting Book and Indestructibles!

One book to count and two books to chew!  Good news for tiny tots...

Marino, Gianna. 2010. One Too Many: A Seek and Find Counting Book. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Love it! 1 flea, 2 cows, 3 horses ... each group arriving in turn at the barnyard water trough. Wordless, but not simple, there is much to see and do in One Too Many. All of the animals are realistically illustrated, primarily in shades of black and white. It becomes increasingly difficult to spot the newcomers in the chaos of black and white creatures crowding the trough, as chickens, geese,mice, rabbits, ducks, fireflies and bats join the throng.

Spotting and counting each species will keep little eyes busy, while the keenest eyes will also note the action of the flea, adding one hop on each double-spread page, keeping count from 1-12.

When the final black and white creature arrives (accompanied by greenish fumes emanating from its tail),you can imagine that the trough won't be crowded for long! Count on One Too Many for preschool counting fun!

Check out the author's website for a look inside One Too Many. How many rabbits can you find?

They're beautiful, they're multicultural, they're chewable, they're "Indestructibles!"

While I was at BookExpo, I picked up a few of these wordless picture books.  Small (only 7"), and square, they're also remarkably thin - the perfect size for little hands. And don't call these "board books," they're only about 1/16" thick! The pages are sewn together tightly, and according to Workman Publishing, they are chew proof, rip proof, noxtoxic, and 100% washable.  Heck - you can even throw them in the dishwasher! As if that weren't enough (I'm beginning to sound like an infomercial here), they're beautiful.

Pixton, Kaaren. 2010. Plip-Plop Pond! New York: Workman.

Plip-Plop Pond! is the first in the series. The artist, Kaaren Pixton is also the mastermind behind the Indestructible concept.  Plip-Plop Pond! follows a friendly frog as he meets the other inhabitants of the pond -  a swan, a heron, salamanders and more.  Each page show the happy frog greeting a new friend.  Full of vibrant, earthy colors, there is no white space in these inviting pages.  No more than three creatures appear on each page, enabling little eyes to easily pick out the characters. 

Also in the series, I picked up Humpty Dumpty by Jonas Sickler.

Check out this cover! This  richly illustrated multicultural nursery rhyme has Humpty falling from the Great Wall of China.  But don't worry, when he falls, he hatches! Royal purples, floral cloth, and rosy skies create a rich palette evoking the exotic world of China.

Little children will eat these books up (or at least try to!)

There are 8 books in the collection.  These books are Advance Reader Copies that I received from the publisher.
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Grandma's Pear Tree

Santillan, Suzanne. 2010. Grandma's Pear Tree/El Peral de Abuela. Illustrated by Atilio Pernisco. McHenry, IL: Raventree.

Jessie has promised to stay away from Abuela's pear tree. When his ball gets stuck in the tree, he consults Abuelo, who advises him to throw his shoe at it. When "el zapato" becomes stuck, Tío suggests a broom ... a humorous and cumulative tale that contextually introduces Spanish words for family members and common items. Painted illustrations help readers and listeners make the English/Spanish connection without unnecessary explanation.  A surprise ending will keep listeners laughing. I took this book on an outreach visit to a preschool. Any book that has a room full of preschoolers yelling out the refrain, "¡Ay, caramba!" is a winner in my book! ¡Qué divertido! (What fun!)
A Spanish/English glossary is included, but curiously, does not contain the word peral, part of the title. I did not find it in the glossary, but verified later that peral is Spanish for pear tree.  (Being most accustomed to English, I did not realize that in Spanish there is a word that encompasses both the tree and its fruit.  How handy!)

Activity sheets are available from the publisher.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Batboy

Lupica, Mike. 2010. The Batboy. Read by Lucian Doge. Penguin Audiobooks.
(About 6 hours)

Fourteen-year-old Brian Dudley lives with his divorced mother.  His father, a one-time major league pitcher, is coaching in Japan, unable to give up the game he loved once his pitching career was over. Brian shares his dad's love of baseball.  He plays on a travel team with his best friend Kenny and has just landed the job of his dreams - batboy for the Detroit Tigers.

With his favorite player returning to the Tigers after a steroids scandal, his travel team, The Sting, heading for the playoffs, and the Tigers making a run for the pennant, the lineup reads like a perfect summer.  But a perfect roster doesn't always equal a win in baseball, and Brian's perfect summer lineup may be in for a few losses.

Mike Lupica's latest is a home run.  Just close your eyes and you can smell the hot dogs, hear the crack of the bat, and see the play at first. No one does sports like Mike!

If you're a fan of baseball or ever wondered what it's like to be a batboy, Batboy is your summer reading!

Read an excerpt or enjoy this interview with the author and a trailer for the book.

A podcast of this booktalk will be is available on the Multimedia Booktalk page soon now! :)
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Friday, June 4, 2010

Another Picture Book Roundup

I've fallen behind in all the great new books that I'd like to review - so here's a quick take on a few of my new picture book favorites.

Waddell, Martin. 2010. Captain Small Pig. Illustrated by Susan Varley. Atlanta: Peachtree. (first published in the U.K., 2009)

This book had me from page one.
One day Old Goat and Turkey took Small Pig down to Blue Lake. They found a little red boat. "I want to go for a row!" Small Pig said, dancing about. "Turkeys don't go in boats," Turkey said. "Neither do goats," said old Goat, but he climbed into the boat, and they rowed off onto Blue Lake.
It doesn't matter that one cannot catch a whale in the lake, that Little Pig is too small to row, or that he is too small to steer, Turkey and Old Goat let him try. And when Little Pig is done trying, he's tired out... and he dreams, dreams 
of a lovely day out in a boat with good friends on Blue Lake...the day that he was Captain Small Pig.

And what could be better than that? The only lesson in this book is one for grownups - Let children try. It may aggravate you today, but it gives gives the lifelong gift of confidence and remembered joy.
A perfect pairing of cheerfully painted ink drawings and an enchanting story! Love it!

Yolen, Jane. 2010. All Star! Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever. Ill. by Jim Burke. New York: Philomel.

Paintings evocative of a bygone era grace this non-fiction, picture book for older readers and help to tell the story of baseball great, Honus Wagner, and his rare baseball card, last sold for nearly three million dollars.

Stories from his childhood (he worked in a coal mine for 79 cents a day) and his early career (to try out for his first professional job, he hopped a freight train and then ran to the field without uniform, glove or spikes), offer a glimpse into both his personality and the time period.  A great baseball story for independent readers or as a read-aloud for school-age baseball fans.

Harper, Charise Mericle. 2010. Pink Me Up. New York: Knopf.
What's a little bunny to do when she's got a "pink-nic" to attend and Mama's sick?  What else can she do but "pink up" Daddy?! 
I hold Daddy's hand because he is not used to being pink. "Don't worry, Daddy.  Being pink will be fun," I tell him.
Pink Me Up is pure pinkish fun.

Kimmel, Eric A. 2010. Joha Makes a Wish: A Middle Eastern Tale. Illustrated by Omar Rayyan. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.

According to the author's note, Joha is a recurring character throughout the Arabic-speaking world."  He is what is sometimes termed a wise or divine fool.  In this humorous retelling of a classic folktale, Joha finds a magical wishing stick.  The stick, however, does not do what he wishes - in fact, quite the opposite!  After wishing for new red slippers to replace his old sandals,
He opened his eyes.  He looked down at his feet.  He did not have a pair of red leather slippers.  He did not have a pair of worn-out sandals, either.  His sandals had disappeared!
Can it get much worse?  Oh yes!  It can!  Delightfully told by Eric Kimmel and hilariously illustrated by Omar Rayyan.  Don't miss this one!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Unsinkable Walker Bean

Let me start by stating that I was a slow convert to graphic novels, but the captivating artwork and stories of great First Second titles like American Born Chinese and Robot Dreams, as well as Random House's, Stone Rabbit, and Atheneum's Amelia Rules have won me over. I've become a fan of graphic nonfiction as well, with Gettysburg, Zeus: King of the Gods, and the 9/11 Report topping my list of nonfiction favorites.

Advance Reader Copy

Reinier, Aaron. 2010. The Unsinkable Walker Bean. New York: First Second (:01).

Walker Bean's is a seafaring family.  His grandfather and father are members of the navy. Walker is a young inventor who has been regaled by his grandfather with legend and song of an ancient and prescient skull that resides at the bottom of the ocean, guarded by two aquatic beasts. Walker is thrust into a dangerous adventure when his grandfather finds and then succumbs to the accursed skull; and is then double-crossed by Walker's father who seeks to gain from its unusual powers and value.  Walker must unravel the mystery of the legend to save his grandfather's life.  With the help of Shiv, a young pirate deckhand and grudging assistance from the girl, Genoa, a fearless pirate, Walker embarks on a remarkable and dangerous journey to return the skull to its beastly owners.

The dark colors of The Unsinkable Walker Bean (chosen by colorist Alec Longstreth from a limited palette inspired by old, richly colored, but faded picture books) are a complement to its dark and dangerous story line. Only Walker's blond hair and the crisply inked dialogue stand out immediately from each panel.  Other details emerge slowly from the dark holds of ships, the night skies, and the depths of the ocean.  Sketches of plans, inventions, charts, and musical notation add depth to Aaron Reinier's detailed illustrations and story. Panels per page are varied from a single, double-spread rendition of a fiery confrontation at sea to an action-packed page of ten panels.

The story of The Unsinkable Walker Bean takes as many tacks as a ship sailing upwind. Enemies become friends and new dangers emerge as Walker follows the ever-changing course his grandfather began, traveling by pirate ship to remote islands and dockside shantytowns. The multiple story lines of Walker's quest, Genoa's strange behavior, the duplicity of Walker's father, and the motivation of a mysterious doctor, combine with the supernatural Merwitch sisters of the deep, to create a complex story rich in details - even including a fabled language written in runic characters.  The breakneck pace of action may have readers may scrambling back through the pages to re-examine a scene, but seaworthy or time-tested graphic novel fans will likely take it all in stride.  For everyone else, it's all part of the high seas, high stakes adventure of The Unsinkable Walker Bean.

Rumored to be part of a trilogy, Walker Bean leaves plenty of questions to be answered in future installments
Due out in August 2010. 
Ideal for 5th - 8th grade.
(I won this copy of The Unsinkable Walker Bean from First Second Publishing while participating in a Booklist webinar, "Let's Get Graphic: Kids' Comics in Classroom and Libraries"  Click if you're interested in viewing the archived webinar. It's about 1 hour.) 

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Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...