Thursday, April 28, 2011

Under the Green Hill

Sullivan, Laura. 2010. Under the Green Hill. New York: Henry Holt.  

I had planned to write a thoughtful review, complete with several passages from pages that I'd carefully marked, however, after booktalking Under the Green Hill yesterday at my monthly book club meeting, a young girl decided to take it home. Perhaps that says enough.

For now, let it suffice to say that Under the Green Hill is a fantasy story with some similarities to the Chronicles of Narnia. However, the Green Hill does not exist in a foreign land or alternate universe.  The Green Hill, populated by the beautiful, frightening, capricious, willful and sometimes vengeful denizens of the fairy world, exists within the confines of the modern English countryside, under the watchful eye of  Phyllida Ash, its Guardian.  It is here, that siblings Rowan, Meg, Silly and James Morgan are sent, along with foils, Dickie Rhys and Finn Fachan.

Read an excerpt here.

My young reader friend promised to let me know her thoughts on the book when she returns it. I'll add her thoughts to the comments at a later date.

I read this book at the suggestion of the author, who thought that I might enjoy it.  She was right.  I did.  This is Laura Sullivan's first novel.  The next installment, Guardian of the Green Hill, is due out in the fall.

Not knowing anything about Ms. Sullivan, I checked her publisher's website and was intrigued by her biography. I think you will be, too ... read on
Laura L. Sullivan is a former newspaper editor, biologist, social worker and deputy sheriff who writes because that’s the easiest way to do everything in the world. She lives in the woods of Kentucky with her loved ones.
 More interesting facts about Ms. Sullivan on her website.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider

It's Nonfiction Monday and I'm back from my vacation to Boston, a wonderful city which lays claim to the title of Birthplace of America.  The role of Boston in the American Revolution cannot be denied, nor can the contributions of Alexander Hamilton, scholar, soldier, politician and statesman. 

Frtiz, Jean. 2011. Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider. New York: Putnam.

In Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider, Jean Fritz follows a theme that ran through all aspects of Hamilton's life - that of outsider.  Born on the island of St. Kitts in the West Indies, Hamilton was often accused of being an interloper in Revolutionary American politics.  Once committed to the ideal of a free and independent America, however, his "outsider" status never dampened his enthusiasm for his country. Fritz recounts his many contributions to the revolutionary cause and to these United States.

Besides serving in the Revolutionary War, he was also an aide-de-camp to then General George Washington.  He served as a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He was the architect of the Bank of the United States and the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury.  As a New Jerseyan, I knew that his life ended in Weehawken in the famous duel with Aaron Burr, but I did not know that he founded the city of Paterson.  He was convinced that American should and would be more than an agrarian society. He chose Paterson because its large waterfall could be used to generate electricity for business.  (In 2009, Paterson's Great Falls became a National Park Historic District)

In short, using her customary exactitude, Fritz tells a complete story of a complex man, using only facts and period quotations in this small, slim, 144-page volume.  Archaic language ("poltroon") or long-abandoned customs (anonymous leaflet writing) are explained fully in the author's Notes. Historical reproductions (credited) are scattered throughout. A Bibliography and extensive Index complete the book.

This would make an excellent choice for a school biography report, much better than the formulaic series that students often choose.

The United States Treasury website features a page on Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury, and architect of the National Bank and the US Mint.

Just an aside - Jean Fritz is 95 years old! How wonderful that she's still working and producing great children's books.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Telling the Kids the Truth: Writing Nonfiction for Children. Please be sure to visit.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Time for a Bath, Time to Eat

It's Nonfiction Monday again!  (where does the week go?) 

Just a short post today because I'm on vacation. 
 I'll try to post a photo or two later in the week and perhaps you can guess where I am. 
Here's a hint: It's a great town for baseball and ducklings.  Feel free to make a guess in the comments. 

Here are two great new offerings from the talented duo of Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.

Time to Eat and Time for a Bath. 2011. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Illustrated in typical Steve Jenkins style, these small (81/4" square), attractive books feature the ways in which various animals eat and bathe.  The facts presented are particularly interesting, especially for young children,
Got milk?  Like all mammals, the baby blue whale drinks milk. A lot of milk - the equivalent of 800 glasses every day.  On this rich diet, a young whale can gain 200 pounds 991 kilograms) every twenty-four hours.
Don't want to take a bath?  How about a shower?
Rainy day bath The hummingbird takes its bath on a rainy day, perching on a branch and spreading its wings in a downpour.
The final pages include lengthy paragraphs of general information on each featured animal.

There is a  third book in this series, Time to Sleep, but my branch did not have a copy. I'm sure it's great as well.

Today's roundup is at The Cat and the Fiddle.
Stop by and check out all of today's Nonfiction Monday posts.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Picture book reviews - diamond and square edition

My book bags have been overflowing!  Here are two more great choices.

I'll start with my favorite topic - you guessed it - baseball!

Abrahams, Peter. 2011. Quacky Baseball. Ill. by Frank Morrison. New York: Harper.

It's Thumby Duckling's first start for the Webbies, and they're playing rival duck team, the Quackers.  Put on your best play-by-play voice for this one,
Been a long day at the ball field.  Top of the ninth.  Two on, two out for the Quackers.  The Webbies need an out!  Here comes the pitch, and ... it's a long drive to right!  Can Thumby duckling get there?  Thumby makes the catch! Out number three.  How about that!
Line score boxes help the baseball fan follow the action.  Insets offer batting tips,
Watch the ball like a hawk- even though hawks don't play baseball.
Colorful, rough-edged artwork by Frank Morrison adds a wonderful ruggedness to the game. I will definitely be sharing this one in my baseball storytime!

Look inside Quacky Baseball.

Now we go from the baseball diamond to the square.

Hall, Michael. 2011. Perfect Square. New York: Greenwillow.

What happened when a perfectly happy perfect square was
cut into pieces and poked full of holes (?)
 It made itself into a fountain that babbled and giggled and clapped.
Each day of the week, the perfect square is crumpled, ripped, shredded and snipped; and each day it transforms itself into something wonderful. Bursting with color, this is a perfect book to teach colors or days of the week.  It's also a wonderful jumping off point for an imaginative craft.  What can you make with a square?

Look inside Perfect Square

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

National Library Week

 Here are a few things you can do to celebrate National Library week.
  1. Share your library story in 17 syllables and 140 characters. Enter the National Library Week twaiku contest - tweet a twaiku (Twitter haiku) about your love of libraries.  Details here. Today is the deadline so act fast! I entered.   "A welcoming place/ All things good, together/ Home, your library"  
  2. Enter the Why I Need my Library Teen Video Contest.  (for teens - ends on April 18)
  3. Visit and see how you can help your library
  4. Visit your library
  5. Many libraries are threatened with budget or staffing cuts.  If you love your library, tell your friends, write the newspaper, blog it, tweet it, post it!  (and, oh yeah, you can tell your librarian, too!)
So what are you waiting for?  Visit your library today!

Monday, April 11, 2011

If the World Were a Village

Smith, David J. 2011. If the World Were a Village. Ill. by Shalagh Armstrong. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press.

First published in 2002, If the World Were a Village, received a much-needed update this year.  The colorfully-painted, folk-art illustrations haven't changed, but the statistics have been updated.  As with the original book, the numbers are fascinating to contemplate, and offer Western children a look at the world from a much larger vantage point than the one with which they are familiar.

The premise of the book is simple.  Proportionately reduce the world's population to 100 people and examine the demographics. Here are just a few of the many facts in If the World Were a Village:

How many people in the village of 100 have electricity?

76 have electricity
24 do not

Of the 100 people in the global village

61 are from Asia
14 are from Africa
11 are from Europe
8 are from South America, Central America (including Mexico), and the Caribbean
5 are from Canada and the United States
1 is from Oceania

How much money do people in the global village have?

If all the money in the village were divided equally, each person would have about $10,300 US dollars per year. But in the global village, money isn't divided equally.

The richest 10 people have nearly 85 percent of the world's wealth. Each has more than $87 500 a year.

The poorest 10 people have less than $2 a day.

Language, age, religion, food, environment, school, money, energy and health are also featured, along with extensive source notes.

I'm so glad that it's been updated. In today's world, politics, society, environment and economics are all global issues.  This is a must read.

A teacher's guide is available from Kids Can Press.

Today's Nonfiction Monday is at Apples with Many Seeds.  Be sure to stop by.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Overheard at the library

Susan B. Anthony. Digital ID: 490326. New York Public Library
Susan B. Anthony
Digital ID:490326
New York Public Library

Women's History Month is over, but I still had a few Susan B. Anthony coloring pages left over. A mother stopped in with her young sons and they chose coloring pages from the drawer. While Mom was at the circulation desk, she called to her son to see what he was doing. Not knowing any better, he replied,
I'm coloring the witch.
(green nose and all!)

 And that's why we need to keep sharing great nonfiction picture books!

 Minneapolis, MN: Picture Window Books.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April picture book roundup

It's been a while since I've done a picture book roundup and they've been piling up on my desk.  Here are a few new favorites:

Mayer, Mercer. 2011. Octopus Soup. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.

Wordless and wonderful!  Find out how Octopus escapes the chef's pot! Too funny!
(Look inside)

Yaccarino, Dan. 2011. All the Way to America: the Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel. New York: Knopf.
When Dan grew up, he married Helen.  These are my grandparents.  Together Dan and Helen opened a market.  They sold all sorts of wonderful Italian food.  Now the little shovel belonged to Dan, and he used it to measure out beans, macaroni, and olives.
Dan Yaccarino's personal tale of immigration and tradition.  A perfect introduction to genealogy, and a great choice for this summer's reading theme of One World, Many Stories.

Watt, Melanie. 2011. You're Finally Here! New York: Hyperion.
This hilarious book has been waiting for you, and it's about time you showed up!

Pfister, Marcus. 2011. Questions, Questions. New York: NorthSouth.

Simple, thoughtful and artistic.  Guaranteed to elicit questions.
How do birds learn how to sing? What brings summer after spring? What turns leaves from green to brown and sends them floating gently down?
Beaumont, Karen. 2011. No Sleep for the Sheep! Ill. by Jackie Urbanovic. New York: Harcourt.

Get ready for a long night -
In the big red barn on the farm, on the farm, in the big red barn on the farm... A sheep fell asleep in the big red barn, in the big red barn on the farm. Then there came a loud QUACK at the door, at the door, and the sheep couldn't sleep any more.
 Rhyming and repetitive, this one is sure-fire fun!

Hartt-Sussman, Heather. 2011. Noni Says No. Ill. by Genevieve Cote. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra.

For every child who has ever agreed to do something, go somewhere, share something, or play with someone, when she really wanted to say no.  An empowering book for the kind and gentle child who always says yes.
(My daughter was this child.  I sympathize.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Lupica, Mike. Hero.  2010. Read by Dan Bittner.  Penguin Audio.
5.5 hours on CD or digital download


On the day that Zach Harriman's dad dies in a plane crash, his life begins to change.  At first, he's not sure what is happening.  He has an intense sixth sense. He feels to compelled to do things but can't explain why. His eyesight has sharpened.  He can't get hurt. 

When he meets "Mr. Herbert" at the remote crash site on Long Island, he discovers the truth. With Tom Harriman's death, Zach has become the world's only hero.  There's no time to think about it.  He's got work to do.

This is sci-fi that reads like contemporary fiction, and although it’s somewhat of a departure from sports for best-selling author, Mike Lupica,  sports fans can rest assured that there are many sport analogies and references within Hero. This is a smartly written book - mixing political intrigue and adventure seamlessly with the school and family life of a wealthy, 14-year-old Manhattanite.

Only one person is listed as narrator, Dan Bittner, but it sounds as if there are two, so distinct are the adult voices from that of Zach Harriman's.  Chapter One opens with the voice of Zach's dad, Tom Harriman.  The listener is immediately enveloped in Tom Harriman's latest "mission,"  witness to his powers, privy to his thoughts. And then, Tom Harriman is gone. The mature voice of Tom Harriman makes the opening of Hero sound like an adult political thriller - a gripping and powerful beginning. Bittner switches effortlessly between the voices of Zach, best friend Kate, Mrs. Harriman, and the many adult males in the story. Although school features prominently in the story and Zach is the target of the school bully (obligatory for those with superpowers, no?), the real action takes place outside of school where Zach must navigate the dangerous adult world of politics, lies and evil.

There's sure to be a sequel and kids will be looking for it!
Listen to an audio excerpt or
Read Chapters 1 and 2

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meat-eating plants and other extreme plant life

Prezler, June. 2009. Meat-eating plants and other extreme plant life. Read by Charity Jones and Patrick Olson. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press. (audiobook version)
About 20 minutes

Yes, this is an odd choice for an audiobook review, but there are reasons.  My mp3 player was empty.  I needed a quick downloadable audiobook for my commute.  My daughter recently performed in the pit band for a local performance of "Little Shop of Horrors," and, in addition to the obligatory, closing night bouquet, she received, a meat-eating plant! (It has since become the only one of my thirty or so houseplants  which my husband holds in any regard.  He even bought a companion plant.  We now own Fred and Wilma, the Venus fly traps.  But I digress.)

Meat-Eating Plants and other Extreme Plant Life is part of the Capstone's FactFinders series for younger readers - Grades 3-5.  (Complete reading level information is available from the publisher) It begins, of course, with the Venus Fly Trap, a great way to grab the reader's (or listener's) attention.  Did you know that their leaves are "spring-loaded," and snap shut with the aid of a forceful stream of water shot from within the plant?  And how about the Pitcher Plant? Did you know that it has been known to trap a mouse?!  The first few chapters deal with all manner of "extreme plants," and their prey.

Later chapters explain the photosynthesis process, but in a way that kids will find interesting.  Rather than dwell on the process for a simple house or garden plant, Prezler explains the process for plants adapting to extreme circumstances - intense temperatures, lack of sunlight, etc.  The deviations are so much more interesting than the norms!

Also included is the role of plants on earth (and in space!). Plants are tested on the International Space Station and are seen as key in any attempt to colonize space. If it weren't for plants, we wouldn't have meat to eat, or clean air to breathe. Plants have numerous and quite interesting ways to travel and propagate themselves.

If this book doesn't awaken an interest in plants, nothing will.  It features meat-eating, poop-eating, and poop-traveling plants - what more can you ask for? Meat-Eating Plants doesn't translate easily to an audiobook format, however - photographs are a must for this type of book (in at least one instance, a caption is read for a photo that the listener cannot see).  The simple text is made more interesting with the employ of two narrators, one male and one female.  Patrick Olson reads each word very precisely - even using the long A sound for each instance of the word "a."  I found it slightly irritating, but in truth, his exacting pronunciation would likely make this a great companion audiobook for struggling or reluctant readers to use in tandem with the text copy. 

Bottom line - for plants, this is about as interesting as it gets, however, the book version makes a better choice than the audiobook.  For struggling readers, choose the audiobook as accompaniment for the book.

Download a free sample MP3 for this title

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at L.L. Owens.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Book spine poems for National Poetry Month

 Inspired by the book spine poem gallery at 100 Scope Notes, I created two of my own.  Enjoy!

spine poetry 018

If you've created any spine poems you'd like to share, feel free to leave a link. 

(April is also Jazz Appreciation Month - more on that later)

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 ...