Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Fiction Favorites

Before the year 2012 slips away from me,I'd like to post my fiction favorites.

Two of the books that I was most looking forward to reading in 2012, did not disappoint me, and they are my 2012 favorites in fiction.

Starry River of the Sky

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

  • The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente (Macmillan)  and in audio book by Brilliance Audio, is a follow-up to my favorite book of last year, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own MakingIn The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland, September returns to find and reunite with her shadow, Halloween, who has taken up residence in Fairyland Below as the Hollow Queen.  After having learned the complicated rules of Fairyland in her last journey, September must now learn to navigate by the rules of Fairyland-Below:
Beware of dog
Anything important comes in threes and sixes
Do not steal queens
A girl in the wild is worth two in chains
Necessity is the mother of temptation
Everything must be paid for sooner or later
What goes down must come up
 The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There is as good or better than its predecessor.  The levels of Fairyland and their inhabitants are rich and wonderful and magical and utterly satisfying.  I had the pleasure of alternately reading and listening to this one, and in an unusual occurrence, both versions were equally enjoyable.  The voice of S.J. Tucker is perfectly suited for the fantastic world of Fairyland.  Her voice has an unidentifiable quality which defies the listener's attempts to place a location on her accent.  Although she is American, she could just as easily be Fairylander.

My library system classifies this book as a young adult novel, however, as with the first in the series, I find it suitable for both younger and older audiences.

I can't wait to read the third book in the Fairyland series!

For a slightly younger audience (though also entertaining for all ages) is Grace Lin's,
  • Starry River of the Sky (title links to my earlier review) (Little Brown).  This is also a follow-up book, although in this case, Starry River is a stand-alone, "companion" book to the earlier Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2009 Little Brown).  Grace Lin always shows herself to be a gentle and thoughtful writer, and never more so than in Starry River.
This is a captivating story that, while holding deep meaning, may be enjoyed in many layers. A magical fantasy, a Chinese folktale, a tale of a boy lost and found, a love story, a mystery, a journey of self-discovery -- all may be found in the tiny and remote Village of Clear Sky.

Enjoy them both!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hokey Pokey - a review

Spinelli, Jerry. 2013. Hokey Pokey. New York: Knopf.
Advance reader copy provided by NetGalley

In the world of Hokey Pokey, populated by Snotsnipppers, Newbies, and Gappergums, and others, The Kid is king. In fact, kids are its only human inhabitants.

For Big Kid, Jack, days pass in a comfortable rhythm of regularity - hanging out with his Amigos, LaJo and Dusty, and riding his bike Scramjet, the envy of every kid in Hokey Pokey.  The rules are simple.  Just remember the Four Nevers:
Never pass a puddle without stomping in it. Never go to sleep until the last minute. Never go near Forbidden Hut. Never kiss a girl.
It's a simple life, a good life.  Until one morning, when things are not the same.  His bike is gone, and

Hokey Pokey is unusual fare for Jerry Spinelli.  It's an allegorical story of childhood delivered by a narrator following the escapades of several different children, and focusing primarily on Jack and his rival and antagonist - the girl, Jubilee.  It's recommended for ages 10 and up, but the beauty of  Hokey Pokey is that it may be read on several levels.  Though the symbolism may be somewhat obvious for older readers, younger readers may simply enjoy Hokey Pokey as a fantasy adventure in an alternate universe. Older readers will see beyond the obvious symbolism of the approaching train and will ponder the relationships between older kids and younger, boys and girls.  Short and thought-provoking. Recommended reading.

Hokey Pokey received starred reviews in School Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews.

 Preview the book here:

Interesting note: This is the second book that I've read that features living bicycles. Anyone know the other one?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Infinity and Me - a review

If you're looking for a way to inspire very young people to wonder about math and science, look no further than Infinity and Me!

Hosford, Kate. 2012. Infinity and Me. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda. (Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska)

Infinity and Me will open up (dare I say it?) infinite possibilities and questions!

A small girl, Uma, ponders infinity while gazing at stars,

How many stars were in the sky? A million? A billion? Maybe the number was as big as infinity.  I started to feel very, very small.  How could I even think about something as big as infinity?
Uma proceeds to ask others how they conceive of infinity, and hears it defined in quantities of numbers, time, music, ancestors - even spaghetti!  Finally, she settles on her own measure of infinity, quantified in something that is both personal and boundless.  Full-bleed painted illustrations by Gabi Swiatkowska capture the magical sense of  the endless immensity of infinity that at first perplexes Uma, and finally envelops her in understanding.

In the end, it doesn't matter how one envisions infinity; what does matter is kindling an interest in something broader, wider, more infinite than oneself.

This is an intriguing introduction to a mathematical concept.

For Teachers:

A curriculum guide for Infinity and Me is available on the author's website.
Book details from the publisher's website:
Pages: 32Trim Size: 9 1/4 x 11Dewey: [E]Reading Level: 3Interest Level: K-4Ages: 5-10ATOS Quiz #: 0.5ATOS AR Points: 3.40ATOS: 151611.00Lexile Level: 670

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nonfiction Favorites 2012

As 2012 is quickly coming to a close, I'll use today's Nonfiction Monday event to feature my two favorite nonfiction books of the year - one for young listeners and one for older readers.

Without a doubt, my favorite nonfiction book for older readers was

Educational, inspirational, celebratory!

Though I first reviewed it in March, it has remained on the top of my list.  Click the title for my review.

For younger listeners, it was a difficult choice - You are Stardust, Eight Days Gone, so many great titles - but my favorite was
Rhyming, whimsical, gorgeous illustrations!

(click the title for my review)

If you haven't checked out these two nonfiction books yet, hurry to your library or bookstore!
They're not to be missed!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Poetry Friday - haiku

On Fridays, kidlit bloggers gather for Poetry Friday and STEM Friday.  Today I offer my original haiku featuring science and the moon.  I hope you like it.

atmospheric gas
filters blue light from the sky
a red moon rises

Photo by David Saddler
Creative Commons license 2.0

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is at Jama's Alphabet Soup.

Visit them both and enjoy your Friday! I'll be going to see The Hobbit!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Musings on The Invincible Microbe

Murphy, Jim and Alison Blank. 2012. The Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure. New York: Clarion.

The minute I saw this book, I knew that I would read it, not because I am a fan of nonfiction and Jim Murphy, but for personal reasons.  While my mother would often tell me stories of what it was like to be a child during WWII, my stepfather was older.  He lived what I considered to be a fascinating, history-book life. He was an orphan. He remembered the Great Depression.   He was a runaway. He was a "runner" on Wall Street.  He had tuberculosis.  He recalled being forced to march outside in the cold New York winter wearing nothing but a t-shirt and underpants, a common aspect of a patient's "curing" regimen.  I can only imagine that a poor orphan boy's regimen was harsher than most. To this day, I cannot look at a sepia-tinged photo of poor scantily clad children in the snow without thinking of my stepfather.  The girls on the cover of The Invincible Microbe, "curing" outside on a porch, may be smiling in the photo, but I don't believe for a minute that it was by choice. To the end of his days, my stepfather loved rich foods and warm temperatures - small wonder.

So, to me growing up, TB was a thing of the past - a disease like polio, generally eradicated and of no concern to me.  Then came the late 1980's and 1990's.  My sister lived in Manhattan, and lo and behold, tuberculosis was suddenly a topic of discussion again.  There was an outbreak in the City. She was worried.  So to me, tuberculosis was then an urban thing, of no concern to me, except where my sister was concerned.  My sister moved away from the City, and I thought little of it again ... until my children were born.  Then to me, TB was "the bubble test," and I thought little of it, except that it seemed to be an easier test than the "tine test" I remembered from childhood, and I was thankful that my kids were protected...

or so I thought, until I read The Invincible Microbe.

The Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure, tells the story of TB from its known beginning, in prehistoric times, through the days of magical, prayerful, and deadly "cures," until today, when TB is still a scourge in five areas of the world (Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, The Philippines, Swaziland, Vietnam) and is only as far away from you as a plane ride.

Thoroughly researched, sourced and indexed, with numerous photographs, The Invincible Microbe is a chronological look at the Tuberculosis germ, containing first-hand accounts (including a poem written by Robert Louis Stevenson en route to a sanatorium in Saranac Lake), period advertising, and quotes from scientific journals and other sources. It incorporates both the scientific and social aspects of infectious disease, answering such questions as:

How were breakthroughs in identification and treatment of the disease achieved? How did the medical community vet new procedures and ideas?  How was public health policy created? How did the germ mutate to survive?  How did Tuberculosis attack the human body?  How was it spread?  Who decided which patients received treatment and which do not?

Sadly, these questions are still being answered, and to date, Tuberculosis has no cure.

Comprehensive and engrossing, this is a book that will appeal to ages 10 to adult.

Want to know more about TB?  Check the Tuberculosis section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website.

Friday, December 7, 2012

I'm blogging @ALSC today

I am blogging at the ALSC blog today.  Please stop by and find out why I think "Nobody does it better" than librarians.

Here's the link:

Have a wonderful weekend!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Meet Me at the Art Museum - a review

Goldin, David. 2012. Meet Me at the Art Museum: A Whimsical Look Behind the Scenes. New York: Abrams.

With a mixture of humor, photography, collage, cut paper, virtual realia, and some expressive and artfully-place eyeballs, David Goldin has created a book that takes children on a comprehensive and behind-the-scenes tour of an art museum.

Employing the friendly docent's helper, Daisy, and the unceremoniously discarded Stub, Goldin guides the reader from the practical,

"Now is a good time for a break," said Daisy.  "This is a cafe, where you can sit and rest your feet.  ... You need to get your energy back, because there's another whole floor of treasures.  You don't want to miss a single one!"

to the protective,

"Other high-tech equipment is also used to keep precious objects safe," said Daisy. "It's the conservator's job to make sure the air is not too humid, not too dry. "They control the temperature.  Not too hot, not too cold.  They control the lights, too.  You can't have it too dark or too bright.  Everything has to be just right.  The conservator also fixes damaged objects in the museum's workshop."

to the awe-inspiring,

Stub discovered ...  ancient writing   sculptures of wood, bronze, and stone   mobiles   paintings   costumes. It was thrilling! One day I'm gonna live in a museum, thought Stub.
The adorable Stub and Daisy provide the fun; and a surprise ending offers Stub the chance to live out his dream.

Back matter includes "Who's Who at the Museum" (archivist, conservator, curator, etc.), "What's What at the Museum" (exhibition, gallery, etc.), and "Art Titles" (a list of pieces depicted in the book).

The punctuation is a bit peculiar, with several instances of unclosed parentheses, but no matter, it's a book of art, not grammar.

If I were escorting a child or class to a museum, this book would be on my "must share" list.  Well worth the price of admission!

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is hosted by its organizer, Anastasia Suen, at her Booktalking blog.



Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Well - a review

(My review from the November 2012 edition of School Library Journal)

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell. By Chris Colfer. 8 CDs. 8:59 hrs. Hachette Audio for AudioCo. 2012. ISBN 978-1-61969-125-4. $69.99.

Gr 4-7 - Like a kinder, gentler Inkheart, (Chicken House 2003), Chris Colfer's first novel (Little Brown, 2012) features a parallel world residing within the pages of a family book — a world whose inhabitants are, in general, ignorant of any world other than their own. Into this appropriately named "Land of Stories" fall 12-year-old twins, Alex and Connor. After the initial excitement of meeting the likes of Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty, and other fairytale world denizens, the twins are anxious to return home. The way out, however, is not as simple as the way in. They must gather items from a cryptic riddle to perform the Wishing Spell, and soon discover they are not alone in seeking these items. A mysterious girl tracks them and perils await. The weighty danger and adventure is lightened by the wisecracking Connor, a perfect foil for Alex, his more serious sister. If the twins are a little too lucky and clueless at times (a well-read girl like Alex would surely know to avoid the gingerbread cottage in the woods), and phrasing is occasionally trite, it's a small price to pay for an otherwise satisfying adventure. As one might expect from Glee star, Chris Colfer, the narration is superb. His youthful voice is ideal for the roles of the young siblings as well as the large cast. He speaks conversationally in a pleasing voice, although the constant refrain of "he said," "she said," can become tiresome. Colfer's popularity and top-notch narration should ensure a fine reception for this first title in a projected series.

Copyright © 2012 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Picture Book Roundup - Catch up edition

I am quite far behind in reading, reviewing, and blogging.  Here are a few new picture books that I feel deserve a mention:

A talented artist and writer, Marino's newest is a fable chronicling what happens when neighborhood one-upmanship threatens the friendship between Rabbit and Owl. Marino's beautiful paintings are expertly colored in a palette of nature's finest hues. The expressive faces of the erstwhile friends add much to this brief tale presented in an appropriately tall book.

  • Marsalis, Wynton. 2012. Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! Somerville, MA: Candlewick.  Ill. by Paul Rogers.

Despite my relative lack of musical talent and rhythm (though I can read music and play a few instruments poorly), I am a great fan of music and music education for kids. One day I will write a post about the jazz story time, which I feature each year in April, sharing jazz-themed books and music for preschoolers.  In 2013, my job of choosing books will become much easier thanks to Wynton Marsalis and Paul Rogers' new book, Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! Some musically-themed books are difficult to read aloud, and I'm thankful when a CD is included (Jazz on a Saturday Night and The Jazz Fly come to mind), but this catchy, rhyming book may be easily read - even by those with a limited ability to speak jazz - for jazz may be found in the most common of places,

Big trucks on the highway RRRRRUMBLE!
Hunger makes my tummy GRrruMBle.
The big bass drum goes Bum! Brrrum! BRRRUMBLE!!!!
Another musically-themed book:

  • Isadora, Rachel. 2012. There Was a Tree. New York: Nancy Paulsen (Penguin).
A favorite childhood song (a.k.a. "The Green Grass Grew All Around"), accompanied by Rachel Isadora's luscious Africa-inspired illustrations with rebuses to aid kids in singing along.  What more can one ask for?

  • Sif, Birgitta. 2012. Oliver. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
In a style that is reminiscent to me of Oliver Jeffers' work, Birgitta Sif writes and illustrates this short and quirky tale of an introspective, thoughtful boy who finally finds a kindred soul. 

  • Stevens, Janet and Susan Stevens Crummel. 2012. Find a Cow NOW! New York: Holiday House.
The Stevens sisters (The Little Red Pen, Harcourt) team up again for another delightfully silly story following the antics of the hyperactive herding dog, Dog, as he takes the advice of Bird and travels to the countryside to find a cow. In Are You My Mother? style, he queries the various creatures he encounters.  By the time he actually finds a cow, he's too tired to even ask.  Cute.

November is Picture Book Month!

Lots of additional resources available at Picture Book Month.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving - NJ edition

In spite of Hurricane Sandy, I have much to be thankful for. 
 I am thankful for the kindness of my family, friends, co-workers, library patrons, the library community at large, and even strangers.  

Wishing you a joyful and restful Thanksgiving. 

I'll leave you with some photos of New Jersey's cranberry bogs,    
Double Trouble cranberry bog
By Jennifer H. Kertis (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0
(], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard Tevor, 8 years old. 5 years picking cranberries. Theodore Budd's Bog at Turkeytown, N.J.
This is the fourth week of school in Philadelphia and the people will stay here two weeks more.
By Lewis Hine (1874-1940)
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Friday, November 16, 2012

Liar & Spy - a review

Stead, Rebecca. 2012. Liar & Spy. New York: Random House.

Georges, a seventh grader, and his parents, have just been downsized to apartment living due to financial difficulties. In his New York City apartment, just around the corner from his old home, Georges makes a curious friend in the watchful,  home-schooled, Safer.  Safer is obsessed with spying on the activities of the mysterious "Mr. X" who lives in the apartment building.  Georges joins Safer's spy club and eventually becomes quite fond of his quirky little friend -- until he uncovers some uncomfortable truths.

At only 192 pages and suitable for grades five and up, one might think that this small book is a quick read - easy contemporary fiction for middle-schoolers; but one must remember that it was written by Newbery Medal winner, Rebecca Stead.

Rebecca Stead requires you to be patient.  She requires you to be thoughtful.  She requires you to follow her wherever she may lead - even if she may be lying.  After all, what is a lie anyway?

Thought provoking and insightful, Liar & Spy touches many topics pertinent to middle school students - lying, bullying, economic downturn, friendship, illness, and family life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Picture Book Roundup - post Sandy edition

I'm getting back in the groove of normal life after a devastating hit by Hurricane Sandy. 

Here are some short and sweet reviews of books that I've had on my pile for weeks - no common theme - just great picture books!

These first two books are ones in which the illustrations steal the show and tell the story.

  • Johnston, Tony. 2012. Laugh-Out Loud Baby. New York: Simon & Schuster. Illustrated by Stephen Gammell.

If this book doesn't make you smile, make you laugh, make you happy - well, I don't know what will.  The author's note regarding the Navajo celebration of a baby's first laugh is interesting.  I can think of few things better to celebrate. Go ahead, laugh!

  • Fox, Mem. 2012. Tell Me About Your Day Today. New York: Beach Lane. Illustrated by Lauren Stringer.

A enjoyably repetitive, rhyming text that is filled in by cheerful step-by-step illustrations, detailing the busy day of a young boy and his favorite stuffed animals,

And Greedy Goose told him about her day -  the who,
the what,
the why,
and the way ...
the whole wild thing ...
turned out okay.

  • Tarpley, Todd. 2012. Ten Tiny Toes. New York: Little Brown.  Illustrated by Marc Brown.

Into the world came ten tiny toes, a hundred times sweeter than one could suppose
A book for everyone who has ever kissed, and later missed a baby's ten tiny toes. Rhyming and sweet, this one would steal my heart even without illustrations!

Watch the book trailer for Ten Tiny Toes here.

  • Kimmel, Eric A. 2012. Moby Dick: Chasing the Great White Whale. New York: Feiwel and Friends. Illustrated by Andrew Glass.

Moby Dick in a picture book for kids? Yes! This is not likely a book that young parents will pick off the shelf for a bedtime story, but it deserves an audience.  Eric Kimmel captures the essence of Melville's classic for a young audience, and he does it in rhyme, and he spares us the endless chapters on whales and whaling (sorry, it may be a classic, but those chapters are sheer drudgery).
Call me Ishmael ... When days start getting long again and time is moving slow, I set out for New Bedford town, a whaling for to go.
No important part of the story is missing, and while some of the rhymes are a bit forced, the overall effect of Kimmel's retelling, the book's generous size, and Andrew Glass' evocative paintings is striking.  An Author's Note and Glossary are included.  Hopefully, teachers will find a way to use this one.  View the Flickr slideshow of Andrew Glass' paintings for Moby Dick.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Seahorses - a review

It's time to show Sandy that we can pick ourselves up and keep going.  Like other New Jersey barrier island residents and inhabitants of low-lying areas throughout NJ and NY, my family evacuated with whatever we could pack in a vehicle.  There are plenty of photos and videos out there of devastation throughout the area.  This one's from my neck of the woods: Sandy Devastation. Although my home and hometown are still inaccessible and uninhabitable, it's time to get back to the business of living.  Many schools will re-open today, and I'm back to work, though many others are not so lucky. It will be a long haul, but as my daughter said, we're Jersey Strong.  No more whining, I promise.

On that note, I'll review an aquatic book today - a reminder that the ocean carries beauty as well as danger.

Curtis, Jennifer Keats. 2012. Seahorses. New York: Henry Holt. Illustrated by Chad Wallace.

Usually I prefer photography over artwork in nonfiction books for children.  Abstract or collage illustrations of fauna and flora can be difficult to equate to their real world counterparts.  The artwork in Seahorses, however, is informative and enchanting.  The front papers list the artwork as "digital media," the illustrations apparently created using Photoshop. You can see a bit of Chad Wallace's creative process in making Seahorses on his site.  The result is a realistic, yet appealing depiction of seahorses in beautifully colored settings.  I was drawn to the book by its cover, but was also impressed by the poetic nature of the informational text.  Presented in a simple black font, with few sentences per page, the words flow gracefully and follow the life cycle

from infancy,

No bigger than eyelashes, the babies - called small fry - spin and whirl away from one another like deflating balloons in the ocean's gentle current.

to courtship,

Although the female drifts off, she returns early the next day to greet her mate.  This time, he floats up to meet her.  Dancing, they circle each other, changing colors from brown to green.  His fins become very dark brown as he waltzes around her to music only they can hear.

to conception and infancy, a "new life in the ocean has begun."

DDC 597.6798

Today is Nonfiction Monday. This week's host is The Flatt Perspective.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Unfortunately, Sandy treated my beloved Jersey shore much worse than anyone expected, and I am now part of the diaspora of the thousands of residents of New Jersey's barrier island communities.  Cut off from the islands, now under control of the federal government, residents will not be allowed home (even by boat) for months, possibly even a year. We took only what we could fit in the van.  Those who stayed are without power, water and gas, and are being removed for their safety, by the National Guard.  I'm thankful for friends who have accepted me, my family and my pets into their homes.  Friendship is truly a priceless gift.
 I'll be taking a break for another week while I try to gather my thoughts, my life, and my friends. My family, thankfully, is safe and together, save for my eldest daughter who is safely at college and wishing she were here with us.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Oh, Sandy!

Bracing for Hurricane Sandy here at the Jersey shore, and expecting power outages and flooding.
 Be back soon, I hope!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Great Unexpected - a review

Creech, Sharon. 2012. The Great Unexpected.  New York: Harper Collins.

Many things are unexpected in The Great Unexpected, but none more so than the dead boy's body that drops from a tree, nearly landing on Naomi Deane, who notes,

Leaves have fallen on me, and twigs, and a branch during a storm.  Bird slop, of course, everyone gets that.  But a body?  That is not your usual thing dropping out of a tree.

(after some time, the body talked)

And as the body opened his eyes and slowly looked up and looked all around - at the meadow, at the cows in the distance, at the tree out of which he had fallen, and at me, and then he yelled, "Oh no!" and fell back on the ground and his eyes closed and he was dead again.
(Hear it read by Sharon Creech)

Unexpected, indeed! The boy, in fact, is Finn, a mysterious, young, flirtatious boy about 12-years-old, with whom Naomi and her best friend, Lizzie, are smitten. 

Half of the story takes place in the small indeterminate town of Blackbird Tree, where many "unfortunate souls," reside - including Naomi and Lizzie - both orphans, "Witch Wiggins," "Crazy Cora," Mr. Canner, and the huge and unruly clan of Dimmenses.  Naomi narrates the story with a generous helping of Sharon Creech's delightfully descriptive prose, as in this description of the newcomer, "the Dingle-Dangle Man,"

His head jerked slightly to the left and then to the right, like a bird on a worm prowl.
Or in this depiction of Witch Wiggins' house,

If you had to guess which house a witch lived in, this would be it.  The house tilted to one side, as if eavesdropping on its neighbor.
The other half of the story takes places in Rook's Orchard, Ireland.  The connection between the two towns is also unexpected, and early in the book, unexplained.  The Rook's Orchard chapter names are prefaced with "Across the Ocean," and contain a third person narrative of the activities of a certain Sybil Kavanaugh, her constant companion, Miss Pilpenny, and Mr. Dingle (known stateside as "the Dingle-Dangle Man").

The Great Unexpected is a story of possibility, of friendship, of first loves, and the nature of true love.  Many things are unexpected, and if we greet them with open arms, and there is a hint of magic in the air, who knows what may happen.

Delightful and quirky and highly recommended.
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What's Black and White and Stinks All Over? a review

One of the best things about reviewing books for School Library Journal, is that I never know what book they will send me.  As a reviewer, I am obligated to read (or in my case, to listen to) books that I might not otherwise choose for myself, and that's a positive for me.  I try to read across all genres so that I may be more helpful to local kids, but I admit that easy readers and beginning chapter books are not usually my first choice when perusing a bag of new books.  Thanks to SLJ, here then, is a review of the chapter book, What's Black and White and Stinks All Over? Book 4 in the George Brown, Class Clown series, as it appeared in the October 2012 edition of SLJ. (typos corrected)

What’s Black and White and Stinks all Over?: George Brown, Class clown, Book 4. By Nancy Krulik. 1 cassette or 1 CD. 1 hr. Recorded Books. 2012. cassette: ISBN 978-1-4618-1855-7, CD:ISBN 978-1-4618-1856-4. $15.75.

Gr 2-4 - Falling somewhere between Megan McDonald’s Stink series and David Lubar’s Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie for both silliness and reading difficulty, George Brown, Class Clown is a beginning reader with an unusual twist - a magical “super burp” that erupts in wild behavior. With a father in the Army, George moves often; he’s determined to fit in at his new school without earning his usual reputation as the class clown. However, when George feels the burp coming on, there’s no telling what he might do - dance on the table, jump in the lake, even act like a dog! In What’s Black and Red and Stinks all Over, the burp causes havoc at Edith B. Sugarman School’s fourth grade Field Day events. George has high hopes of becoming the sportscaster for the school’s new WEBS TV, but Louie, the class bully, and George’s burp-inspired antics nearly spoil his chances. A stretch of the imagination is required to envision a 4th grade girl from Jonathan Todd Ross’s vocal rendition of George’s classmate, Sage, but his portrayal of George, his friends, and Louie is engaging and believable. Frequent “bookmarks” make it easy for readers following along with a print version. Kids already invested in the series will appreciate this fourth installment. New listeners will be up to speed in no time.

Copyright © 2012 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

You can hear an audio clip of What's Black and White and Stinks All Over? at Amazon.

Monday, October 15, 2012

You are Stardust - a review

Did you ever make a diorama for a school project?  Here is a book created from the likes of one (7 actually) which you've never seen before! 

Kelsey, Elin. 2012. You are Stardust. Ontario: Owlkids.

With paint and paper, cloth, flowers and fishing line, artist Soyeon Kim adds life and breath to Elin Kelsey's beautiful narrative on the connectedness, the totality, of nature.

Be still.

Like you, the
Earth breathes.

Your breath is alive with the
promise of flowers.

Each time you blow a kiss to the
world, you spread pollen that
might grow to be a new plant.

Inside your brain, electricity
stronger than lightning
powers your every thought.

You sneeze with the force of a tornado.
Wind rockets from your nose quicker
than a cheetah sprints.
What child will not be awed by the miracle that is she, she who is both infinitesimal and indispensable, she who contains the stardust of the ages?
Read it; share it.

Related resources for teachers and homeschoolers are available on the publisher's website.

And in case you're wondering - Dewey Decimal Classification 304.2 Human Ecology

Interestingly, the copyright page notes that this book received financial support from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the Government of Canada, and the Government of Ontario - money well spent, I say.

Other reviews @

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Capstone Connect.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Drama - a review

Telgemeier, Raina. 2012. Drama. New York: Scholastic.

Drama is Raina Telgemeier’s newest graphic novel, following her bestseller, Smile (GRAPHIX 2010). Drama, written in “acts” rather than chapters, follows Callie, a seventh grader deep into preparations for the Eucalyptus Middle School play. The play is a musical; Drama’s “drama” stems from typical middle school relationships. Callie likes Greg, Greg likes Bonnie, Bonnie and Greg are fighting, Matt is upset, and there’s a pair of new kids at school - twins, who may or may not fit into the school’s adolescent romantic mix. Add Callie’s desire to create the best exploding cannon prop ever and a limited amount of time to complete the show, and the drama is complete.

Telgemeier’s full-color illustrations have clean lines and the panels are straightforward,easy to follow. Emotion is capably demonstrated in the many variations of the character’s eyes and the dialogue will ring true with middle-schoolers, particularly those in band or drama clubs.

This is a solid addition to middle-grade graphic novels like Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules! series (Atheneum), and is particularly noteworthy for its prominent depiction of gay students. Telgemeier breaks new ground in introducing gay characters to a novel for younger readers (ages 10 and up). What makes it noteworthy is the fact that it is not. The new students are folded into the story without fanfare or drama, just as gay students all around the country are woven into the fabric of their school communities without fanfare or drama. As it should be.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Day with Librarians - a review

It's been a while since I've seen a new book about my profession.  When I learned that Scholastic was putting out a new book, I asked to see a copy, and they obliged.

Shepherd. Jodie. 2013. A Day with Librarians. New York: Scholastic.

Part of the Rookie Read-About Community series, this small (roughly 7"x7") "easy reader" contains basic facts about librarians, their varied duties, and their workplaces. Information is conveyed in simple black font on a white background with a photograph on the facing page.

The "front desk librarian," the one described as using a scanner to check out books and noting when they need to be returned, isn't too common in the public library system in which I work, but I imagine she may be more common in school media centers or smaller libraries.

Statistically, the photos depict a greater diversity in our profession than actually exists, but reflect the change that librarians (and other forward-thinking professions) are striving to create - a more diverse membership. Hopefully, young readers will see themselves in these pages and think about librarianship as a career (no, we're not becoming obsolete).

In addition to five small "chapters," A Day with Librarians includes tips on being a community helper, an index, additional facts, and an "about the author" section.

From the "Meet a Librarian" chapter,
Librarians have important jobs.  They can help you find a good book to read or some information about almost anything.

That about sums it up.  I'm good with that.

Other professions featured in the series are doctors, firefighters, mail carriers, paramedics and police officers.
Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Wendie's Wanderings.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Picture Book Roundup - old favorites

Today's Picture Book Roundup features older winners of the Caldecott Medal. 

The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
I recently completed a class, "The Caldecott Medal: Understanding Distinguished Art in Picture Books," offered by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), and taught by K.T. Horning.

In addition to learning much that I didn't know about art, I had the opportunity to encounter or revisit some Caldecott Medal winners that predate my career as a librarian. I have been working in a library since 2005, and received my masters degree and first professional librarian position in 2007. The Caldecott Medal has been awarded since 1938. Clearly, I had a lot of catching up to do.

Though I did not read them all, I did read many older winners. Here are some of my favorites from the years prior to 1990:

(In order by publication date - award dates are the January following the publication year)

  • Langstaff, John. 1955. Frog Went A-Courtin'. New York: Harcourt Brace. Illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky.

Richly detailed and expressive animals illustrate this favorite old folk song.  (If you don't know the song, Frog Went A-Courtin', Burl Ives' rendition was a classic)  This is my favorite of all the older Caldecotts.

  • Mosel, Arlene. 1972. The Funny Little Woman. New York: Dutton. Illustrated by Blair Lent.

Humorous, with inventive illustrations, the funny little woman travels to a world beneath her simple home in Japan.

  • Yorinks, Arthur. 1986. Hey. Al. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. Illustrated by Richard Egielski.

Generally disliked by most of my classmates, this quirky, surreal story about a man and his dog really grows on you.

  • Yolen, Jane. 1987. Owl Moon. New York: Philomel. Illustrated by John Schoenherr.

I have been fortunate enough to hear owls in the night many times, though the only ones I have been able to spot are the low-flying burrowing owls.  In Owl Moon, the thrill of a night-time owling expedition is captured brilliantly in both illustration and prose.

  • Young, Ed. 1989. Lon Po Po:A Red-Riding Hood Story from China.  New York: Philomel.

A masterpiece of danger, suspense and courage - a classic folktale. The only one of my picks written and illustrated by the same person, it's no surprise that it's a pitch-perfect pairing of text and art.

A complete list of Caldecott Medal winners 1938-present, may be found here.

I've left off many other wonderful old medal winners, I know.  Feel free to chime in with your favorite Caldecott winners from the 1930s-1980s.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Nonfiction Monday

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday, the weekly meme highlighting nonfiction books for young readers!  I'm happy to be hosting today.  Please leave your link below using Inlinkz; and comment if you have the time.  I'll be visiting each site later in the day.  Thanks for participating.

 Today's big news for bloggers?  Nominations are open for the Cybils, the only book (and now apps, too!) awards given by the blogging community. 
Book bloggers, pick your favorite book published between October 16, 2011 and October 17, 2012, and submit it online at the Cybils site.

For those of you who are not book bloggers, keep an eye out for the winners, which are announced on February 14th.  The Cybils fill an important niche.  Unlike their better-known counterparts, the Cybils seeks to award books that meet high standards and have a high "kid appeal."

Since we're all about nonfiction on Mondays,  here are the nonfiction categories:
Nonfiction Picture Books and Nonfiction: Middle Grade & YA
  For more details, read the Contest FAQs.
Check out the other categories as well and start nominating!

And now, on to Nonfiction Monday - add your link below, then click the "thumbnails" to visit each Nonfiction Monday review.  Thanks for stopping by.
Note: I attended my first KidLitCon Saturday.  Thanks to NYPL, Betsy Bird and everyone involved in planning a great (and free!) conference. Kudos!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Satchel Paige - a review

Well, baseball season is winding down, and my beloved Phillies have been all but statistically eliminated from any hope of the playoffs, but it was baseball season, and that's always good enough for me.  I'll wrap up the season with a baseball-themed book.  Below is my review of the book and CD, Satchel Paige, as it appeared in the September 2012, edition of School Library Journal.

Satchel Paige. By Lesa Cline-Ransome. CD. 21:14 min. Live Oak Media. 2012. CD with hardcover book, ISBN 978-1-4301-1088-0: $29.95; CD with paperback book, ISBN 978-1-4301-1087-3: $18.95
Gr 1-4 -- Leroy Paige was born into a poor family in Mobile, Alabama, around 1906. He earned the nickname "Satchel," while working at Mobile's train depot, carrying satchels for travelers. In his family of 12 children, money was always tight. A talented pitcher, he never considered baseball as a career until he landed in reform school for stealing. A coach suggested he focus on baseball; after that, there was no stopping him. His blend of talent and showmanship propelled him from semi-pro ball to stardom in the Negro Leagues to pitch in the newly integrated Major Leagues, earning a spot in Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball's greatest anecdotes usually have an air of tall-tale about them, and Satchel's winning ways and personality make for a biography that is as entertaining as fiction. Imagine facing his famous "bee ball," which would always "be" where he wanted it to be. Lesa Cline-Ransome writes in a folksy manner, and Dion Graham's relaxed Southern voice is a perfect complement, enhanced with sound effects and music. Though long on text, the book's large size and Graham's narration combine to offer children a chance to pore over visual details. Playing in the Negro Leagues was not always a bed of roses, but James Ransome's oil paintings highlight Paige's joi de vivre and joi de baseball. Page-turn signals are optional.

Copyright © 2012 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Surf Dog Miracles - a review

Goldish, Meish. 2013. Surf Dog Miracles. New York: Bearport.
Advance Review Copy
(This is my first review with a 2013 copyright date.  And just like that, another year has passed.)

Part of the Dog Heroes series, Surf Dog Miracles is more than just a book about surfing dogs, though they are some fine looking surfers! These dogs surf for fun with their owners, but they also assist people with disabilities and raise money for charities.  Ricochet, a Golden Retriever, surfs in tandem with people having special needs, riding the back of the board to stabilize it in the waves. She has raised a whopping $150,000 for charities that benefit both people and dogs.  Surfing dogs also compete against each other is contests like Del Mar, California's Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon.  In 2011,

The money raised at the Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon went to the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, California.  This organization provides many services, including taking care of homeless animals, running a hospital for horses, and delivering pet food to animal owners who are too old or weak to leave their homes.
Surf Dog Miracles contains twelve short chapters which offer the history and particulars of the sport (dogs have been surfing since the 1920s, but the first known solo surfer did not appear until the 1980s) and an overview of what surfing dogs are accomplishing today.  As would be expected, photos are plentiful; they are accompanied by text box insets and captions.  Fun and informative, this slim, 32-page volume also contains a list of surf dog facts, a photo page of common surfing breeds, a glossary, bibliography, and sources for more information.

Like a viral YouTube video, kids will want to see this one again and again.

For teachers:
  • Dewey Decimal Number: 362
  • Lexile®: 1000
  • SRC Quiz Available: Yes

Browse Surf Dog Miracles on the publisher's site. Be sure to check out English Bulldog, Sir Hollywood, quite possibly the most unlikely surfer dog you'll ever see.

And here's "Wet and Woofy." According to the book, it's the video that Steve Jobs showed when introducing the iPad in 2010.  It features champion surf dog, Buddy.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at A Teaching Life
Next week's roundup is here at Shelf-employed.  See you next week!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Starry River of the Sky - a review

Lin, Grace. 2012. Starry River of the Sky. New York: Little Brown.

A companion book to Grace Lin's 2009, Newbery Honor book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky is much the same and yet very different. Like the earlier book, Starry River of the Sky contains Grace Lin’s beautiful artwork (see note), features folktale vignettes, and revolves around a journey.  But while Minli’s journey in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, is an actual journey full of obstacles to overcome, main character, Rendi’s journey, in Starry River of the Sky, is an introspective journey of understanding and self-discovery.

The story opens with a miserable and distressed Rendi traveling as a stowaway in a merchant’s cart,

Rendi was not sure how long the moon had been missing.  He knew only that for weeks, the wind seemed to be whimpering as if the sky were suffering.  At first, he had thought the moans were his own because his whole body ached from hiding in the merchant’s cart.  However, it was when the cart had stopped for the evening, when the bumping and knocking had ended, that the groans began.
Rendi’s story is tied inexorably to that of the moon, though it will take some time for him to determine why the moon is missing and why he, and he alone hears the moaning of the sky each night.  He is discovered by the merchant and left in a dying town, the Village of Clear Sky.  With no other prospects, he becomes the chore boy for Master Chao, owner of the local inn.  Master Chao’s daughter,  Peiyi, takes an immediate dislike to the sullen young boy. It is not until the mysterious Madame Chang, the inn’s only guest, arrives, that fortunes begin to change.  Madame Chang is a beautiful and captivating storyteller, recounting age-old folktales that have particular significance to Rendi; the neighbor, Widow Yan, and her daughter; and Mr. Shan, an elderly, doddering dinner guest who frequents the Inn.  As Madame Chang shares her stories and encourages Rendi to do the same, his protective layer of insolence is removed like layers of skin from an onion.  Starry Village of the Sky is many-layered as well - each character has a hidden story that is coaxed out by the storytelling of Madame Chang.

This is a captivating story that, while holding deep meaning, may be enjoyed in many layers. A magical fantasy, a Chinese folktale, a tale of a boy lost and found, a love story, a mystery, a journey of self-discovery -- all may be found in the tiny and remote Village of Clear Sky.

Starry River of the Sky is another star-filled book for Grace Lin, already garnering three starred reviews and a Junior Library Guild selection.

Note: My Advance Reader Copy did not contain finished artwork, but I am confident that it will be both beautiful and magical.

Want a peek at the artwork?  Watch Grace Lin flip through her book!

“Behind Starry River of the Sky

More reviews @

Due on shelves in October, 2012.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Talk Like a Pirate!

Ahoy, me maties! Tomorrow, September 19,  is Talk Like a Pirate Day!

 Don't let it pass uncelebrated.  Here are a few suggestions:
Here are a few that I've read and reviewed, or choose your favorites.

And here's a new one from FlashLight Press.

How will you celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day?

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Street Through Time - a review

Millard, Anne. 2012. A Street Through Time: A 12,000-Year Walk Through History. New York: DK. Illustrated by Steve Noon.

Though it was first published in 1998, this is the first time that I've seen A Street Through Time: A 12,000-Year Walk Through History, and now that I've seen it, I wonder why DK waited so long to issue a revised edition.

A Street Through Time recounts the entire history of Western Civilization through a cross-section view of a single street along a river.  From the "Stone Age" through "The street today," double spread illustrations show a changing street through each major period of Western history. Measuring roughly 12" x 10", this is an over-sized book so packed full of information that it could take days to absorb everything.

The illustrations are replete with detailed  figures engaged from every walk of life engaged in every manner of activity. Because there is so much detail, important activities or information are enlarged with explanation in the white space margins, as in this example from "Iron Age (600BCE),"

After the warriors and the priests, the blacksmith is the most important man in the village.
The accompanying illustration may be found in smaller scale within the street's cross-section, offering the reader the opportunity to hunt (Where's Waldo-style) and find the highlighted people within the larger picture.  To add fun, a "time traveler" character is included on each spread.

It does not take a keen eye to see that the general landscape and the placement of important town features (places of worship, security and commerce or trade) change little over 12,000 years.  Modern buildings are often located in the exact same place as those from hundreds or even thousands of years earlier.  Churches are enlarged, amphitheaters decay, buildings are expanded and subdivided, but much remains from earlier days.

This is a fascinating way to look at history, and will make conceptual sense to children who are intensely familiar with their own streets.

I can't say that I know the proper audience for this book, but I loved it. The publisher suggests ages 10 and up, though I suspect some younger children will find it intriguing as well.

Includes prefatory information, contents, timeline, glossary, index, credits. One complaint - the descriptive phrases embedded within the illustrations are, given the small size and great detail of the artwork, extremely difficult to see. offers its "Look Inside!" feature for A Street Through Time. Check it out.

It's Nonfiction Monday. Today's roundup is at Wrapped in Foil.

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 ...