Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Morning Miscellany

First up,
  • It's Nonfiction Monday again.  Please be sure to visit host, Wendie's Wanderings to read today's posts. I've got no reviews to offer today, however, I did read this book yesterday and loved it for its beautiful photos, sweet story, and simple sentence structure (perfect for sharing with little ones at storytime):
(Be assured that the quality of the book's photos exceeds the quality of the book trailer video.)  A curiosity about this decidedly nonfiction book - the copyright page lists the classifying subject headings as the following:

1. Orangutan – Juvenile fiction. 2. Dogs – Juvenile fiction. [1. Orangutan – Fiction. 2. Dogs – Fiction. 3. Wildlife refuges – Fiction. 4. South Carolina – Fiction.]
I sent a note to the publisher to inquire if this is an error or a choice, but haven't had a response yet.  This is not the first time that I've seen erroneous cataloging information in print.  Can someone who is familiar with publishing enlighten me as to the source of the classifications?  I'm a curious sort. 

  • After many, many tries, I was finally successful in logging in to my White House account and signing the petition to  
Ensure that every child in America has access to an effective school library program.
If you haven't signed the petition, please do.  (You must create a White House account before signing.)  The log in process seems to be temperamental.  Please keep trying!  As I'm writing, 4411 signatures are still needed by February 4, to ensure a response from the President. Do yourself, your children, your students, your school, and your community a favor and support strong school library programs.


Ms. Vaughan's visit here is part of the larger Sydney Taylor Book Award Blog Tour 2012.  The tour kicks off on February 5 with the following: 

Susan Campbell Bartoletti, author of Naamah and the Ark at NightSydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
at Ima On & Off the Bima

Holly Meade, illustrator of Naamah and the Ark at NightSydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Younger Readers Category
Into the Wardrobe

Shelley Sommer, author of Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, Baseball PioneerSydney Taylor Honor Award winner in the Older Readers Category
Great Kid Books

The complete schedule is available at the Association of Jewish Libraries blog, "People of the Books."  Follow the tour and support the authors and illustrators of this year's winners!

Have a great week!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach - a review

Woods, Brenda. 2011. Saint Louis Armstrong Beach. New York: Nancy Paulsen (Penguin Group)

It's hard to believe that I'm labeling a book about Hurricane Katrina "historical fiction," but to middle-grade readers, that's exactly what it is.  While memories of  Katrina are still fresh in the minds of New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents, 2005 is a lifetime ago for a 5th grader, born in 2001.

This first-person fictionalized account of 11-year-old Saint Louis Armstrong Beach (named for his grandfather King Saint and the famous trumpeter), tells the brief story of the run-up to Hurricane Katrina, the storm (in which he is trapped with an elderly neighbor), and its aftermath.  With freakish good luck and a family with money and decent jobs, Saint will fare better than many, if not most, New Orleanians actually did.  However, Saint Louis Armstrong Beach: A Novel (a boy, a dog, and the hurricane that almost separated them) serves as an excellent middle-grade introduction to this important page in American history.  The plight of the less fortunate provides a backdrop for Saint's story.  When he wonders why others are not evacuating to shelter in other cities, his father reminds him that not all people can leave,

"And who's gonna pay for that?  Some people got no jobs, others got no money, and when I say no money ... I mean no money.  Some people got nuthin' except the clothes on their backs, Saint."
"Money's real important, huh?"
"Yep, but what you do with it is even more important.  Most a the people who claim money's not important are folks who have plenty of it.  You remember that."
If it's a tad didactic and Saint is a tad too saintly, so be it.  Sometimes we need the obvious lesson. A short (136 pages) and accessible book for young readers. Light on scientific information, pair this one with an appropriate nonfiction title.

Brenda Woods is a Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner for The Red Rose Box.

Other reviews @
Kirkus Reviews
Waking Brain Cells
Bermuda Onion's Weblog

Teachers, there's a Reader's Companion for Saint Louis Armstrong Beach.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Leaf Can Be ... a review

Salas, Laura Purdie. 2012. A Leaf Can Be ... . Illustrated by Violeta Dabija. Minneapolis: Millbrook.
Advance Reader Copy supplied by NetGalley.

What's better than a beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book? One that can be used to delight preschoolers, introduce poetry, or present science concepts. A Leaf Can Be... does it all.

Introductory stanzas give way to descriptive phrases of a leaf's many uses and manifestations,
A leaf is a leaf -
a bit of a tree.
But when cool days come chasing,
it also can be a ...

Wind rider
Lake glider
Pile grower
Hill grow-er
The font is simple and pleasing, like printing with a fine point gel pen.

The illustrations, depicting each thing that "a leaf can be," are nothing less than enchanting.  Blue is the color that anchors this journey through seasons and  locales - posing as the sky, a lake, a hint of frost, the rainwater gathered in the palm of a leaf. Though whimsically drawn, the trees, people and animals in Dabija's paintings are rendered in the colors of nature - not the muted colors of nature, but nature in its most vibrant, most spectacular displays. Her use of "speckling" gives each illustration a hint of magic or fancy.
Also included are:

  • "Glossary"
  • "Further Reading."
  • "More About Leaves," in which each descriptive tree phrase used throughout the book is explained, 
Mouth filler - leaves can be tasty!  Apes, giraffes, insects and many other animals eat leaves.  Humans do too.  Have you eaten lettuce or spinach lately?
Highly recommended. It's early in the year, but I think this will be a favorite!

Manufactured in the United States of America.

Check Laura Purdie Salas' site for a teaching guide and bookmarks, coming soon.

Due on shelves March 1, 2012. (You can request it now on NetGalley from Lerner Publishing.  Don't read this one on a black and white reader!)
It's Nonfiction Monday and I'm today's host.  
Please leave your link below and visit the other links. If you have trouble using Inlinkz, leave your link in the comments and I will add it to today's roundup.

  Thanks for participating in today's Nonfiction Monday roundup.

Today's guests include:
Don't forget! You can watch the ALA Youth Media Awards announcements live from Dallas today, beginning at 7:30 am.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

ALA Youth Media Awards

Just a reminder that tomorrow is the day that the winners of the ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced at ALA Midwinter in Dallas.

ALA will host a live webcast of the event, beginning at 7:30am CT.

I can't wait to hear the winners, and hope I've read them all.  Next week, I'm planning a storytime based on Caldecott Medal winners.  I'm hoping to share the winner with my storytime crowd (unless, of course, its a behemoth like The Invention of Hugo Cabret  - you never know)

While you're waiting for the winners to be announced, feel free to enjoy this video which "captures Newbery Award-Winning authors Virginia Hamilton and Jean Craighead George talking about how those awards (for Julie of the Wolves and M.C. Higgins The Great respectively) changed their lives."

Video provided courtesy of Open Road Media.   

Tomorrow is also Nonfiction Monday and the roundup will be here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ghetto Cowboy - a review

Neri. G. 2011. Ghetto Cowboy. Ill. by Jesse Joshua Watson. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Advance Review Copy supplied by publisher

Like Byron Watson's Michigan mother in Christopher Paul Curtis',The Watsons go to Birmingham 1963, Cole's mother, too, is at the end of her rope, nerves frayed by his constant juvenile delinquency. In desperation, she takes Cole south - from the Motor City to the City of Brotherly Love, where she leaves him unceremoniously with his father, a black cowboy in a small ghetto neighborhood of North Philadelphia, where he must get to know the father he's never met, come to terms with his own shortcomings, and learn to survive "the Cowboy Way," in this inner city version of the Old West.

Though this first person account features a hardened kid from the city living within earshot of nightly gang violence, Ghetto Cowboy is a novel of hope and possibility. It is about the love of horses and the ability of poor people to care for them, and for one another. It is a story in which people, even "bad" people, sometimes do the right thing, 
They come up to do whatever they can to help. Some people is carpenters, some electricians, some handymen; some is just kids who don't know nothing.  But a body is a body that can help out somehow.
"...a body is a body that can help out somehow." Amen to that.

 Black and white illustrations help bring this unique culture to life.  My particular favorite is a double-spread of the neighborhood cowboys and Cole, relaxing in the evening, in their street clothes with cowboy boots, two in cowboy hats, one in a hood, most bare-headed.  They're sitting in old lawn furniture or leaning against a barren wall, hoisting an odd assortment of beers, laughing, joking, shootin' the breeze - and one can imagine that they're not so different from the cowboys of old.

Ghetto Cowboy is a short and easy read, its small size belying its powerful emotional punch.

The real-life ghetto cowboys of Philadelphia were the subject of controversy when the PSPCA removed some of their horses several years ago.  Ghetto Cowboys, though fictional, offers an insider's view of these very real urban horsemen. Watch them and decide for yourself.

Check out the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club here.

The official book trailer is below, but, meaning no disrespect to its creator, I believe that the book is better than its trailer.

G. Neri's "Ghetto Cowboy" book trailer from Greg Neri on Vimeo.

I received my copy of Ghetto Cowboy for attending a webinar on upcoming releases (obviously, I’m behind in my reviews as the book was released in August).I wouldn’t usually request a YA title, but I’m willing to give most anything from Candlewick a try.(Good call)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Nonfiction Monday miscellany

It's Nonfiction Monday again.

As I'm in the midst of writing reviews of Cybils finalists that I can't post yet, this is my Nonfiction Monday miscellany missive.

For nonfiction news, I've been checking out these sites lately:
  • I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids  - a great site written by a group of nonfiction authors - always something interesting here!
  •  Nonfiction Matters - Marc Aronson's blog, hosted by School Library Journal - news of interest to librarians interested in nonfiction (if you can't access the blog today, try again - apparently there's been server trouble @ SLJ.)
  • Another Side: American History Revisited - this site has nothing to do with children's literature, but it a brilliantly written blog by Barry Denenberg, author of (among other books), Lincoln Shot! and Titanic Sinks! Each post is thoroughly researched and offers a wealth of information on whatever topic intrigues the erudite, Mr. Denenberg.  He describes it best:
    ANOTHER SIDE is a subjective, serendipitous and idiosyncratic investigation into the evolution of words, phrases and objects in America. Its entries are unique, thoroughly researched, hand-crafted historical short stories that collectively take a kaleidoscopic alternative look at American culture. The provocative perspective is politically incorrect by design and irreverent and iconoclastic by nature.
 Do you have any "go-to"sites for kidlit-related news, not reviews?

In other news:

Politically savvy librarians and library supporters (and we all should be politically savvy - we can't afford not to be) are debating the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Take time out of your busy day to learn about how these issues may affect you, your job, your children, or your students.

SOPA sounds plausible on the surface, but "the devil is in the details."  It appears that it will cause more harm than good.  As for ESEA, I believe in supporting strong school media centers. As a public librarian, I view the local school media specialists as my partners.  We are both essential components in the success of young students.

Any thoughts on SOPA or ESEA?

Next, if you haven't heard ...

Walter Dean Myers has been chosen by the Library of Congress as the 2012 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. I love his chosen slogan,
Reading is not optional

And finally, it's MLK, Jr. Day. If you don't have to work today,
"Make it a day on, Not a day off."

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at The Swimmer Writer.  Please stop by.
Nonfiction Monday will be here next week, January 23.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bigger than a Bread Box - a review

A brief review today with lots of extras...

Snyder, Laurel. 2011. Bigger than a Bread Box. New York: Random House.

Like Wendy Mass' "birthday series" books, Bigger than a Bread Box is realistic fiction infused with an element of magic - in this case, a mysterious bread box that appears to grant whatever wishes can fit inside its limited dimensions. At first 12-year-old Rebecca is delighted,but she belatedly discovers the consequence to her wishes.

Told in the first person, Bigger than a Bread Box is a unique story in which magic doesn't necessarily makes things right - or wrong, just different. Most touching in the story is the evolving relationship between Rebecca and her brother, Lew, a toddler. With no one else to turn to after her mother spirits them away to Georgia against their father's will, Rebecca "discovers" her younger brother,
The only difference was that now, when I was alone in the afternoons, I wasn't so alone. Each day I spent a little more time with Lew, and that felt different. It was like he'd been a piece of furniture before, a big doll, and now he was a person, just because I'd noticed he was.
Worth checking out.

Read an excerpt here.
A Study Guide is available here.

Other reviews @

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Dumpling Days - a review (redux)

Lin, Grace. 2012. Dumpling Days. New York: Little Brown

I very seldom, if at all, repeat reviews, however, today I make an exception of sorts.  I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of Grace Lin's Dumpling Days, more than six months ago.  There is some debate within the kidlitosphere about when is the best time to post reviews of Advance Reader Copies.  Most would agree that mine was too early.

In any case, when the publisher mentioned that I had posted my review a tad early (6 months - can I help it?  I liked the book!), I offered to re-post it at a later date. 

Well, the time is now.  Dumpling Days is due out on January 21.  However, rather than re-post my review, I offer you a booktalk, a link to my previous review, and a look at Grace Lin's book trailer.

So without further ado ...

a booktalk
In Dumpling Days, Pacy Lin, her parents and two sisters (one older, one younger) are going to Taiwan for Pacy's grandmother's 60th birthday - for 28 days! Twenty-eight days?! What is Pacy supposed to do for 28 days without her friends in a country where she may look like everyone else, but inside, she's definitely not. At least there will be dumplings!

my review

the trailer

and, just for fun, a photo of me and Grace Lin

 She was ever so gracious at her book signings in New Orleans.

Enjoy Dumpling Days!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cybils shortlist

After months of hard work by the first round judges, the shortlists are out for the 2011 Cybils, the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.  I'm pleased, honored and humbled to be a Round 2 judge in the Nonfiction Picture Books category.

Following are this year's finalists in the NFPB category (linked to my review where applicable):

All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon

Bring On the Birds
by Susan Stockdale

Can We Save the Tiger?
by Martin Jenkins
Candlewick Press

I Feel Better with a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures by Carlyn Beccia
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Planting the Wild Garden
by Kathryn O. Galbraith

The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle
Millbrook Press

Thunder Birds: Nature's Flying Predators
by Jim Arnosky
Sterling Publishing

To date, I've read only four of the seven finalists and reviewed only two, but I will be posting more reviews as we lead up to the announcement of the winners on February 14th.  I look forward to working with my fellow judges, Terry Doherty, Family Bookshelf, Adrienne Mason, Tough City Writer, Karen Terlecky,  Literate Lives, and Laura Wadley,  PCL Children's Book Review.  Thanks to our organizer, Fiona Bayrock,  Books and 'Rocks.

Let the fun begin!

Links to the Cybils finalists in all categories may be found here.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Titanic Sinks! a review

Barry Denenberg. 2011. Titanic Sinks! New York: Viking.

Employing the recently recovered journal of a fictional journalist on board the Titanic, Barry Denenberg has seamlessly and expertly blended fact and fiction  to create a gripping re-telling of the Titanic's doomed voyage.  Titanic Sinks! is well-researched and documented with extensive use of period photos.  Timelines, menus, and more are also included in this large-sized picture book for older readers.
Titanic at the docks of Southampton
April 1912
Public domain photo
 As historical fiction, Titanic Sinks! is a phenomenally successful exercise in creating an exciting method of presenting history to young readers.  As nonfiction, Titanic Sinks! is a wealth of well-documented facts, quotes, photos, and timelines from one of modern history's worst and best-known disasters.  As a "unique presentation of fact and fiction," as stated on the book's jacket, I find Titanic Sinks! mildly troubling.  Barry Denenberg has done such a tremendous job of creating the fictional Modern Times magazine, complete with masthead, table of contents, an explanatory "Letter from the Publisher," and even editor's notes, that it will be difficult for readers (both young and old) to discern fact from fiction.  Granted, there is "A Word from the Author" in the book's final pages which explains the melding of fact and fiction, however, a reader might easily pass over the author's note, or be so convinced by the previous publisher's letter and editor's note that he is left confused and unsure of what is fact and what is fiction.

That being said, I would not discourage anyone from reading this compelling account of the Titanic's sinking.  In fact, I highly recommend it, but with a word of caution that some explanation may be in order.  Alternatively, it would make excellent subject matter for older students to learn the process of determining authenticity in a work of nonfiction.

Other reviews @
Publishers Weekly

Barry Denenberg's previous book, Lincoln Shot! is done is a similar vein. He is a prolific author of quality nonfiction and historical fiction titles.  His website offers a link to his blog Another Side, which, if you are a lover of history, you will find incredibly well-written and interesting!  It's now on my list of "must read" blogs.

It's Nonfiction Monday.  Today's roundup is at The Nonfiction Detectives.

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 ...