Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Midnight Zoo - a review

My review of The Midnight Zoo  (as it appeared in the March 2012 edition of SLJ)

The Midnight Zoo (unabr.). 4 CDs. 4.33 hrs. Prod. by Bolinda Audio. Dist. by Brilliance Audio. 2011. ISBN 978-1-7428-5126-6. $49.97.

Gr 7–10-- Like a 20th-century version of Avi's Crispin, who fled across 14th-century England, 12-year-old Andrej is without parents and adrift in Europe during World War II with his younger brother, Tomas, and infant sister in tow. Without destination or an understanding of the war that has divided them from their nomadic Roma clan, the siblings travel by night and sleep by day, sensing danger at every juncture. Andrej scavenges for their food and necessities for the baby. One moon-drenched evening, the trio arrives at a zoo in the ruins of a bombed village. They encounter a menagerie of talking animals, trapped in zoo cages with neither keeper nor keys. Throughout a surreal evening, the boys and animals share life stories. Through the animals, Andrej and Tomas begin to understand the nature of man and war. This understanding, however, offers more questions than answers. Richard Aspel's, rich and sonorous voice creates memorable characterizations for the many humans and animals in Sonya Harnett's novel (Candlewick, 2011), including German-speaking soldiers; his Aussie pronunciation requires a keen ear. Listeners who persevere will be rewarded with a stellar performance. With some aspects of fable, minimal dialogue, and heavy use of allegory, this artfully crafted look at the character of man and the concept of freedom may have limited popular appeal.

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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Surviving the Hindenburg - a review

Verstraete, Larry. 2012. Surviving the Hindenburg. Ill. by Dave Geister.  Farmington Hills, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.

Many historical nonfiction books for kids naturally feature adults - as they are often the makers of history. Authors sometimes choose to highlight the childhood stories of important historical figures to make the topic more interesting to children, e.g., Oprah: The Little Speaker, Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in Brooklyn. Of course, a popular topic (dinosaurs) or person helps too.

Like the sinking of the Titanic (to which the Hindenburg was close in length), the Hindenburg disaster is a continuing source of interest for readers - particularly in my area of New Jersey. 

In Surviving the Hindenburg, Larry Verstraete has the gift of a perfect combination – a young protagonist and a history-making event – the horrific fire aboard the Hindenburg.

Fourteen-year-old Werner Franz was a German cabin boy aboard the Hindenburg on May 6, 1937, when it burned and crashed in Lakehurst, NJ. As the title indicates, Werner was one of the 62 survivors. Surviving the Hindenburg is his story.

This is a compelling account using easily-read, bold- font text opposite full-page or double-spread oil paintings. Scenes of the blimp's inner gangways add understanding of the ship’s inner workings, while views from the ground give context to the blimp’s immense size. The fiery scenes are powerfully gripping.

It appears that the quoted dialogue is taken from verifiable sources,
     “After a while, it came to me,” he said.“I lost my nerve. I cried and wailed like a baby. I didn’t know what to do.”
     Some men approached Werner.They thought he was a visitor, there to watch the landing.
     “They shook me to my senses,” Werner said. ‘Get a hold of yourself and try to help someone,’ they told me. But there was no one left to help.”
     In German, Wener tried to tell them who he was. “Ich bin der cabin-boy vom Hindenburg!” he said over and over,
however, no source notes are included in this otherwise stellar historical account. (A note in the Acknowledgements does cite Hindenburg authority, Patrick Russell, for ensuring accuracy)

A foreword and afterword offer a broader look at the disaster, including the interesting note that Werner Franz is the “last surviving member of the Hindenburg crew.”

The 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg will be marked this year on May 5th and 6th. Details, photos and more may be found at the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society site.

Interestingly, the Navy recently launched a new airship,  also located at the Lakehurst base, which is now Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.  However, after only about one year, the ship is due to be "mothballed" at Hangar 1 in Lakehurst.  A story and video of the airship appear here.  I have seen this behemoth fly over my home.  It's hard to imagine that airships were once used as luxury, transatlantic transportation!

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Anastasia Suen's Booktalking.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Abarat: Absolute Midnight

Barker, Clive. 2011. Abarat: Absolute Midnight. New York: Harper Collins.

I don't read many YA books, so I'm not typically searching the YA stacks to see what's new.  That's how Abarat: Absolute Midnight 's September 2011, release slipped right past me. Of course, I'm one of the lucky ones.  I read the second book in the Abarat series, Days of Magic, Nights of War, back in 2008.  I've only been waiting 4 years for the sequel.  True fans have been waiting seven years for Clive Barker's latest tale of the Abarat. The original Abarat appeared in 2002, with the second in the series showing up two years later in 2004.  Since then, nothing.  Nothing but rumors - two more books! no, three books -  A movie! - no, no movie ...

But now, after 7 years of rumors and waiting, book 3 of a planned 5 book series is here, and it is as massive a project (582 pages and a hundred paintings, or thereabouts) as the first two books in the series.  With the fate of Christopher Carrion in question (did he perish in Chickentown?) and Mater Motley poised to deliver darkness to all of the Hours, Candy returns to the Abarat to meet her destiny, which, though cloudy at first, becomes clearer with each passing day.  Candy Quackenbush, of Chickentown, Minnesota has a role to play in determining the fate of the Abarat. With her devoted and trusting companion, Malingo, the geshrat, Candy will follow her destiny wherever it leads - even to Gargossium, midnight, the 24th hour. 

Although this book may be darker in tone, the reader never has the feeling that the politely indomitable Candy will fail. In fact, while other readers may revel in the Abarat's more horrific and macabre characters, it is Candy (and Malingo) that have ensured my return.  Coming from a sadly dysfunctional home in a boring Midwest town, traveling to the Abarat, and then back to Chickentown in a showdown between the two worlds, Candy emerges not broken, but steady, independent and resourceful - sure of her convictions, whatever the cost.  Malingo senses this in Candy, as well as the magic that resides in her.  She may not understand or see her true potential, but Malingo sees it, protects it, and relies upon it.  Together they are a perfect pair.  It remains to be seen how Candy's newest admirer will change the dynamics in this touching human/geshrat friendship.

The fate of the Abarat still hangs in the balance.  Perhaps all of the answers may be found on the 25th hour, Odom's Spire.  Based on past history, we may have to wait some time to find out!

Click here for the latest news from Clive Barker's website on the future of the Abarat series.

An Absolute Midnight Review from the LA Times

Previous reviews:
Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War

Monday, March 19, 2012

Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World - a review

Most biographies for kids of living subjects, have several things in common.  They are small in size and page number, they have flashy covers, the information they contain can be easily gleaned by combing the Internet, they feature the latest sports, music, TV, or movie stars, their "shelf-life" is limited.  Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World is not most biographies.

Montgomery, Sy. 2012. Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher)

Dr. Temple Grandin is a scientist, a college professor, a motivational speaker, an engineer, an advocate for animal rights, and so much more - but as a child born in the 1940s with autism, her chances of becoming anything at all were slim.  In fact, her father fought to have her sent away to a mental institution, thinking her, not brilliant, but "retarded." With the help of a determined mother, Temple grew up to be a brilliant and respected woman who has changed our world for the better. 

With extensive access to Temple Grandin, her family and friends, and schools, author Sy Montgomery has crafted an inspiring, engaging, and informative biography about this singular woman.

Temple Grandin is thirteen chapters that tell the story of Temple's life and the autism that has shaped her destiny.  Not strictly chronological, Temple's participation in the writing of the book is an added bonus as her present-day thoughts are often used to punctuate difficult experiences from her past

"If I could snap my fingers and be non-autistic," Temple says today, "I wouldn't do it.  It's part of who I am."
Chapters relate her unique education, her friends, her scientific experiments and engineering projects, her autism and its attendant challenges.  Chapters are supplemented by short informational sections (which appear as pages torn from a spiral bound notebook) on such varied topics as "Thinking differently:Changing Views of Brain Differences" and "Factory Farming by the Numbers."  The final chapter, "Temple Today" is followed by Temple's advice, a selected bibliography and resources, and acknowledgements. Photographs, plans and drawings are plentiful throughout the book. Photo credits and an index will be included in the final copy.

It is clear that Ms. Grandin is pleased with Sy Montgomery's rendering of her life.  Temple Grandin, herself, is the author of the inspirational forward to Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World.

One thought that I could not shake after reading this book: What would have become of Temple Grandin had she not been born into a wealthy family with a mother who refused to lose hope?  How many young geniuses were/are never able to find their potential?  It is a credit to Temple Grandin that she is a willing and able spokesperson for those on the autism spectrum, hoping to promote an understanding of our collective neurodiversity.

Who should read this book?

  • librarians
  • teachers of children on the autism spectrum
  • parents of children on the autism spectrum
  • kids and teens on the autism spectrum
  • kids and teens who know someone on the autism spectrum
  • animal lovers
  • readers interested in animal rights
  • readers studying factory farming
  • would-be engineers and scientists
  • students with biography assignments
  • in short, everyone!
Highly recommended. Due on shelves, April 3, 2012.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at EMU's Debuts.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Picture Book Roundup: spring, truck and mummy edition

As the co-organizer of the KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month blog, I've been very busy formatting, posting, and reading all of the great guest posts this month.  (If you haven't checked it out, you're missing some great essays and reviews.)  As a consequence, I've been neglecting to post often this month, but today I have a quick rundown of three titles that grabbed my attention this past week:

  • Fogliano, Julie. 2012. And then it's spring.  Illustrated by Erin E. Stead. New York: Roaring Brook.

I loved this book from the minute I saw the cover staring at me from my book delivery bag.  It's simply perfect.  Betsy Bird, of Fuse #8, named it to her early Caldecott predictions list yesterday.  Get yourself a copy if you can.

  • Sutton, Sally. 2012. Demolition. Illustrated by Brian Lovelock. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Bright colors, realistic trucks, repeated refrains, rhymes with perfect rhythm - a storytime book doesn't get much better than this.  If you know any small children at all, you know one who will like Demolition.

And finally, a curious addition to my bag 'o books,

  • Bunting, Eve. 2011. Ballywhinney Girl. Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The hauntingly beautiful cover art caught my eye, and with St. Patrick's Day approaching, I was on the lookout for anything Irish to add to a display of Irish-themed books.  Ballywhinney Girl, however, was not what I was expecting.  It's the story of Maeve, a young Irish girl, and her grandfather, who accidentally uncover a body while digging in the peat bogs near their home.  After they report the find to the local authorities, it draws the attention of news reporters, archaeologists, and scientists, who determine that the body is that of a thousand-year-old mummified girl - a girl much like Maeve, herself.  Maeve naturally find the whole process unsettling.  Elegantly told in verse, this is a fictional story that, according to the Author's Note, happens more often than one might think.  It clearly, and rightfully, is unsettling to author, Eve Bunting, as well.  Whether your young listener will find it unsettling as well, is for you to determine.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Huff & Puff - a review

Rueda, Claudia. 2012. Huff & Puff: Can you blow down the houses of the three little pigs? New York: Abrams.

I was going to include this in a picture book roundup, but it's just so cute that it's going to get its own post.

Though traditional folk and fairy tales are part of our shared culture, it's difficult to find a version simple enough to share with toddlers in a meaningful way.  Huff & Puff makes this look easy.  With  sparse and straightforward text (only one line per plain white page),

First pig building a house.

First pig inside the house.
One wolf huffing and puffing,
and delightfully innocent-looking pigs, you'd think that Huff & Puff couldn't get any better.  But wait, there's more.  Each time the wolf comes along, the reader is presented with the wall of the house (straw, stick and brick) and a hole for, you guessed it, huffing and puffing!  The reader is the wolf! All the illustrations are drawn with a wolf's-eye view, including the birthday cake with candles that awaits the wolf on the final page.

Three pigs and one wolf are happy.

This book is an offering from Abrams' new imprint, Abrams Appleseed

Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher.

Read the Kirkus review here.
Oh why didn't I look at this one yesterday before I did a pig-themed storytime?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Great Molasses Flood - a review

Kops, Deborah. 2012. The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

As soon as I read Jeff Barger's review of The Great Molasses Flood on NC Teacher Stuff, I knew that this book would be next on my "to be read" pile.

Since then, it's cropped up on blogs all across the Kidlitosphere.  There's something about this horrific, yet freakishly bizarre story, that is simply irresistible.

I am fond of "event books" that offer a broader view of a particular occurrence, placing it into the context of the time.  This is such a book, offering a look at the American justice system, the anarchist movement of the early 20th century, the lifestyles of immigrants, the influence of big business, and the practical applications for science and engineering in the practice of law.  All of these elements cross paths in this chronological story of a deadly explosion of a Boston molasses tank holding over two million gallons of the sticky brown sweetener.

Because the incident ended up as the subject of intense litigation, Kops had ample resources, in addition to newspaper accounts.  The legal transcript of the trial fills forty volumes.

Kops' writing style is simple and compelling,

The View from Above
At about 12:40 the brakeman on the elevated line was standing near the window of a passenger train, which had left South Station about five minutes earlier.  As the train neared the molasses tank, the brakeman heard a loud noise, like metal ripping apart.  He looked down to see the molasses tank split wide open and a wave of molasses heading toward the tracks. 
     As the train came around a curve, there was another surprise.  The molasses hurled a great chunk of the tank against two columns supporting the elevated tracks.  A moment later one of the El supports bent as if it was just a skinny twig.  Park of the El's tracks, which the train had passed over just seconds before, sagged toward the road below.
Scattered sepia colored insets offer additional and helpful contextual information such as the burgeoning women's and anarchist movements, and an explanation of the urgency to use the stored molasses (prohibition was about to become the law of the land).

I did find fault with two stray comments that I thought "cringe-worthy" because they seemed dismissive of the catastrophic nature of the event.
A sea of molasses quickly surrounded them.  Antonio ran for his life, but he was no match for the tide.  It dragged him along, shoving him into a curb. Ouch! 
The young man lost two teeth and a sister.  Ouch?  The other is similarly cavalier -
Mrs. O'Brien Loses More Than Her Wash
Mrs. O'Brien, in fact, lost her home, which rode the molasses wave right off its foundation and into the nearby park.
These are minor aberrations, however, in an otherwise fascinating and well-told story.

Booktalk The Great Molasses Flood: Boston, 1919 to your fiction readers, too!  Freakish appeal and a generous amount of photos give this one cross-genre appeal.  Highly recommended. 

Finally, I think it's noteworthy that this is such a bizarre disaster, that it even warrants an entry on the always reliable,!
Claim: A fatal wave of molasses swept through Boston in January 1919.
Other reviews @

It's Nonfiction Monday.  Today's host is 100 Scope Notes.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March is Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month

As I've mentioned previously, fellow blogger, Margo Tanenbaum of The Fourth Musketeer and I, have been working for two years, on KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month, a commemorative blog featuring one guest post per day from authors and bloggers in the Kidlitosphere. The blog celebrates children's literature featuring women's history.

Today, I'm kicking off the month with a guest post titled, "Stopping by Seneca Falls." Please stop by KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month and read it, and all the other great posts that will be appearing this month.  Thanks.

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 ...