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.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Council of Mirrors: The Sisters Grimm - a review

It's been years since I reviewed The Fairy Tale Detectives, the first book in The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley.

I've recently had the opportunity to review the audio book version of the ninth and final book in the series. It's been a good run.

Below is my review as it appeared it in the August 2012, edition of School Library Journal.

The Council of Mirrors: The Sisters Grimm, Book 9. By Michael Buckley. 6 cassettes or 6 CDs. 6:50 hrs. Recorded Books. 2012. cassette: ISBN 978-1-4640-3363-6, CD: ISBN 978-1-4640-3362-9. $66.75.

Gr 4-6--In the final book (Amulet Books, 2012) in Michael Buckley's series, the fate of Ferryport Landing, the Everafters, and the Grimm family are at stake as the Grimms join with former foes and gather a ragtag army of Everafters to face the nefarious Scarlet Hand led by Mirror, the evil looking glass who has taken human form and forcibly occupied the body of the Grimm Sisters' Granny Relda. The Hand, a group of malevolent fairy tale characters, including Prince Charming's brother Atticus, Mayor Heart, and Sheriff Nottingham, is intent on wreaking havoc and gaining freedom from the magical boundary that keeps Everafters imprisoned in Ferryport Landing. Magic mirrors loyal to the Grimms reveal in a prophecy that it is young Sabrina and Daphne Grimm who are destined to save the world from the rogue characters. Despite their friends' lack of confidence, Daphne and Sabrina lead Charming, Puck, Beauty, and the rest of the group into battle. The secret to winning the war will likely be a surprise. Like the finale of Harry Potter, Michael Buckley ends this popular series with a hint of romance and a peek at the future--a glimpse of the much older Daphne and Sabrina Grimm. L. J. Ganser, has been the voice of all nine books. What he lacks in adolescent feminine vocal range, he makes up for with superb diction and the ability to make clear distinctions between the dozens of characters. Overall, a satisfying listen.

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

Listen to a sample:

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Giant and how he Humbugged America - a review

Murphy, Jim. 2012. The Giant and How he Humbugged America.  New York: Scholastic.
(Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher)

While many of us are most familiar with Charles Dickens' use of the noun humbug as used by Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, "Bah! Humbug!" where it is used to mean "nonsense," humbug is also a verb.

humbug: (verb) deceive, hoax, to engage in a hoax or deception
First known use of humbug 1751
(from Merriam-Webster online)

The Giant is a story of how one man cooked up a scheme to humbug an entire nation.

By his own account, Jim Murphy originally toyed with the idea of telling the tale of the Bernie Madoff investment scandal, but decided that not enough time has passed to interpret the scandal objectively and completely.  How then to tell a true and cautionary story of greed, excess, and gullibility?  Why via the Cardiff Giant, of course!  The Giant hoax began in earnest on a morning in October, 1869, on "Stub" Newell's farm in the small New York hamlet of Cardiff, when workers digging a well uncovered a stone body.  Was it a petrified man, an ancient statue, proof of biblical giants?  Scientists, reporters, scholars and average citizens flocked to Cardiff in droves to decide for themselves. 

Demand was so great to see the statue while it was still in its hastily constructed home in upstate New York,
that the New York Central Railroad had trains stop for ten minutes near the hall so riders could run in for a quick view.
Eventually, the statue was moved in a specially-constructed wagon and toured the country.  Accounts of the Cardiff Giant appeared in newspapers throughout America.  Learned men debated competing theories about the giant's origin. 

An October 1869 photograph showing the Cardiff Giant being exhumed.
 This media file is in the public domain in the United States.
This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired,
 often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.
See this page for further explanation.

They need not have debated.  The truth of the giant's origin was already known, but known only to Stub Newell and his several accomplices.  It was a steadily growing hoax of gigantic proportions.

It is difficult today to understand the immensity of the "giant" hoax of 1869, but to place it in perspective, consider these numbers.  The US Census of 1870, (one year after the "giant" was first "found"), lists the population of the United States at just over 38 million. According to accounts in the book, an estimated six million people paid to view the famous Cardiff Giant, about one sixth of the entire population of the United States!  Add in visitors to the several "fake" giants that appeared later, and the number is likely even higher.  It is estimated that the architect of the scheme made the equivalent of nearly a quarter million dollars in today's money; and he owned only an "interest" in the Cardiff Giant.

So shady and complex were the financial machinations and deals involved with this deception, that "The Cast of Characters" which begins the book numbers sixty-six, and is peppered with names that will be familiar to many, including P.T. Barnum and "Boss" Tweed.  Most of the cast were unaware that theirs were just bit parts in a monumental drama.  In the end, fortunes were made and lost, lives were enriched and ruined, and in one tragic instance, a life was taken.  Jim Murphy takes the reader deftly through the biggest swindle of its time.

Interestingly, some of the repercussions from the great hoax were beneficial - the birth of  new professional associations including the American Medical Association, peer-reviewed journals, graduate programs to better train experts in various fields, and a reforming spirit in everyday Americans.

Told in twelve chapters from "The Discovery" to "The Final Resting Place," The Giant is a fascinating look at many aspects of history through the lens of one "giant" swindle.  Entertaining and impossible to put down, readers will be both impressed and appalled by the complex maneuvers of the hoax's mastermind. (No spoilers here, you'll have to read it to find his identity.)  A large number of period photos, posters and handbills are included, adding much to the story.

Also included are meticulous Source Notes, a Selected Bibliography, and a summary of other famous hoaxes.  The Index and Photo Credits were not included in my Advance Reader Copy, but will be in the final version, due on shelves in October, 2012.

With many schools moving to a national core curriculum with a heavy focus on informational texts, The Giant should be on the "must buy" list of school media specialists.  What better way to teach critical thinking than to pore through the anatomy of one of America's most famous hoaxes!

Another review @
A Fuse 8 Production

I saw the Cardiff Giant at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, its final resting place, when I was visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I only wish I had read the book first!

Nonfiction Monday is at Books Together this week.  Stop by.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Exploring the Seasons - a review

As regularly as the swallows depart from and return to San Juan Capistrano, teachers will soon flock to classrooms and libraries.  Sooner or later, they will seek the books on seasons.  I will be ready.

DeGezelle, Terri. 2012. Exploring Fall. North Mankato, MN: Capstone.

Crisp and attractive photographs, single-page "chapters," minimal text in simple font, a pleasing buttery yellow color, and a generous 11" x 9" size, are the hallmarks of this Exploring the Seasons series.
Each book contains eight chapters.  The first is specific to a season ("Season of Change" for fall, "Hot, Hot, Hot" for summer), and the rest follow a predictable pattern ("What Causes Seasons?," "Water in Fall," People in Fall," etc.)  The text is simple and easy to follow,
Lakes and ponds get cold in fall.  But oceans have built up warmth over the summer. The warm water makes hurricanes more common in fall.
and is accompanied on the facing page by a full, or larger-than-full page photograph or illustration.  With enough scientific data to cover necessary standards, the Exploring the Seasons series is nevertheless, attractive enough to appeal to young readers or listeners. A word count , grade level and Early-Intervention Level are included on the last page.  (255, 1, and 21 respectively)
Each title also contains a Glossary, Read More, Internet Sites, and Index.
Because Capstone Press' target audience is beginning, struggling and reluctant readers, these books have a target age range of 5-7, but will be equally useful as preschool read-alouds to accompany storybooks on the same topic.
See more posts related to science, technology, engineering and math at STEM Friday. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Lions of Little Rock - a review

Levine, Kristin. 2012. The Lions of Little Rock. New York: Putnam.

I talk a lot.  Just not out loud where anyone can hear.  At least I used to be that way.  I'm no chatterbox now, but if you stop me on the street and ask me directions to the zoo, I'll answer you.  Probably.  If you're nice, I might even tell you a couple of different ways to get there. I guess I've learned it's not enough to just think things.  You have to say them too.  Because all the words in the world won't do much good if they're just rattling around in your head.

The year is 1958, and 12-year-old Marlee is beginning West Side Junior High School.  An intelligent, but extremely quiet girl, Marlee is often at the mercy of her bossy and outspoken "friend," Sally.
    Judy sighed. "Why are you even friends with Sally McDaniels?"
      I shrugged.  Sally and I have been friends ever since were five and she pushed me off the slide at the park.
     "She likes to boss you around," Judy said.
     That was true.  But she was also familiar.  I like familiar.

So, when she is befriended by Liz, the affable newcomer to school, Marlee is most pleasantly surprised.  Marlee, who has a penchant for categorizing people as beverages, finally questions Liz as to why she is helping Marlee to overcome her debilitating shyness,

     For the first time, Liz was silent.  Behind her, the giraffes chewed their cud. "I thought it might be hard always being quiet," Liz said finally.  "I thought you needed a friend."
     She was right.  I did.
     "I needed a friend too," said Liz.
     And suddenly I knew what Liz was -- a cup of warm milk with a dash of cinnamon.
The two become inseparable.  But one day, after a chance encounter with Sally and her mother near the Baptist church in the "colored part of town," Liz stops coming to school.  Word leaks out that she's been "passing," pretending to be white, in order to attend a better school.  Central High may have been forcibly integrated last year, but change has not come to West Side Junior High, and Hall High remains closed, forcing Marlee's older sister to attend school out of town. The status quo sits well with Marlee's mother, but her father, a teacher in the district, is disturbed.  The tension in Marlee's household mirrors that of the town's.  Liz and Marlee's friendship is a cause for concern in Marlee's part of town and Liz's; the threat of violence looms ahead.

A stellar depiction of  "us vs. them" mentality, The Lions of Little Rock shows the awful consequences of race against race, neighbor against neighbor, even husband against wife. Betty Jean, the maid at Marlee's home and the wife of the pastor at Liz's church, creates the story's bridge between the two neighborhoods. The Lions of Little Rock offers no easy answers, no neatly wrapped happy endings.  Brave Marlee will risk anything to stand by her friend, but her brave actions do not right the wrongs of the world; rather, they place the life of her dear friend and others in grave danger.  Life is messy.  Neither life nor its people can be neatly separated into black and white.  There are always shades of gray.

Other reviews @

 An interview with Kristin Levine is at The Fourth Musketeer.

Note: The librarians of NJLA's Children's Services Section are discussing this book and others on their mock Newbery blog, Newbery Blueberry Mockery Pie. Please feel free to join them with your comments.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day!

Today is Labor Day, a US federal holiday which was first celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City.  (Read more Labor Day history here)

From the Department of Labor website:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
If you are fortunate enough to have the day off from work,
take a moment to remember those workers who came before you. 

Labor - International Ladies G... Digital ID: 1676673. New York Public Library
[Miners adjusting a machine in... Digital ID: 107479. New York Public Library
Men with sign International La... Digital ID: 1689943. New York Public Library
Construction of the Great Nort... Digital ID: 2040911. New York Public Library
Sanitation - [Street sweepers ... Digital ID: 732907f. New York Public Library

Labor - Crowd of union workers Digital ID: 1676643. New York Public Library
Cotton hoers loading at Memphi... Digital ID: 1260012. New York Public Library
Though I have the day off, Nonfiction Monday continues on at The Swimmer Writer.

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 ...