Friday, March 29, 2013

! a review

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse and Tom Lichtenheld. 2013. Exclamation Mark. New York: Scholastic.

Looking back over five and a half years of reviews on Shelf-employed, I'm shocked and surprised that I've never reviewed a book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal or Tom Lichtenheld.  A bad error of omission on my part I assure you, since several of my favorites are by the talented twosome - most notably,

As a matter of fact, it occurs to me that other than Jon Scieszka, Amy Krouse Rosenthal is my most frequent companion on school visits.

In any case, I've had a copy of ! in my bag that I've been meaning to review for months, and now the book has been published and everyone already knows that it's wonderful, but I'll chime in with my agreement.

It is a great and wonderful talent to be able to impart knowledge and compassion in the cloak of humor.  If everyone could do it, we'd all be smarter and happier for it; but not everyone can.  So, when you find an offering by two people with just such talents, Amy Krause Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld, grab it, read it, and share it.  You won't be disappointed.

Exclamation Mark was
 "typeset in Brandon Grotesque and Mrs. Eaves.  The illustrations were rendered in ink and other exciting materials."   

See what I mean?  Even the copyright page sounds fun!

Other reviews at

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Freaks - a review

You know you want to go in!
Just a quick book review on Freaks because my middle-grade book club meets tomorrow and they'll all be clamoring for this one. I'll never see it again after I booktalk it.  (And if that's not a good review, I don't know what is!)

Larwood, Kieran. 2013. Freaks. New York: Chicken House.
(advance reader copy courtesy of the publisher)

If you're not familiar with steampunk, here's a quick primer:

*steam·punk [steem-puhngk]
1.a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy featuring advanced machines and other technology based on steam power of the 19th century and taking place in a recognizable historical period or a fantasy world.
2.a subculture inspired by this literary and film subgenre: the fashions and gadgets of steampunk.
Also, steam punk, steam-punk.
1985–90;  modeled on cyberpunk

A steampunk novel for middle-grade to upper-middle grades, Freaks delivers all the excitement and weirdness that its cover art promises.  Sheba belongs to Mr. Grunchgirdle of Grunchgirdle's Curiousities at the end of a pier in Little-Pilchton-on Sea, 1851.  She stays in a cage, available for display to any poor customer who can afford the few coins to see the curious Wolfgirl, with her claw-like hands, hairy body, and unknown to Grunchgirdle, incredible sense of smell.  So when she is sold to Mr. Plumpscuttle, to become a member of Plumpscuttle's Peculiars in London, she is not expecting life to improve much, though London certainly sounds more exciting than the wharf in Little Pilchton.

In London, Sheba joins Plumpscuttle's Peculiars, a dilapidated freak show consisting of Monkeyboy, whose name is sufficient for explanation, Sister Moon, a Japanese ninja girl with catlike qualities; Mama Rat, keeper of trained rats; and the big man, Gigantus. Mr. Plumpscuttle is little, if any, better than Mr. Grunchgirdle, however, as long as the Peculiars draw a paying crowd each night, they are granted more freedom than Sheba had at Gruchgirdle's.

When poor young mudlarks (children who earn a living picking scrap from the muddy tidal shores of the Thames) begin disappearing - snatched, the locals say, by a giant metal crab, no one cares.  The fate of mudlarks does not concern the average citizen of Victorian-era London, but it does concern the Peculiars; and together, they use their peculiar talents to uncover the mystery of the giant mechanized crab, becoming a peculiar "family" in the process.

I think we'll be seeing more of this trio of fun, freaky, steampunk, crime fighters.

UK cover for Freaks.  

Read the first chapter of Freaks here.

An Author's Note on Mid-Nineteenth Century London, and a Gallery of Freaks, the author's character sketches including Flossy, the two-headed lamb are included as back matter and add historical perspective and a some light-heartedness to Freaks.

* steampunk. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: March 26, 2013).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? a review

Stone, Tanya Lee. 2013. Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell. New York: Henry Holt.  Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman.

In language accessible to young readers, and engaging enough to capture the interest of older ones, Tanya Lee Stone has told an inspiring story of young Elizabeth Blackwell's quest to become the first female doctor in the United States in 1849.
So why did she become the first woman doctor?  Because one person believed she could and told Elizabeth she was just the kind of smart, determined girl who would change the world.
There is a lesson here for adults as well.  Never underestimate the power of a well-placed, well-deserved compliment. Taken to heart by a determined child, there is no limit to what she might accomplish!

Caldecott Honor winner, Marjorie Priceman ( Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin ) uses gouache and india ink to create lively and expressive illustrations of an animated young woman who will not be held down. Many illustrations are double-spreads.  Some are punctuated by painted jeers that Elizabeth endured as she sought the previously impossible, "Women are too weak for such hard work... Women aren't smart enough... HA HA HA... Ha Ha"   See a gallery of illustrations from Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? on the publisher's Flickr link.

An Author's Note fills in the details on the latter half of Elizabeth Blackwell's life and outstanding career; a list of Sources Used rounds out this stellar book for young people.

 Be sure to read author Tanya Lee Stone's post on "The Trickle-Up Effect," and how nonfiction picture books like Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? can have a far-reaching effect on knowledge.

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

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sneak - an audiobook review

I don't read much young adult dystopian nonfiction, but I listened to the second book in the Swipe series by Evan Angler.  Here is my review as it appeared in the March, 2013 edition of School Library Journal.

Sneak: Swipe Series. By Evan Angler. 7 CDs. 8:25 hrs. Oasis Audio. 2012. ISBN 978-1-61375-636-0. $48.99

Gr 6–9— With a vote nearing on the Global Union, the American Union has begun a crackdown on its Markless society in a show of solidarity with the larger worldwide community. The Markless are individuals who have refused to be permanently identified with a "swipe-able" Mark. In this second book (Thomas Nelson, 2012) in Angler's dystopian series, Logan Langley, having escaped from his marking or "pledge ceremony," is on the run from agents of the Department of Marked Emergencies (DOME), and determined to rescue his sister, who failed her own pledge some years earlier. A folk hero among the Markless and somewhat of a loner, Logan is nevertheless aided by a group of Markless known as The Dust. His former girlfriend, a marked girl whose father works for DOME, is also trying to assist. The fate of the Markless and the outcome of a late plot twist will be determined in a future installment. The very strong Christian theme, including Bible verses and songs, may be appealing to some and off-putting to others, so make purchase decisions accordingly. The lack of character depth and dialogue often unsuited to teen protagonists makes Barrie Buckner's job of narrator difficult. Jo, a member of The Dust, sounds perpetually petulant, and a British boy sounds decidedly Aussie. A halting delivery and occasional mispronunciations add to an overall lackluster delivery.

Copyright © 2013 Library Journals, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Listen to an excerpt here:

Looking for more audiobook reviews?
All of mine are here, and there's a monthly roundup of audiobook reviews.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace - a booktalk

Marino, Nan. 2013. Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace. New York: Roaring Brook.
(Advance Review Copy provide by NetGalley)

Due on shelves April 16, 2013

Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace 
(a booktalk)

Cecilia has no rhythm, and not too many friends; but she has something special - a story. A story of a song that connects her to New Jersey's wild Pine Barrens as firmly as the roots of its Pygmy Pines and Atlantic Cedars. Everyone in Wares Grove knows the story of the song played by the forest on the night of Cecilia's birth. Only the story of the Pineland's most famous inhabitant, the Jersey Devil, is known more widely.

But two unexpected things occur as Cecilia's 12th birthday approaches. Cecilia's mother begins to doubt the song, and a young boy, a boy who has perhaps lost a song of his own, has arrived in the middle of the night under suspicious circumstances - and he's hiding out at Piney Pete's Pancake Palace.

A song, a secret, and the legendary tale of the Jersey Devil are entwined in this imaginative story of discovery set on the fringes of New Jersey's Pine Barrens, a natural wonder.

Find out who's Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace.


Lest you think that the Pine Barrens is a made-up place, or that New Jersey is nothing more than exits off the Turnpike or Parkway, be assured that the Pine Barrens are in fact, one of the world's most interesting places. The Pinelands cover 1.1 million acres, or 22 percent of New Jersey's land area. (from the official NJ tourism site - see below)

Learn more about the Pine Barrens and other locations in Nan Marino's new book at these sites:

If I didn't have a sore throat, this one would have been a podcast.  Look for a podcast or video booktalk for Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace soon.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Bad Girls - a good review

Illustration copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Guay
Yolen, Jane and Heidi E. Y. Stemple. 2013. Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and other Female Villains. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Just in time for Women's History Month, the mother-daughter duo of Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple has released a fun compendium of "bad" women in history.  From  Delilah, the stealthy hairstylist of the Bible (circa 110BC), to gangsters' gal, Virginia Hill (1916-1966), Yolen and Stemple highlight history's most rebellious, racy, raucous, reprehensible, and sometimes resourceful women.

The choice of subjects, twenty-six in all, isn't the only thing that makes Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and other Female Villains a unique addition to the collection of books on women in history. Illustrations are provided by Rebecca Guay. In addition to a comic portrait of each notorious woman,

Illustration copyright © 2013
 by Rebecca Guay
included after each chapter is a graphic novel-style panel featuring Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple.  Each panel is set in a new location (these ladies took their "research" to the ends of the earth - shopping, eating and sightseeing, in Egypt, London, Massachusetts, wherever this gallery of rogues led them!), where Yolen and Stemple debate history's treatment of each woman.  Clever and humorous, these panels remind readers that societal and personal circumstances often dictate behaviors.  With the exception of the truly bad, Elizabeth B├íthory, Yolen makes a case for each woman.  No, they may not have all been innocent, but given their particular circumstances, some of these women may have been given a bad historical rap. Stemple provides the counterpoint - bad is bad, regardless of circumstance.  Readers will be left to decide for themselves, but regardless of conclusion, they will understand that the role of women throughout history has not been an easy one.

Despite the subject matter, Yolen and Stemple maintain a light-hearted tone in Bad Girls, as evidenced by the chapter titles:  "Lizzie Borden (1860-1927): One Whacky Woman," "Anne Boleyn (1500-1536): She Lost Her Head for Love."

Resources are included, offering interested older readers a jump start on where to find further information. There is more than just fun to be had with Bad Girls; download these resources from the publisher's site:
Be sure to read the conversation between Heidi and Jane that appeared on KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month! 

It's Nonfiction Monday.  Today's roundup host is Supratentorial.

Friday, March 1, 2013

March 1st

Today is the beginning of Women's History Month, it's my daughter's birthday, it's Read Across America Day!  Today, I will be blogging at KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month! (please stop by), I'll be watching my daughter in her role as piano accompanist for her high school spring musical, and I'll be reading at Head Start and a local Kindergarten for Read Across America Day. 

All in all, a fine day in which I'll be everywhere but here.  

Happy March, everyone!  Spring is coming and it feels just fine.

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 ...