Monday, April 29, 2013

Wild Boy - a review

Losure, Mary. 2013. Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Found living wild and naked in the mountains of France in 1797, the Savage of Aveyron, or Victor, as he was later called, was treated in turns as  a curiosity, an object of derision, a specimen, an imbecile, a burden.

About ten years old at the time of his discovery and capture, the Savage of Aveyron lived the rest of his life under the scrutiny of other people.  "Doctors" and "scientists" of the time, were a far cry from what they are today and it is fascinating to compare and contrast the state of modern science.  In the same circumstance today, the scientists most likely studying the young boy would be cultural anthropologists, with a focus on learning how the child adapts to his environment, what he eats, how he communicates.  Modern scientists would study him in his own habitat. In France, 1797, however, there is only one main focus - acculturate the boy and teach him to speak French.  No attempt is made to study the boy where he lives; in fact, nothing about his home in the wild is even noted.

Mary Losure has done an excellent job in telling "Victor's" story using period source documents (orphanage rolls, medical journals, correspondence) and accounts written in previous centuries.  There is little or no narrative license taken in this chronological account.  Her description of towns, roads and structures are taken from accounts of the time, and where information is missing, she helpful in filling in the back story, but clear on what is factual and what is speculation.

No one alive today knows the details of what happened next - whether the woodsmen kept a rode around the wild boy's neck or tied his hands behind his back.  No one knows if that night, they took him somewhere to sleep or left him in the square, tied and helpless.  But every day, he was forced to stand, hour after our, for everyone to see. 
And maybe it was then that the wild boy began to hate the staring eyes of crowds.

The boy escapes and is recaptured many times over the years.  He is given to the care of several different scientists, and finds (outside the scientific community), a few people who genuinely care for him.  However, his life is always difficult and sad.  He was known to laugh with glee at the opportunity to enjoy even the coldest of days outdoors, and alternatively, to pine sadly at windows when the moon was full and he was trapped indoors.

Despite spending years in the care of Dr. Itard at the Paris Institute for Deaf-Mutes, and in close proximity to its deaf students, no one ever attempted to teach him to sign.

Dr. Itard had known from the first time he'd met the wild boy that communicating with hand gestures came naturally to him. 
Yet it never seemed to occur to Dr. Itard to try to teach Victor formal sign language.
Dr. Itard himself had never learned it, even though he spent more than thirty years working at a school for deaf children.  Like many people in those days, he did not believe that the formal signing used by deaf people was real language.  He wanted Victor to speak, and to Itard, that meant speaking aloud.

Victor never learned to speak aloud, therefore, the entire decades-long intrusion into the life of Victor, the Savage of Aveyron, was considered a failure by the scientific standards of the time. A strange, sad and true tale that, though featuring a boy without words, speaks volumes about communication and ethnocentrism.  It is the savage, not science, that triumphs in Wild Boy.

Haunting, monochromatic illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering add much to the story.  Endpapers contain maps of the boy's journey, and back matter includes an Author's Note, Source Notes, Bibliography, Index, and Acknowledgments.

Written for a target audience of age ten and up (difficult words are often explained parenthetically), this is a biography that will be of interest to teens and adults as well.

Mary Losure is the author of The Fairy Ring.  Timothy Basil Ering has illustrated many books including Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux.

An interesting note: As a boy, Victor Hugo lived just a few doors away from the adult Victor, and most likely would have seen him loping and gamboling in the garden. 

Some say the hero of Hugo's book The Hunchback of Notre Dame may have been based on the young boy's glimpses of the strange, wild man who roamed the convent gardens and never spoke.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Stacking Books.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Do You Know Scratch?

If you don't know Scratch, you don't know what you're missing!  Developed at the MIT Media Lab, with financial support from the National Science Foundation, Microsoft, Intel Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Google, Iomega and MIT Media Lab research consortia, Scratch is an easy, open source  programming language that can be used to program almost anything the imagination can conjure! To give you an example -- several years ago, without any help from me, my son drew a picture on MS Paint, and used Scratch to animate it.  The picture is below. If you click on it, you can view the image in Scratch and watch the man take a bite of the hamburger, chew, swallow, drink soda, swallow, and return to smiling.
Scratch Project
Click to view the project on Scratch,
then click the green flag to animate!

Fast food
The colored lines in the left frames are the lines
of code required to animate the drawing.

My son created this by himself while in elementary school.  Imagine what he could have created if the following book had been available!

LEAD Project. 2012. Super Scratch Programming Adventure! Learn to Program by Making Cool Games!  San Francisco: No Starch Press.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is part instruction manual and part graphic novel. Mitch and Scratchy are trapped in a battle with the Dark Wizard and his Minions. You, the reader, can extradite them from  predicaments using Scratch.  The story may not be engrossing, but it is a novel and entertaining way to introduce step-by-step coding instructions.  The reader is simultaneously creating video games and inhabiting one.  By the end of each of the book's ten chapters, the reader will have a fully functioning game created from scratch (both literally and figuratively), with each chapter building upon knowledge from previous chapters.

The game I was creating with Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is lost to a pre-Superstorm Sandy computer, however, I can attest to the fact that it was fun, easy and satisfying.

The book is available in print or ebook (PDF) format. Click here for a sample chapter from Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

 Classroom teachers may not have the available time to devote to programming with Scratch, but they should certainly become familiar with it. Computer club advisers, homeschoolers, scouting groups, and parents of young "tech geeks" should not waste a minute in checking out Scratch's infinite possibilities.  Suggested for ages 8 and up.

A sample of the games that can be created using Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

From the Scratch website:
Scratch is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web. As young people create and share Scratch projects, they learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.
It's STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)STEM Friday

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Center of Everything - a review

Urban, Linda. 2013. The Center of Everything. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

First line:
In the beginning, there was the donut.

Regret is a curious thing.  Adults often harbor regrets, but in the short life of a young child, regret is a foreign feeling; and so, when Ruby Pepperdine's 12-year-old life is peppered with both loss and regret, she does not feel the sad and wistful feeling that adults know and understand; she feels a topsy-turvy feeling - a feeling that something has thrown off the balance in her circle of life.  Circles are something that Ruby knows a bit about, living as she does in Bunning, New Hampshire, the one-time home of Captain Bunning, inventor of the hole in the donut.

Set entirely within one day and employing flashbacks to fill in the back story, The Center of Everything is a short and quirky, middle-grade novel that deals with the sensitive topics of death and regret in an entertaining, hopeful and even humorous manner,
Ruby should move on to the math books.  She really should. But she can't help but be a little curious. "Who decided?"
"Nobody knows for sure.  That's what bugs me.  Some medieval guys discovered this list and said was based on a bunch of other lists from some ancient guys, including ..." Nero flips to the introduction. "Including a historian dude called Herodotus and another guy name Callimachus, but nobody knows who really decided what the Seven Wonders are. So how come we're all supposed to just say, 'Yeah, okay. Those are the Seven Wonders.' What if there was something else around that Callimachus just didn't like?  Some kind of awesome tomb or statue or something that was made by one of his enemies, so he left it off the list?"
This is exactly the kind of questions that gets Nero DeNiro in so much trouble at school -- the kind of questions that teachers can't answer.
"Also, says Nero, "how come nobody gets named Callimachus anymore?" 

Ruby tries to make sense of her new world - without her grandmother, with a possible new friend named Nero, a possibly angry, old friend named Lucy, and a wish scheduled to come true today, on Bunning Day at the Bunning Day Parade where Ruby, the Bunning Day Essay Girl, is scheduled to read her prize-winning essay from a float in the parade.  Ever since her quarter sailed through the donut hole in the Captain Cornelius Bunning bronze statue, Ruby has been waiting for this day.  According to tradition, if her quarter went through the hole on her birthday, and she said her wish the proper number of times, it should come true on Bunning Day. It should.  It's fate.  It's destiny.  But can it come true?  Has she done it correctly? What if she wished for the wrong thing?

Linda Urban's previous novels are A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Hound Dog True.

Her website contains the following declaration, which I think does a wonderful job of describing her unique and personal style of writing.
I’ve always been interested in small things. Tiny gestures, phrases, moments that can seem insignificant to one person and hugely important to someone else. In my books, I write about the small things that matter in a big way.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Growing Up in Coal Country - an audiobook review

My review of Growing Up in Coal Country as it appears in the April, 2013, issue of School Library Journal.

Growing Up in Coal Country. By Susan Campbell Bartoletti. 2 CDs. 2:18 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4558-5821-7. $49.97.

Gr 5-8--In eight chapters divided into various aspects of coal miner culture and job types (nipper, breaker boy, spragger, and mule driver were the typical jobs for children), Bartoletti recounts (Houghton Mifflin, 1996) life in Northeastern Pennsylvania coal country around the turn of the 19th century utilizing oral history and archival documents. Although the focus is on the lives of children, first-hand accounts of adults who remember life as child laborers or miner's daughters help to tell the story. Only the forward indicating her family's mining connection gives a slight indication as to the author's viewpoint about the industry. As in her award-winning Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow (Scholastic, 2005), Bartoletti's approach is devoid of bias or sensationalism. No embellishment is needed for the stories of men crushed so badly by cave-ins that they were scraped off the mine floors with shovels, children secretly sabotaging company equipment to ensure a day at the circus, young boys losing fingers and limbs in accidents, boys playing with homemade baseballs and engaging in strikes, and mine owners who valued mules over men. The clear, no-frills delivery by Suzanne Toren is perfectly suited to Bartoletti's style. The joy, the horror, the tenacity, the valor, the perseverance, and the loyalty of children growing up in coal country is presented, allowing listeners to form their own opinions. The only thing that could make this powerful audiobook even better would be the inclusion of the compelling black-and-white photos from the print version. With the current focus on Common Core Standards, this outstanding nonfiction selection fits the bill.


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

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace - a book trailer

Today is the official launch date of Nan Marino's new book, 
Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace (Roaring Brook Press, 2013).

 In honor of the new book, I've created a short video booktalk to go along with my previously published Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace booktalk . Enjoy them both, feel free to share, and be sure to read the book!


Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace 
(a booktalk by Shelf-employed)

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.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Picture Book Roundup - Nonfiction Monday

It's Nonfiction Monday again (where did the week go?).    It's also spring and baseball season.  With those in mind, I'll highlight two books that feature America and her national pastime.

With illustrations by a group of stellar artists (including Yuyi Morales, Bryan Collier and Mary GrandPré) and appropriate margin quotes from selected US presidents, this is a large and beautiful picture book rendition of one of America's favorite songs, "America the Beautiful." Rounded out with a collection of useful facts about the nation and its system of government, this is a "must-have" book.

  • Tavares, Matt. 2013. Becoming Babe Ruth. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

Baseball, the Babe, and Matt Tavares - if that's not a triple play, I don't know what is!  Matt Tavares' reverence for the sport of baseball shines through in this inspirational and entertaining third-person bio, focusing on the earlier years of one of baseball's greatest players.  Get an inside glance at the author's website. An Author's Note, Stats, and Bibliography are included. For young and old alike.

And on a baseball-related note, my family went to see 42: The True Story of an American Legend on Friday.  A great movie - not just for baseball fans!  I highly recommend it.  Watch the trailer here.

That's the best of America.  Here's the downside - it's April 15th - tax day.  Although we can only wish that we could print our own money, kids may enjoy this video of how the government does it.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday Morning Miscellany v. 5

I've been off on yet another "college road trip," so no review today, just Monday morning miscellany.
Fans of UNCW, Tulane and/or UNH are welcome to chime in as we make our final decision :)

First up, it's National Poetry Month!
morgueFile license for reuse

There are many great resources and events out there for National Poetry Month, but here are some that you might not know:

  • Sylvia Vardell's site Poetry for Children, was established in 2006, and contains a wealth of useful, entertaining, and timely information  to help you share the art of poetry with children. (As a side note, she was my favorite professor in grad school.)

In other news,

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

Bryant, Jen. 2013. A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. New York: Knopf.   Illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

(Review copy provided by the publisher)

If "a splash of red" was Horace Pippin's signature use of color,

"Make a picture for us, Horace!"

is the signature line in Jen Bryant's A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. The phrase appears throughout this chronological account of Pippin's life and art, reminding the reader that although his first oil painting wasn't completed until  after he returned from duty in WWI and was more than forty years old, Horace Pippin's talent was recognized throughout his life by schoolmates, friends, family, co-workers and fellow soldiers, who frequently encouraged him to draw. As a child, he won a mail-in art contest and earned his first art set. A self-taught artist, and grandson of a former slave, Pippin's life was not easy,

Horace was in eighth grade when his father left for good.  The family needed money, so Horace quit school and went to work.

 For several years, Horace's big hands were always busy: stacking grain sacks at a feed store,
shoveling coat at a rail yard,
mending fences on a farm,
carrying luggage at t hotel,
making brakes in an iron factory ...
... packing oil paintings into large wooden crates.
Looking at these made Horace remember winning the art contest.  How proud he'd been!  How he'd loved those colored pencils, those brushes, and his first real box of paints!
In fact, after an injury to his drawing hand in the war, drawing and painting became even more difficult, but he persevered to become a renowned artist in his own lifetime. As told by Jen Bryant, his story is inspirational, his naive art style is accessible to children; and Melissa Sweet's interpretative illustrations, punctuated by the illustrator's renderings of Pippin's own words, bring them both to life. The collaborative work between writer and illustrator is apparent in A Splash of Red, as is their mutual regard for his life and work.

In addition to having its own website ( with related articles and resources for teachers and librarians, the book contains Historical, Author and Illustrator Notes, as well as numerous sources, and suggestions for further reading.

The recommended age range is 5-8, however, older readers capable of understanding the Notes and other sources will find plenty of information here as well.  As always, I encourage teachers to give picture book biographies a chance.  There is more to a great informational text than the number of its pages.

Other reviews at

Today is Nonfiction Monday, the weekly meme in which bloggers across the kidlitosphere write about nonfiction books for kids on Monday.  This week's host is Wendie Old of Wendie's Wanderings.

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 ...