Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pi in the Sky - a review

Pi in the Sky free preview
I requested this Advance Reader Copy of Pi in the Sky for 3 reasons:
  1. My girls are math nerds and I was intrigued by the title
  2. I need something to read  from Wendy Mass while I wait for the final book in the Willow Falls series  
  3. It's a Wendy Mass book
My review will be short. Most of my Advance Review Copy books go home in the hands of young library patrons, especially book club members. My book club meets this week, and I know that one of the kids will be wanting to take this book home! 

Mass, Wendy. 2013. Pi in the Sky. New York: Little Brown.

Straight-up sci-fi, Pi in the Sky is the first-person account of Joss, seventh son of the Supreme Overlord, head of the Powers that Be (PTB), and ruler of the universe.  Joss, his family, and his best friend, Kal, inhabit an area called The Realms, hidden away in a vast area of dark matter that even the dwellers of The Realms have not fully explored. Kal's parents, OnWorlders, are stationed temporarily on Earth.

Although they know of all the planets in all the galaxies, the slow-aging inhabitants of The Realms have a particular fondness for Earth (despite our primitive nature).   But The Realms must stay hidden and unknown to outsiders.  When Annika, a young girl from Earth, looks through her telescope and spies Joss' Aunt Rae baking the "pies" that secure the fabric of the universe, the universe as we know it, is about to change.

"Seriously?" the girl says, looking around the room in annoyance. "First I dream about some old lady baking a pie and now this? I totally shouldn't have watched that Star Trek marathon last weekend."  ...
 The PTB stare at each other in amazement, and it takes a lot to amaze these guys.
"Fascinating!" Dad repeats, beaming. He loves the mysterious and unexplainable. That's why he's so good at his job.
 I just gape.
Annika is in The Realms; the Earth is gone, but where (or when) are Kal and his parents?  It's up to Joss to find a way to bring them back and right the universe.

Each chapter opens with a quote from a famous writer, scientist, or mathematician and hints at the real science behind this funny science fiction romp. Readers will enjoy this light-hearted novel that will hopefully send their thoughts skyward to ponder the depths of the universe in even the most mundane of everyday tasks.

As Carl Sagan is quoted in Chapter One, "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

For a contemporary realistic fiction book that delves into the secrets of the universe for slightly older readers, try Every Soul a Star, another "stellar" book by Wendy Mass.

In other Wendy Mass news, Candymakers will be a movie! Follow Wendy Mass' blog for the latest details.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

An Interview with author Pamela M. Tuck

Today I’m pleased to welcome Pamela M. Tuck to Shelf-employed.  Pamela’s new book titled, As Fast as Words Could Fly is illustrated by Eric Velasquez and published by Lee & Low Books.  Pamela M. Tuck is Lee & Low’s “New Voices Award” winner.

Thank you so much Lisa, for the “warm” welcome.

Congratulations, Pamela, and thanks so much for stopping by on your blog tour for As Fast as Words Could Fly.

The pleasure is mine. I appreciate the congrats and your gracious hospitality. :)

Your book is a powerful, fictional account of Mason Steele, a black teenager with a gift for typing, who is part of a group of students entering a formerly all-white high school in 1960s, North Carolina.  

Lisa: You note that As Fast as Words Could Fly is based on the experiences of your father, Moses Teel, Jr.  (I love the photo of the two of you in the Author’s Note - how proud he must be!)  The fictional Mason Steele is greatly influenced by his father.  May I assume that your father instilled the same sense of community activism and passion in you? 

Pamela: Yes. My grandfather was committed to ensuring equal opportunities, not just for his family, but for everyone. That commitment filtered down to his children and grandchildren. My father would often remind me of how the opportunities that I enjoyed did not come freely. Ordinary people, like him, had to pay a very dear price for me to be able to enjoy my rights and freedoms.  I remember when I was very young, my father told me it was better to give rather than to receive. He demonstrated this advice over and over again by helping the less fortunate and giving them a second chance at missed opportunities. As I ventured into my “role” of carrying out the mission of equality and justice, I found the reward of giving hope to someone or putting a smile on a face extremely gratifying. My goal is to make a positive difference, whether physically or through my writing.

Lisa: “‘Mason Steele, from Belvoir High, has broken all previous records with a typing speed of sixty-five words per minute.’
     No one cheered.  Mason just stared straight ahead.
     Mr. Bullock accepted the typing championship plaque for Belvoir High.  Not a single person in the audience applauded.”

Even without the illustrations, this passage paints the most powerful picture in the book. The silence is just deafening.  Did you collaborate with award-winning illustrator Eric Velasquez on the book’s illustrations? 

Pamela: No, I didn’t collaborate with Eric directly. However, I did provide photos of my family, my grandmother’s kitchen, and relevant photos of Greenville, NC’s schools, students, typing classes, etc. from the 1960s era. I am so pleased with how well Eric captured my family’s spirit of determination and pride. I know my grandfather would have been proud to see how dynamic his character is portrayed through Eric’s paintings.

Lisa: There is a librarian in your book.  In 2012, librarians appeared in no less than three Civil Rights Era books for children, Glory Be (Scholastic), The Mighty Miss Malone (Random House), and The Lions of Little Rock (Penguin), and they encompassed a range of human dispositions from helpful to hurtful. The librarian in As Fast as Words Could Fly, is somewhere in the middle.  Was there an actual librarian that played a pivotal role in your family’s history? 

Pamela: The librarian in As Fast As Words Could Fly portrays the actual librarian who impacted my father’s journey during that time. Although he was faced with resistance at first, the librarian he worked with indirectly acknowledged his skill. Instead of staying with him after school, she gave him his assignment and left him to work independently. Her unspoken trust empowered my father with confidence.

Lisa:  What lesson do you believe that As Fast as Words Could Fly has for today’s young people? Are you hopeful for the future? 

Pamela: The lesson I would love for young people to get from my story is, never limit yourself on what you can accomplish based on the opinions of others. No matter how impossible a task may seem, it can be conquered by hard work, perseverance, and belief in yourself.
As far as the future, I’m like Mason . . . I “remember” where we came from, as a people and as a nation. We have made substantial progress toward accepting diversity, and that within itself gives hope. 

Thanks so much to Pam Tuck, and to Amanda from Lee & Low Books.

Preview As Fast as Words Could Fly at Lee & Low's site.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that I'm a Phillies fan and hail from New Jersey - but did you know that New Jersey is home to Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud, the mud discovered by one-time Phillies player, Lena Blackburne? The mud used to take the slick shine off balls used in major league baseball?

In fact, as readers will learn in Miracle Mud,

"Lena's mud is the only thing that's allowed on major-league balls.  Players can't use water or spit or shoe polish.  Just mud.  Lena's mud."

And it comes from South Jersey, but Miracle Mud won't tell you from where - that's a secret!

Oliver Dominguez' nostalgic, double-spread, painted illustrations are the perfect complement to this short and engaging biography of Lena Blackburne (1886-1968) and his famous mud. You may view eleven of the book's paintings at Oliver Dominguez' website.  The front and rear end papers are the best - clean baseballs up front, muddy ones in the back!

An Author's Note and Lena Blackburne's official stats round out this great introduction to Lena Blackburne. He never made it to the Hall of Fame, but his mud did! A great choice for baseball fans of all ages.

Kelly, David A. 2013. Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball. Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press.

Don't believe it?  Want to learn more?
Check out:

It's Nonfiction Monday.  Today's roundup of nonfiction posts can be found at Playing by the book.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Volcano Rising - a review

Rusch, Elizabeth. 2013. Volcano Rising. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
(Advance Reader Copy requested from publisher)

When kids think of volcanoes, they likely think of the awesome destructive power of  famous volcanoes past and present -  Mount Vesuvius, Krakatoa, Mount St. Helens, Mount Etna, Kilauea, and Mauna Loa.  However, if you've ever read James Michener's epic novel, Hawaii, or traveled to Hawaii, you know of the incredible creative power of volcanoes.  Each of the Hawaiian islands was created by a volcano, its molten lava rising, spreading, cooling, hardening, and eventually creating the Hawaiian island chain with its famous black sand beaches.

Volcano Rising focuses on this unique and often unheralded aspect of volcanoes, giving examples of various ways in which volcanoes may have "creative eruptions." A particularly helpful aspect of the book is its duality as a read-aloud for younger children and a more detailed text for independent readers.  In white or black text against double-spread illustrations, large text is aimed at a read-aloud audience, while smaller text delves deeper,

Creative eruptions can continue for a really long time. WHOOSH, fountains of red-hot lava squirt high into the air.  GURGLE, stinky lava streams to the shore. TSSSS, fluid lava hits the ocean, steaming, and hardens to form new land.
For more than twenty-five years, shield volcano Kilaueau (kee-lau-WAY-ah) on the Big Island of Hawaii has been in a state of creative eruption. Shield volcanoes have lots of vents, allowing runny lava to leak from cracks to form broad mounds that are shaped like shields.
Kilaueau's constant eruption has added more than 500 acres (202 hectares) to the island--that's more than 314 soccer fields! No one works or plays soccer on this new acreage yet. But they will. After all, where would the people of Hawaii live if not for the creative eruptions that helped build all their islands?
Often an artistically illustrated nonfiction book lacks the punch of a photographic one, but not in Volcano Rising.  Because the focus of the book is the process rather than the explosion, the colorfully inventive collage art of Susan Swan is perfectly suited to the text, helping to define the concept of creative eruptions in an art form created
by manipulating found objects, hand-painted papers and scans of objects and textures in Adobe Photoshop to create new patterns,adding digital paintings; and then collaging the two together
The effect is vibrant and stunning.

Volcano Vocabulary, Selected Bibliography, and Learn More sections round out this great new title.

Note: In 1980, I experienced a volcano in a very small way.  In the aftermath of the Mount Saint Helens eruption, volcanic ash rained down.  Workers were hosing the scratchy dust off vehicles as they traveled through town.  Pedestrians were wearing surgical masks to avoid breathing the ash and dust.  I scurried from bus to train as I made my way out of Portland, Oregon - more than 70 miles from the site of the explosion.  Nature is truly impressive and awesome and constantly reminds us that we are much smaller than we think.

Nonfiction Monday is here today! 
 Please add your post to the form and check back later to see the roundup of today's contributions.

Please keep in mind that I work all day, 
so all of the posts may not be updated until much later in the evening.

  • Jen from Perogies and Gyoza shares When I Was Eight, a beautifully illustrated story about a very determined girl who survived the abuses of the Canadian residential school system and achieved her goal to read (and now to write).

  • Frog Song by Brenda Guiberson, is the featured book at Jean Little Library, where Jennifer shares her experience of using Frog Song with 4-year-olds.

  • Anastasia of Booktalking says, "Summer is a good time to eat light healthy meals, so here are some recipes for kids to try!" Check out Delicious Vegetarian Main Dishes, part of the You're the Chef series, at her blog.

  • Food is popular today!  Cindy and Lynn at Bookends also reviewed Relish, noting that "they enjoyed serving up this visual feast of a graphic novel foodie biography."

  • At Stacking Books, Reshama is featuring Into the Deep, the "story of Naturalist and Explorer William Bebe. Beautifully illustrated and a great read for introducing the concept of what is a Naturalist."

And that's a wrap, folks!  I'll add any late entries tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Boy on the Porch - a review

Creech, Sharon. 2013. The Boy on the Porch. New York: Harper Collins.

(Advance Reader Copy supplied by publisher)

When John and Marta find a young boy, about six-years-old, asleep on their rural porch one morning, they are puzzled indeed. Sleeping serenely, it is hours before the boy wakes up, and when he does, he is alert and interested, but seemingly unconcerned about his situation,

     The boy reached into his pocket, withdrew a crumpled note, and handed it to Marta.
Pleese taik kair of Jacob. He is a god good boy. Wil be bak wen we can.

Although Jacob does not talk, it soon becomes clear that he has an innate ability to create music and to communicate with animals.  Remote neighbors of the farming community begin to speak of a boy who rides a cow.  A childless couple, John and Marta become quite fond of the strange boy, but continue to wonder how he came to be on their porch and when someone might come for him,

     "When do you think the people will come back for him?"
     "Soon, don't you think? Surely, soon."
Days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months, and still, no one comes for the boy; John and Marta, in their own quiet way, begin to hope that perhaps, no one ever will.

Like several of her other recent titles, in The Boy on the Porch, Sharon Creech showcases her ability to write books that hover somewhere between here and there,  then and now, fantasy and reality.  Transcending place and time, Sharon Creech is a masterful storyteller - heartwarming and relevant.

This is Creech's second consecutive book that features an unusual young boy who creates great change in the lives of those whom he meets (The Great Unexpected, Harper Collins, 2012). It's also the second book that I've read in as many months that features a mute, yet communicative boy (Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron, Candlewick, 2013).  Interesting how that works out sometimes.
Due on shelves in September, 2013.

Other Sharon Creech books and stories reviewed on Shelf-employed:


Monday, June 10, 2013

The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) - a review

Krull, Kathleen and Paul Brewer. 2013. The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny). New York: Harcourt Children's. Illustrated by Stacy Innerst

Recounting the formation and meteoric rise of The Beatles, Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer have chosen to focus on the band members' fun-loving personalities in addition to their groundbreaking musical style.  As the band became more famous,

     The Beatles were no longer playing in small seedy clubs.  They were even invited to perform for a formal audience that included the British royal family.  How should they act? Could the Fab Four still be silly in front of royalty?
     Before "Twist and Shout," their final song, John invited the main-floor audience to clap along.  Then he peered up at the dignified royal family in the box seats.  "And the rest of you, if you just rattle your jewelry."
     Everyone giggled - even the Queen Mother. 
 Kids who are familiar only with The Beatles' music, will enjoy this humanizing look at the individual members of the band.   Full-bleed acrylic and ink illustrations humorously depict the band members in caricature style, showing their transformation from Liverpool lads to worldwide icons.  A final, double-spread illustration shows many iconic Beatlemania artifacts, e.g., John Lennon's glasses, jellybeans, the Apple Records label.  Kathleen Krull always has a unique perspective on history. Fun!

Back matter includes "Important Dates in Beatles History," and "Sources" (both Internet and book).

View artwork for the book at Stacy Innerst's site.

More blog reviews @

I learn something new all the time.  I never knew that authors Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer were wife and husband. What fun it must be to write a children's book with your spouse!

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Practically Paradise
 Next week, it will be right here at Shelf-employed.

A final note:
At noon today, you will find me waxing poetic on the ALSC Blog.  And here at Shelf-employed,  I'm trying out Blogger's "dynamic view" today.  I'd love to hear what you think of it!  If you'd like to view the blog as usual, choose "Classic," in the upper left-hand corner.  Thanks for your patience as I try it out!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday fun

It's a dreary, rainy Friday and the end to a very busy week.  Some quick Friday highlights before I leave for work ...

  • It's week two of SYNC's summer-long free audio book campaign.  Although it's meant for a Young Adult audience, this week's two free audiobook downloads are perfectly suited for kids and adults. I reviewed The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling back in 2010.  It was a great book then.  It's a free audiobook now.  You can't beat that!  The other free offering this week is Jane Eyre.  Hop on over to SYNC and pick them both up for free!

  • Today, and every Friday, is STEM Friday.  Each week features a science, technology, engineering or mathematics-themed book. If you're a teacher, you'll want to bookmark it or grab the RSS feed. The STEM Friday site does not blog hop and can always be found at .
  • Today, and every Friday, is also Poetry Friday. Today's roundup of poetry-related posts may be found at Tabatha Yeatts: The Opposite of Indifference.  Occasionally, I'll chime in there, but not today.  (Monday you may find me waxing poetic on the ALSC blog, with "A Public Librarian's Summer."
Enjoy your weekend!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Monday Morning Miscellany v.6

Monday Morning Miscellany v.6 - Name-dropping or Why I love my job - even on my day off! 

Odds and ends today ... it was a busy and short week, capped off with Book Expo America in New York City.

(A reminder: the Nonfiction Monday roundup will be right here at Shelf-employed on June 17th)

  • I attended Book Expo on Friday.  My main purpose in going is to pick up advance review copies of upcoming books and to pick up some possible prizes for the kids in my library's summer reading program.  This year's theme in New Jersey and other states and cities around the country is Dig Into Reading!  If you're a parent, expect to see a lot of "underground" themed programming this summer!

I did pick up some great new upcoming books that I'll be writing about soon, but I was also star-struck enough to wait in line to meet several authors and artists.

Although I hadn't even realized he'd be at Book Expo, there was no way I'd pass up an opportunity to meet Buzz Aldrin and receive an autographed copy of his new book, Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration (National Geographic, 2013).  I gave the autographed book to my daughter, who is studying aerospace engineering, and was inspired to do so by a book.  May this book inspire her to greater heights!

Buzz Aldrin
Doesn't he look great?
©L Taylor

On the other end of the spectrum, I had specifically planned to wait in line for an autographed copy of Tom Angleberger's, Art2 - D2's Guide to Folding and Doodling (Abrams, 2013).  His books are wildly popular with kids and the boys in my book club just love them!  If that weren't enough, he's kind and funny. He ran the length of the very long line of people waiting to meet him and hi-fived every one of us before sitting down to sign autographs.

It was only luck that afforded me the opportunity to meet award-winning Gene Luen Yang, graphic artist and author extraordinaire.  I was the very last person in line and received the very last autographed copy of one of the Avatar: The Last Airbender books.  Sadly, there were no copies available of his upcoming boxed set, Boxers & Saints, but I'm counting on NetGalley to provide one for me!

I also was able to meet Oliver Jeffers (a favorite picture book author of mine), who was signing a new book by David Almond, The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas (Candlewick, August, 2013), illustrated by Jeffers.

Every author/illustrator/astronaut (!) that I met was patient and friendly - just "regular folks,"  how wonderfully refreshing.

Sharon Creech, one of my favorite middle-grade authors, was not at Book Expo, but I picked up a copy of her next book, The Boy on the Porch (Harper Collins, 2013), and read it on the train on the way home.  More on that one later...

I'm also looking forward to reading T. Neill Anderson's, City of the Dead: Galveston Hurricane, 1900 (Charlesbridge, August, 2013), and I'll be featuring Charlesbridge's Volcano Rising, by Elizabeth Rusch, when I host Nonfiction Monday later this month.

That's a wrap.  Too many books, too little time!  Have a great week.

One final note:
Although I've been sharing Linda Sue Park's delightful book, Bee-Bim Bop (Clarion, 2005), with storytime audiences for years, I've never eaten it (despite the fact that she includes a recipe in the book).  I finally remedied that problem.  I ate bee-bim bop for lunch in NY, and it was delicious!!
If you've never tried it, don't wait as long as I did.

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 ...