Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fallout by Todd Strasser - a review

Strasser, Todd. 2013. Fallout. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
(Advance Reader Copy)

In many ways, Scott Porter, a soon-to-be sixth grader, is a carefree boy of the 1960's, palling around with his friends - Ronnie, Freak O' Nature, and Why Can't You Be Like Johnny?  But the summer of 1962, is not carefree to most of the world.  While many of his suburban neighbors have fatalist or devil-may-care attitudes, Mr. Porter is busily preparing for the nuclear war that he feels is sure to happen.  Neighbors ridicule the family as Scott's dad builds and stocks his underground bunker.

And then, in a twist of revisionist history, it happens.  The Soviet Union attacks the United States with a nuclear bomb, and the Porter's bomb shelter, designed to accommodate Mr. and Mrs. Porter, Scott, and his younger brother, Sparky, is now the only possible option for survival.

Set in the tense, crowded, and contentious atmosphere of the over-filled bunker, the story is revealed in flashbacks of neighborhood and school events leading up to the attack.  But it is not the past that matters.  As the situation grows increasingly desperate, the bunker's inhabitants, once friends and neighbors, live only for the present.  Who deserves to eat and drink, to use the sparse toilet paper, to wash, to live -- to die?  Disability, race, personal property rights all are examined in this gritty novel.  Powerful and affecting, the baseness of the human species is uncomfortably unveiled in Fallout.

"So?" Mr. McGovern demands.
Dad gathers himself up. "I said it before and I'll say it again.  Over ... my ... dead ... body."
"It won't just be your dead body -- it will  be everyone's," Mr. McGovern counters, then turns to the Shaws. "Who gave him the right to make decisions for all of us?  Because it's his bomb shelter?  I'm sorry, but I don't think that matters anymore. We're all in this together now. Are you really comfortable putting yourself in his hands?  Letting him decide how much we eat and drink?

An Author's Note, complete with photograph of his own family's underground bunker, follows the story.

For mature readers ages 10 and up.  Due on shelves in September, 2013.

A Fallout Discussion Guide.

Pair this one with Deborah Wiles', Countdown (2010, Scholastic) or Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Flashpoint, 2012).

I realized that in the last month, I've reviewed  I Survived: The Japanese Tsunami, 2011, Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, City of the Dead: Galveston Hurricane, 1900, and The Superstorm, Hurricane Sandy. This was not an intentional dive into a literary world of disaster - just interesting titles that have arrived in my mailbox.  I think I'm done for a while now, while my cheery disposition is still intact. :)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Picture Book Roundup - Silly, dreamy, fun, well-done!

Silly, dreamy, fun, well-done  - these are my favorites today!

  • Silly
Harrington, Tim. 2013. This Little Piggy. New York: Harper Collins.

Funny and silly, this is the story of what those other five little piggies are doing - forget about going to market or eating roast beef; these little piggies are painting, selling hot dogs, dancing and flying planes!

Browse inside This Little Piggy.

Click to hear the author's musical rendition of 
This Little Piggy.  You can download it, too!

  • Dreamy
Giovanna Zoboli. 2013. I Wish I Had .... Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.  (Ill. by Simona Mulazzani)

A simple wish list  - one wish on each beautifully illustrated, double-spread page of this over-sized book.  Inspired by the animal kingdom, each wish is for an animal's ability,
I wish I had the quick heart of a mouse as it makes its escape ...
... and the wings of a wild goose on the day it takes flight. 
Perhaps it rhymes in its original Italian version.  No matter - it's still poetic and beautiful.

The link to a preview of I Wish I Had ... may be accessed here.

  • Fun
Gibbs, Edward. I Spy on the Farm. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

I loved I Spy With My Little Eye when it was published in 2011, and I love Edward Gibbs' I Spy on the Farm as well.  Perfect for participatory sharing, kids will squeal out the answers as they look through the die-cut holes and hear the clues,
I spy with my little eye ...
 something pink that begins with a P.
Oink, oink!
Colors, letters, farm animal sounds - I Spy on the Farm has it all!

  • Well-done
Falwell, Cathryn. 2013. Rainbow Stew. New York: Lee and Low.
Whimper, sigh, cloudy, sky,
Is it too wet to play?
We don't want to stay inside
because of rain today.

Grandpa smiles and says to us,
"I know what we can do.
Let's go and find some colors
for my famous Rainbow Stew!" 
Filled with love and frolicking fun, Rainbow Stew is a tasty delight! (Be sure to try the recipe)

Rainbow Stew preview here.
Rainbow Stew activities here!

If you're looking for the usual nonfiction post this morning, check out Sally's Bookshelf for today's Nonfiction Monday roundup.  Next week, Nonfiction Monday will be right here at Shelf-employed.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I Survived: The Japanese Tsunami, 2011 - a review

At last year's KidLitCon, attendees were reminded to blog for a particular purpose and audience. I selfishly blog primarily for myself - to help me remember and gather my thoughts about the many children's books that I read in pursuit of my favorite job - connecting children with the "perfect" book, or in librarian terms, reader's advisory.  If along the way if I can save you some time or help you in a similar pursuit, so much the better.  This is why I don't always read the most talked about books, the most award-winning books, or the books with the greatest literary merit. I want to read what children like, and  a boy in my book club told me emphatically what he likes, I Survived books! "I've read them all," he told me.

I must confess that despite their popularity, I hadn't read any! Fortuitously, however, Scholastic sent me a galley copy of their upcoming, I Survived; The Japanese Tsunami, 2011 by Lauren Tarshis.

This is the 8th book in the series.  Written for grades 2-5, these are small, short chapter books; each chapter is only a few pages. The Japanese Tsunami, 2011, contains 13 chapters and is 83 pages, not including the back matter - facts, author's note, and resource materials.

I assume that most of the books are similar - a child survives one of history's worst natural or man made disasters.  In The Japanese Tsunami, it is Ben, an American born child visiting his Japanese grandfather, along with his mother and brother.  His father, an Air Force pilot, recently died in Iraq.

Miraculously, although Ben is swept away from the rest of the family in the tsunami, they all survive and are eventually reunited.  It's not a likely story, but here's what there is to like about it:

  • Though it was written very soon (too soon?) after the disaster, it should be remembered that kids don't often pay attention to the news, and to them, March 11, 2011, may seem like a lifetime ago.  It's helpful to remind them of world-changing events.

  • Books like the ones in the I Survived series help bring history alive for young people.  It's easier to relate to history if it is seen through the eyes of someone in a similar situation to one's own.

  • The I Survived books are short and popular - great choices for reluctant readers.

And finally,

  • Author Lauren Tarshis understands the freshness, the immensity, and the gravity of this particular disaster, and treats it with respect.  It was, after all, three separate and devastating disasters - an earthquake of epic proportions (lasting five minutes), a tsunami (hundreds of feet long and dozens of feet high), and a nuclear meltdown that sent more than 200,000 people fleeing from their homes.

In her author's notes, "A Triple Disaster," she notes that writing about the Japanese Tsunami was unlike writing the other I Survived books in which she could imagine herself in the shoes of her protagonists.  Regarding the Japanese Tsunami, 2011, she writes, the

...disaster was so enormous, I really can't being to imagine what it was like - the terror, the destruction, the exhaustion, the despair.
 What I do feel - deep in my heart - is admiration for the millions of people of the Tohoku region and throughout eastern Japan who are rebuilding their towns and their lives, who are determined to move forward ..
Due on shelves in September, 2013, this one's sure to be popular.

The art in my copy was not final, but the book will apparently have several black and white illustrations.

Kids can take an I Survived Survival Skills Quiz on the Scholastic website.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bomb - an audiobook review

(My review of Steve Sheinkin's, Bomb, as it appeared in the July 2013 edition of School Library Journal)

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon.By Steven Sheinkin. 6 CDs. 7:12 hrs. Prod. by Listening Library. Dist. by Listening Library/Books on Tape. 2013. ISBN 978-0-8041-2220-7. $39.

Sheinkin’s stellar nonfiction account (Flash Point, 2012) captures the science, technology, logistics, and politics of the race to build the first atomic bomb. The book gives listeners a holistic perspective, highlighting the fact that the story of the bomb, while a technological miracle of the time, is at its core, an intricate tale of daring individuals whose actions affected families, friends, communities, and nations. The story begins at the end, with the capture of American spy Harry Gold in Philadelphia. From Gold’s seizure, Sheinken takes a retrospective look at events from the discovery of nuclear fusion to the deployment and the aftermath of the uranium and plutonium bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Gold, a chemist, in his role as Communist sympathizer and Soviet courier, is the thread that weaves this fascinating book together as it follows the trail of scientists, Nazi resisters, Soviet and American spies, workers, military commanders, and political leaders across the globe. The author’s narrative is as gripping as that of nonfiction masters such as Jim Murphy and Russell Freedman. Roy Samuelson’s clear diction and measured delivery complements the subject matter, offering students the opportunity to absorb sometimes complex material without pause. This award-winning, meticulously sourced book deserves a spot in every library.

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

Listen to an audio excerpt from Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, here.

Bomb is a National Book Award Finalist, and the recipient of the Newbery Honor, Sibert Medal, and YALSA Award.

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is at Wrapped in Foil
where "finding a great children's book is like unwrapping a perfect sweet."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Excerpts, prequels, sneak peaks and other e-freebies

I try to read as many and as varied a selection of children's books as possible.  When a child comes to me and asks for a funny book, dragon book, scary book, mystery, horse book, diary book, I like to have a host of ideas in my head.  Still, it's hard to keep up.

Lately, however, the publishers have been helping.  The trend seems to be for authors to offer free prequels, excerpts and previews.  At librarian events like Book Expo America or state and library conferences, these small offerings may be in print, however, the usual format is e-book.  Why might you want these samplers? For the same reasons I do.
  • You're waiting for your library book to come in.  Get started on the free chapters.
  • You're not sure if you really want to spend the money to buy a particular book.  Read an excerpt.
  • You want to keep up with the current offerings. Read all the excerpts that you can!
  • You want to know about the hottest new series. Read a chapter or two - at least you'll be able to carry on a conversation with the kids.
So, if you've got a Nook, a Kindle, a smart phone, or a tablet, head to your favorite e-retailer or publisher site and check out the following sampling of free offerings (if you don't have access to a smart device, most are available for reading online, although it may not look quite the same):

The Seven Wonders (Harper Collins), a new series by Peter Lerangis looks phenomenal!  I don't necessarily have the time to commit to an entire new series, but I made time to read the free Seven Wonders Journals: The Select, a novella that serves as a prequel to the series, and has been described as "Percy Jackson meets Indiana Jones." I predict that kids, especially boys, will love this action-packed, adventure series.  The free prequel was excellent and you may find it on, Barnes and Noble, or from the author's website

Pi in the Sky (Little Brown) , a new, humorous science fiction novel by Wendy Mass that I reviewed recently.  Seven complete chapters are available for free, and it's a great book!  The free download is available from the usual places (Amazon, B&N, publisher site), or click on my review to see the links.

Erin Hunter's Warriors series has two free downloads, Warriors: Dawn of the Clans #1: The Sun Trail (Harper Collins) and Warriors Super Edition: Tallstar's Revenge (Harper Collins). Both are available on the official website.  There is also a Warriors app and you can download the Warriors manga comics for free.

And finally, if you know (or are) a comic book fan, DC Comics often offers free previews.  In honor of the recent release of Superman (the movie), they offered a free download preview of All-Star Superman Special Edition #1 (DC Comics, June 2013)

And there you have it - something free for everyone!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Superstorm, Hurricane Sandy - a review

Gregory, Josh. 2013. The Superstorm, Hurricane Sandy. New York: Scholastic.

Published a scant few months after the storm, The Superstorm, Hurricane Sandy is a formulaic book - part of Scholastic's A True Book - Disasters series, which includes incidents past and present, such as the BP oil spill, the Hindenberg disaster and 9-11.  Each book contains the cause, the event and the aftermath, as well as statistics, timeline, map, resources, photos and glossary.

Having lived through Superstorm Sandy, I admit to some skepticism about the quality of such hastily produced books, however, given the limited amount of time, and the impossible task of trying to measure the storm's "lasting impact" after only a few months, The Superstorm, Hurricane Sandy is an adequate account of the storm for middle-grade students. I appreciated the look into the storm's effect on the Caribbean - something that was largely missed by those of us who were coping with the storm's impact on our own lives.

I sincerely hope that some author will someday take up the task of writing a holistic, narrative nonfiction account of the storm that has forever changed the lives of millions.

For me, personally, I was satisfied to see in print what I and others in my area know all too well - a single event in the massive superstorm that wreaked the greatest havoc on the Jersey Shore. On top of an unprecedented 8' storm surge, a 39.7' wave roared ashore flooding and destroying tens of thousands of homes and business, along with roads and vital infrastructure.

"Height of highest recorded waves caused by Sandy: 39.7 ft. (12.1 m) off the New Jersey Coast."

Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup may be found at Biblio Links.  Stop by.

Care to check out the new additions to the Great Websites for Kids site?
I'll list them all on the ALSC blog today!  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Horrors of History: City of the Dead - a review

Anderson, T. Neill. 2013. Horrors of History: City of the Dead. New York: Charlesbridge.

City of the Dead is gripping historical fiction that strays very little from historical accounts of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. In ten chapters, T. Neill Anderson chronicles the unnamed hurricane from the dawn of its approach to the dawn of its passing. Employing fictional and actual persons of the time, the story unfolds from various points of view and parts of town - alternating between the orphans and sisters of the beachfront St. Mary's Orphanage, which had only three actual survivors, the inhabitants of the Lucas Terrace Apartments* located several blocks from the beach on the north side of town, Dr. Samuel Young in his sturdy home closer to the center of town, and Charlie, an African American laborer. Neill added Charlie's ordeal to the story to reflect the racial diversity that existed in Galveston at the time but is not reflected in the written annals of the storm.

The circumstances and dialogue are invented,

"It's a good thing we stooped by the grocery store last night," Alice muttered. There were almost twenty people in the parlor now -- they had all fled their houses when the flooding had become too great.The increasingly shrill cries of the cats reverberated through the living room,

But the photos, maps, and important details are real and accurate. A Prologue, Epilogue, and Author's Note put the story into context. Photo Credits are also included.

From the Epilogue:
Even to this day the Galveston hurricane of September 8, 1900, remains the deadliest natural disaster in the history of the United States.  Approximately eight thousand men, women, and children lost their lives -- in other words, about one in six Galvestonians are believed to have died, either in the hurricane or in the flood that followed.

City of the Dead: Galveston Hurricane, 1900, is the first  in the new  Horrors of History series, created for readers from age 11 - 14. Gripping, compelling and tragic, City of the Dead debuts in August, 2013.

  • * Title: Lucas Terrace under which 51 people lie buried, Galveston
  • Summary: Remnants of multi-story building, bricks and lumber strewn in the wake of the 1900 hurricane and flood, Galveston, Texas.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-123884 (b&w film copy neg. of right half stereo)
  • Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Adult readers interested in this topic may enjoy Isaac's Storm (Random House, 2000), a true account of the disaster, the politics of weather, and of U.S. Weather Meteorologist and hurricane survivor, Isaac Cline, stationed in Galveston at the time of the hurricane. Sadly, weather politics exists today as well as one can see from the competing information provided by European and American hurricane tracking models.  A USA Today article on the deficiencies of the US model in predicting Hurricane Sandy may be found here.

Also of interest is the National Hurricane Center's page on the history of tropical cyclone naming.  In 1900, at the time of the Galveston Hurricane, it was not customary to name hurricanes.  That practice was officially adopted in the United States in 1953.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Aesop's Fables - everything old is new again

McGovern, Ann. 2013. Aesop's Fables. New York: Scholastic.
Advance Reader Copy

First published in 1963, Ann McGovern's Aesop's Fables is a collection of over 60 of Aesop's classic fables.  Readers will recognize some, like "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and the "Lion and the Mouse," but others will likely be new to the reader.  Some may be a familiar surprise.  Most will know the phrase, "one good turn deserves another," but not many will know that it came from Aesop's fable of "The Ant and the Dove."

There are several things to like about McGovern's telling of Aesop's fables.  Because fables were originally an oral tradition, these are short and succinct stories.  None of these stories take up more than two pages in this small (5 1/4 x 7 5/8 inches) book; many are only a half page. Their brevity offers up many possibilities.  They can told quickly - as part of a library storytime, as short bedtime stories, or even as an introduction to a school lesson on animal behavior.  Though fables were based on the deeds and misdeeds of men, the characteristics assigned to each animal generally bear some resemblance to the actual animal's abilities.  Fables also invite imagination and embellishment.  They're perfect for creating short plays, puppet shows, and flannelboard stories.

As Aesop and McGovern remind us in "The Man and the Lion,"

How a story ends often depends on the storyteller.

Read Aesop's Fables, have fun, tell some stories!

Here's a copy of the original cover from the 1963 Scholastic Apple Classics version of Ann McGovern's book.  Amazon has a "look inside" feature for this book. In comparing the two, it appears that in addition to new cover art, the new version, has simplified the language.  For example, the moral in "The Fox and the Grapes" has been changed from
Which proves, of course, that it is easy to despise what you know you cannot possess,
It is easy to speak badly about what you cannot have. 

(Italics and bold sections are as they appear in the books)

These are subtle differences, but should make the fables accessible to a younger audience.  In fact, the target audience has been changed from Grades 4-6, to Grades 2-5.  My copy is an Uncorrected Proof, but it appears that the interior artwork will remain unchanged.

Aesop's Fables will be available in hardcover, paperback and e-book versions in September, 2013 - just in time for school.

Be sure to visit Abby the Librarian to see all of today's Nonfiction Monday posts!

For those of you who are "non-librarian" folks, you may be wondering why I'm featuring fables on Nonfiction Monday.  Classic fables and folktales are found in the library with the Dewey Decimal Classification of 398 or Folklore, and more specifically, 398.2. Both are sub-classifications of the broader category of Customs, Etiquette, and Folklore.  "Fractured" folk and fairy tales, or re-tellings that change the setting and/or characters, are often shelved with fiction.

Librarians and all may enjoy a peek at what may be found on Etsy when searching "398.2."  Some of these items also show up when searching "geekery."

I have no connection with Etsy, other than the fact that I love checking out the great offerings there!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Picture Book Roundup - funnybone tickler edition

If you're a public librarian with a very popular summer reading club, you need patience and a happy disposition. Here are three funny new picture books that are guaranteed to put you in a good mood - unless you're a goat (more on that later).  I wish I'd had these books when I made 25 school visits this month!

These monkeys are so cute.  Who wouldn't want to count them?  But first, you'll have to find them!

It's fun. It's easy.  All you have to do is turn the page ... and Count the Monkeys.
YIKES!  1 King Cobra has scared off all the monkeys.  Turn the page very slowly, very carefully so he doesn't notice us.
... And so it goes. King Cobras, mongooses (or is it mongeese?), bee swarms, lumberjacks - everything but monkeys! You won't find them until the endpapers.  Kids will love not counting monkeys!  Fun, fun, fun.

  • Daywalt, Drew. 2013. The Day the Crayons Quit. New York: Philomel. (Illustrations by Oliver Jeffers)
Duncan's crayons are not happy, and they've let him know it.  Each crayon has written him a letter - in crayon, of course - to complain about a problem.  Yellow and orange are fighting over which is the true color of the sun.  Poor blue is overworked,

I have really enjoyed all those oceans, lakes, rivers, raindrops, rain clouds and clear skies.  But the BAD NEWS is that I am so short and stubby, I can't even see over the railing in the CRAYON BOX anymore! I need a BREAK!
Your stubby friend, Blue Crayon
 Peach Crayon's problem is even worse - he's naked! But, no worries - Duncan has a colorful solution. Great concept and stellar illustrations.

See a great selection of artwork from The Day the Crayons Quit at Oliver Jeffers' site.

This is Drew Daywalt's first picture book.  Can you get any luckier than to have Oliver Jeffers illustrate your first picture book?

  • Shea, Bob. 2013. Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great. New York: Disney Hyperion.

Goat had it pretty good until that show-off Unicorn moved in!  One time, Goat "made marshmallow squares that almost came out right."  And what did Unicorn do?  "He made it rain cupcakes!"

Look at me! I'm Unicorn!  I think I'm so-o-o cool!  blah, blah, blah, blah, blah ...
Poor goat. But don't feel too sorry for him - sometimes a goat can make the unlikeliest of friends!
Loaded with humor, attitude, and goofy fun.

Although I was feeling more funny than factual today, don't let that stop you from visiting the July 1, 2013,  Nonfiction Monday roundup at Ms. Yingling Reads. (Can it really be July already?)

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 ...