Monday, January 27, 2014

ALA Youth Media Awards

I just returned from ALA Midwinter meeting in Philadelphia (one of my favorite cities and home of my favorite baseball team!).  It was a great day, and I picked up many new and hopefully wonderful books, as well as some favorites and award winners.

This morning was the annual announcement of the American Library Association Youth Media Awards - a highlight in the year of every children's librarian.

I was pleased that I had read most of the award winners, and many of the honor books.  Below are links to my reviews of three of today's distinguished winners. I wish I had reviewed them all!  Congratulations to all of the ALA Youth Media Award winning authors and illustrators as well as the librarians who worked all year to choose them!

The complete list of award winners can be found at

John Newbery Medal

DiCamillo, Kate. 2013. Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresSomerville, MA: Candlewick. (Illustrated by K.G. Campbell) (click for review)

Sibert Medal

Roth, Susan L. and Cindy Trumbore. 2013. Parrots Over Puerto Rico. New York: Lee & Low.  (click for review)

Schneider Family Book Award and Sibert Honor

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

Parrots over Puerto Rico - a review

Roth, Susan L. and Cindy Trumbore. 2013. Parrots Over Puerto Rico. New York: Lee & Low.

I'll be the first to admit that when it comes to nonfiction books about the natural world, I prefer photography to artistic renderings.  Of course, there are always exceptions.  Jim Arnosky's, Thunderbirds (Sterling, 2011) and Martin Jenkins', Can We Save the Tiger? (Candlewick, 2011) come to mind.

Parrots Over Puerto Rico, however, is an extraordinary exception. Using highly detailed collage art, and employing many textured and brightly colored materials, Susan L. Roth has created a book that accurately portrays the colors of the island and evokes the stunning beauty of the endangered parrots of Puerto Rico. Designed to be read "portrait style," the collages cover about 2/3 of each double-spread layout.  Cindy Trumbore's narrative appears in a simple black font in the bottom third of the collage against a plain, complementary-colored background.

As stunning as it is, the artwork is not the only thing to love about Parrots over Puerto Rico. An astute teacher's dream, Parrots takes a holistic view of the parrots' rapid decline and slow slog back to viability in the wild.  As the story of the American Bison is forever entwined with the story of American Westward expansion, the Puerto Rican's parrot story is entwined with that of the Tainos, the Spaniards, and the Americans, as well as that of invasive species, and natural disasters like Hurricane Hugo.

Existing for millions of years on the island of Puerto Rico, they once numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and by 1975, had dwindled to only 13.

Above the treetops of Puerto Rico flies a flock or parrots as green as their island home.  If you look up from the forest, and you are very lucky, you might catch the bright blue flashes of their flight feathers and hear their harsh call.
These are Puerto Rican parrots.  They lived on this island for millions of years, and then they nearly vanished from the earth forever.  This is their story.

An Afterword contains photographs and information on the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program.  Also included is a timeline of Important Dates in the History of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican Parrots, and Author's Sources.
Among others, Parrots Over Puerto Rico can boast of these awards:

  • Starred Reviews in: Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, The Horn Book Magazine
  • Original Art 2013, Society of Illustrators
  • Books for Youth Editors' Choice 2013, Booklist 
  • Junior Library Guild Selection

You can see a preview of Parrots Over Puerto Rico on Lee & Low's website, however, it doesn't do the book justice, as the preview is in landscape mode, while the actual bound book reads lengthwise.  Still, it's worth a gander.

 Check out this short video if you'd like to see an actual Puerto Rican parrot.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Nonfiction books for kids who like to create

Some nonfiction books teach, some inspire, some explain. The best, of course - do it all.  
And sometimes, nonfiction books are just for fun, like these two new titles for kids who like to create things with their hands. 
  • Kenney, Sean. 2013. Cool Creations in 35 Pieces. New York: Henry Holt.

Using the same 35 pieces (in varying color schemes), Sean Kenney creates robots, more robots, transforming robots, rain forest creatures, vehicles, and more.  Fourteen "chapters" feature photographs of the completed project on a white background with comic graphics to indicate motion or location.  Adjacent to the photographs are simple wordless instructions to create each character, vehicle or object. I counted more than eighty projects to make.  Simple, fun, and perfect for doing with friends or family!

Visit the publisher's site to view interior pages of Cool Creations in 35 Pieces.

  • DK Publishing. 2013. Make your own Gifts. New York: DK. 
Containing five chapters, Paper Craft Projects; Stitched and Beaded Goodies; Molded and Sculpted Treasures; Make, Bake, and Create Treats; and Beautifully Wrapped Projects, there should be something here for everyone.  Step-by-step illustrations are photographed, numbered and captioned.  A "You will need," graphic is included for each project. Gift giving or usage tips are included too. From the "beaded lizard" page,
These cute lizards make perfect gifts for everyone, including dads, uncles, and brothers.  They can be used as key rings, or hung from belts, backpacks, or even on curtains! 
Cards, cookies, candle jars, banks, and decorations ... there's a little bit of everything here.  These crafts are not for the very young, and some may require a little adult assistance.  Yes, instructions for these or similar gifts can likely be found on Pinterest or other sites, but Make your own Gifts is attractive, lays flat, and is readily available when the cable or wi-fi goes out.

Visit the publisher's site to view interior pages of Make Your Own Gifts.

It's Nonfiction Monday, read other reviews of nonfiction books for kids and teens at Nonfiction Monday.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Biography assignments, redux

It's January, which, in my neck of the woods, means that it's time for school biography assignments.  I love to read biographies. I'm happy that teachers assign them for reading, and happy that some kids enjoy them.

However, there's always a bit of a disconnect in what is required, what is available and what is wanted.  I'm fortunate to work in a library that is chock-full of great biographies for kids, however, many don't meet the requirements of teachers or CCCS.  As is my usual opinion, I think more dialogue is needed between librarians, teachers, and the creators of subject standards, who sadly, are often not educators.

You can find me today at the ALSC Blog, the official blog of ALA's Association for Library Service to Children, with my annual opinion on biography assignments.  Please visit the conversation there. In the meantime, rather than vent, I'll Venn. ;)

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Long Walk to Water - an audiobook review

I first reviewed Linda Sue Park's, A Long Walk to Water in 2010.  At the time, I wrote:
In an interview, author Linda Sue Park says that this was an easy book to write because she let Salva's story speak for itself.  Linda Sue Park gave Salva's powerful story a voice. Brief and straightforward, A Long Walk to Water is inspiring for its truth and simplicity.  Park eschews sentimentalism and allows Salva's understated dignity, perseverance and virtue to awe the reader.  No embellishment is necessary. This is a compelling story.  Highly recommended.
Recently, I was offered the opportunity to review the new audiobook version of A Long Walk to Water.  It was my pleasure. Following is my starred review of the audiobook as it appeared in the January, 2014, edition of School Library Journal.

A Long Walk to Water. By Linda Sue Park. 3 CDs. 2:45 hrs. Full Cast Audio. 2013. ISBN 9781936223121. $34.

Gr 5–9 -- Differentiated, African-inspired chapter introduction music assists in delivering this parallel story of two very different, but equally difficult, lives in Sudan. The story alternates between Nya, a composite character based on the lives of real girls, in 2008, and Salva, a young boy in the war-torn Sudan of 1985. Nya's life consists of the grueling and monotonous task of hauling water. All day, every day, her task is finding, acquiring, and transporting brown, dirty water to meet her family's needs. Salva's story unfolds in the midst of a horrific civil war. Separated from everything and everyone he knows, he spends more than 15 years walking across Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya, living in refugee camps, and struggling to survive. His is a true story based on the experiences of one of the "lost boys of Sudan." An echo effect is used to highlight the nagging questions that are always in the forefront of Salva's mind, "When will I see my family again?" and "What will become of me?" Readers David Baker and Cynthia Bishop worked with a dialect coach to ensure authenticity in pronunciation and accents. An update on Salva's ongoing project follows the story. Listeners will not ever leave the tap water running without thinking of this powerful story.


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

Note: offers a free audio excerpt on the book's product page:

It is heartbreaking to think that the tribal violence between the Dinka and Nuer that precipitated Salva's tortuous years of exile back in 1983, has erupted again in South Sudan, the world's newest country.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Frustrations for a rainy Saturday morning

It appears that Blogger's "Search" function has not been working properly.  If you've tried to find one of my reviews or booktalks using the search box, chances are that you've come up empty.  I've removed the box until the glitch is repaired.  In the meantime, if you're searching for a particular review, you can contact me via email, or check out my LibraryThing account, where I try to diligently post all the books I've reviewed, as well as books I've read and not reviewed.  Although I find "starring" books to be somewhat inaccurate and based on whim, my LT books are all starred and tagged.

I've tried Goodreads, looked at Shelfari, and toyed with Riffle (it has possibilities), but LibraryThing is still my hands-down favorite for cataloging books. I guess I'm just not as social as the others would like me to be. ;)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lego Space: Building the Future - a review

No Starch Press proudly proclaims that they publish "the finest in geek entertainment."  There's no doubt about it.  Unlike when I was younger, geek is cool and No Starch does geek very well.

If you think that kids are all about digital entertainment, you're only partly correct. Judging from the popularity of Lego® programs at public libraries, I'd venture to say that many, many kids and teens (and adults!) are passionate about Lego® building blocks.  And what do kids build with their Lego® blocks at public library programs?  Space vehicles.

Enter Lego Space.

Reid, Peter and Tim Goddard. 2013. Lego Space. San Francisco: No Starch Press.

Combining quality photography, how-to-instructions, and "fan fiction," Lego Space tells the story of the years between the Sputnik launch in 1957, and the successful settlement of humans on Panduro in the 2500s (rest assured, there will be battles!).  This large hardcover is a perfect "gift book," coffee table book, or instruction manual for your Lego® and sci-fi fans.

Review copy provided by the publisher at my request. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Witches - an audiobook review

 I recently reviewed a new audiobook copy of Roald Dahl's, The Witches. The main characters are the grandson, Grandmamma and the Grand High Witch.  Imagine trying to narrate The Witches while adhering to Roald Dahl's detailed description of the witch's voice,

"You may rrree-moof your gloves!" she shouted. Her voice, I noticed, had that same hard metallic quality as the voice of the witch I had met under the conker tree, only it was far louder and much much harsher. It rasped. It grated. It snarled. It scraped. It shrieked. And it growled.  ...
"You may rrree-moof your vigs!" snarled The Grand
High Witch. She had a peculiar way of speaking. There
was some sort of a foreign accent there, something
harsh and guttural, and she seemed to have trouble
pronouncing the letter w. As well as that, she did
something funny with the letter r. She would roll it round
and round her mouth like a piece of hot pork-crackling
before spitting it out. "

Such is the task for reader, Miranda Richardson, who does a superb job.  Below is my review (reprinted with permission) as it appeared on the AudioFile Magazine website:

Roald Dahl

Read by Miranda Richardson

Actress Miranda Richardson narrates the story of an orphan boy who learns about witches from his grandmamma, then accidentally stumbles upon their annual meeting--with disastrous consequences involving a "Formula 86 Delayed Action Mouse-Maker." Richardson is tremendous as the Norwegian grandmother, her young English grandson, and the terrifying Grand High Witch. She switches seamlessly between accents and the voice of the witch, whose peculiar manner of speech is described by Dahl in great detail. The story is punctuated judiciously with sound effects. The rattling of chains fastening doors, the tinkling of a dropped bottle, the skittering of mice, and the screaming of frightened hotel guests are just a few examples of sounds that add energy and excitement to this classic tale of scary fun. L.T.

© AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine [Published: DECEMBER 2013]

Children Ages 8+ • 4.5 hrs. • Unabridged • ©1983
Trade Ed. • Penguin Audio • 2013CD ISBN 9781611761863  $25.95 • Four CDs  DD ISBN   multiple sources
(review copy provided by AudioFile Magazine)

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 ...