Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In the Shadow of the Sun - a review

In the Shadow of the Sun (audiobook)
by Anne Sibley O'Brien, read by Jackie Chung
Scholastic Audiobooks

North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), has been in our news feeds much too often lately for all the wrong reasons.  We hear much about the country's leader and its nuclear capabilities, however, we know very little about daily life in the closed, dictatorial nation.

 Anne Sibley O'Brien has lived in South Korea, speaks Korean, and has done extensive research to create this middle-grade thriller about two siblings who are attempting to escape the country after their father, a humanitarian volunteer, has been seized by the police.  Mia is an adopted Korean girl and has little in common with her tall, blond, blue-eyed brother.  But while she may be a minority in her Connecticut hometown, her appearance will prove to be an asset in Korea.

In the Shadow of the Sun could not be a more timely book, and it should appeal to readers of many genres.  It features family dynamics, sibling rivalry, travel, adventure, thrills, mystery, identity politics.  It's relatively short, just under 9 hours and worth your time. 

The publisher suggests Grades 4-7. Lexile is 700.

The audio snippet provided by the publisher on AudioFile Magazine's site, is from the author's foreword—not from the contents of the books itself, which is read by Jackie Chung.  The author's foreword and notes are well worth a listen, however.  It's clear that she is very passionate about depicting North Korean life as accurately as possible.

For more information:
Link to the CIA's The World Factbook page on the DPRK.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fault Lines in the Constitution - a review

Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect us Today
by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson
Peachtree 2017

Most Americans of all political stripes revere our Constitution and the far-reaching genius of the men who drafted it. With the glaring exception of their failure to do away with the heinous institution of slavery, the framers did a remarkable job of creating the rules for a new government.  But are those rules of government still serving us adequately today, or are they aiding the gridlock that we now see in all three branches of government?

YA author Cynthia Levinson, and constitutional scholar Sanford Levinson, wrote Fault Lines in the Constitution to highlight sections in The Constitution of the United States that they believe are contributing to our current political situation.  The Electoral College, the out-sized influence of small and sparsely populated states in the United States Senate, and the difficulty in amending the Constitution are several of the featured flaws.

Whether you agree with the arguments posited by the authors or not (for the record, I think that they make some very salient points), Fault Lines in the Constitution, can serve as a primer on some of today's most pressing political arguments, and as a jumping off point for classroom discussions. 

Are we still in the process of creating a more perfect Union?

Fault Lines content includes illustrations, timeline, bibliography, introduction, and parts with titles that reflect current concerns such as, "How Bills Become (Or, More Likely, Don't Become) Law," and "If America Threw a Party, Would You Be Let In?"

If you want to join in on the Constitutional discussion, join the authors of Fault Lines in the Constitution at this website. []

Another review of Fault Lines in the Constitution:

Read a copy of The Constitution of the United States here.

My copy of Fault Lines in the Constitution is an Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher at my request. The final version will likely be updated to reflect recent changes adopted by the Senate regarding filibusters.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Stanley's Opposites and Stanley's Numbers - a review

Let me just say that I continue to be a fan of Stanley books by William Bee.  The latest are Stanley's Opposites and Stanley's Numbers from Peachtree (2017).  You'll find these on a shelf near you this fall.

These colorful books are everything one wants in a board book—bright colors, simplicity, simple concepts, minimal text.

If you're interested, Stanley has a new fan page.

You can read my other reviews of Stanley books here:

Thanks to Peachtree Publishers for my review copies.  I'm passing them along to tiny relatives ASAP.😃

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Graphic Shakespeare: Othello - a review

I was working on a collection development project and picked up this copy of Othello from my library in search of a good graphic Shakespeare.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share them!

Graphic Shakespeare: Othello 
Adaptation by Vincent Goodwin
Graphic Planet, 2008

A fair introduction to a Shakespearean classic. The back matter includes a glossary, as well as notes on the play, Shakespeare, and the graphic novel adapters. This information would have been more useful as an introduction, as the first act is difficult to follow if the reader is not already familiar with the play.The dialogue retains a Shakespearean flavor, and it should be noted that not all unfamiliar words appear in the glossary. (I had to look up "bawn" in an online dictionary.)

The illustrated characters, besides Desdemona, have a dark and serious cast befitting this tragic play. Scenes featuring Desdemona offer the only break from the furtive treachery talking place in dark corners.The oversized dialogue bubbles, rather than the illustrations, often drive the story.
Othello is part of the Graphic Shakespeare series by Graphic Planet.

For young kids, I absolutely LOVE First Second's Stratford Zoo Midnight Review presents Macbeth.  (There's a "Romeo and Juliet" too, and I hope more to follow) My review is linked above.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Seashores - a review

About Habitats: Seashores
by Cathryn Sill
Peachtree, 2017

Approximately 40% of U.S. residents live near the coast, yet there is a dearth of nonfiction titles for very young readers on the topic.  Seashores fills this gap with beautiful, painted illustrations by wildlife artist, John Sill.  The illustrations are reminiscent of Audubon's style. Cathryn Sill offers very simple observations,

Plants have to be tough to live in the salty spray, strong winds, and hot sunshine at seashores.
Each sentence is in a large simple font on a white background.  The accompanying illustration is on the facing page.  In a nod to all types of seashores, there are depictions of muddy flats, rocky cliffs, palm-ringed beaches, and beaches from across the globe.  Wildlife and bird life are accurately represented in each location.

There is only one sentence or thought per page, however, for older readers, a note at the bottom offers the title and plate number of the illustration.  The author's Afterword lists each plate number with a small representation of the illustration and a paragraph that more fully describes the scene.  For the quote above, the description reads,

Many seashore plants grow close to the ground for protection from the wind.  Others have thick and waxy leaves that make it easier to store water.  Some have leaves covered with tiny hairs that protect the plant from the heat.  Pink Sand Verbenas have thick, water-storing leaves.  They live in sandy soil along the western coast of North America.
A Glossary and Bibliography complete the book.  The suggested age range for About Habitats: Seashores is from 3-7.  This is a lovely, educational book that will appeal to shore dwellers and mid-staters alike.

A Teacher's Guide for the About Habitats series is available here.

My copy of Seashores was provided by Peachtree Publishers.  It will be on a shelf near you in August.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Fugitive in Walden Woods - a review

A Fugitive in Walden Woods
by Norman Lock
Bellevue Literary Press, 2017

A Fugitive in Walden Woods is historical fiction, a revisionist history featuring some of the greatest American minds of 1845. The book is part of The American Novels series.

At the cost of his shackled hand, the enslaved Samuel Long escapes via the Underground Railroad to relative freedom in Massachusetts. His benefactor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, gives him a job of sorts—monitoring the well-being of Emerson’s friend, Henry David Thoreau, who is in the midst of his famous sojourn in Walden Woods. In the occasional company of these men, Samuel becomes acquainted with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, William Lloyd Garrison, and other Transcendentalists. A Fugitive in Walden Woods is Samuel Long’s memoir of his year in Walden Woods, written through the lens of his later experiences.

So thoroughly does Lock set the mood that it is impossible to tell which words of Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne are ones actually spoken or ones created by Lock. Though these men pondered the great questions of their age (and our own), the insertion of Samuel into the story, forces a more practical rendering of their great ideals. 

Samuel writes,

"Emerson had asked me what it meant to be human. I should have told him that a person cannot be human if his life is perpetually in the grip of terror and uncertainty. Just as cities are built by people unafraid of marauding barbarians and the caprices of a hostile universe, so will we become human when we no longer live in fear for our lives."

A Fugitive in Walden Woods does not shrink from the difficult questions of our time, including racism. It succeeds in its goal of nudging us to become deeper thinkers.

"It is easy to misjudge others—a commonplace remark, but nonetheless true. We close our minds to the completeness of others, striking from the portraits we draw of them in our imaginations all contradiction."

My copy of A Fugitive in Walden Woods was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Nonfiction Audiobooks slideshow

I created a slideshow of the nonfiction audiobooks that I've reviewed recently for Audiofile Magazine. Enjoy!

And don't forget to download your free audiobooks each Thursday from SYNC YA!  This week's two free audiobooks are available from June 22 – June 28

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Picture book audiobook reviews

Here are two audio books that I reviewed recently for AudioFile Magazine.  Both are historical fiction, picture books for older readers/listeners and are based on real events.

Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon is a child-centered look at living in a war-torn city. Though difficult to do, John McCutcheon coaxes optimism from misery. Read the full review for Flowers for Sarajevo at AudioFile Magazine.  

 Read an excerpt here: […/Flowers-for-Sarajevo-Excerpt.…]


The Cellist of Venice by Kim Maerkl with music by Bach, is a brief historical fiction audio book. Music and narration are combined to tell a magical, melancholy, musical, and mysterious story.  My full review of The Cellist of Venice is available from AudioFile in print or online.

Don't forget to check out Audiobook SYNC free audio books all summer! There are two titles available every Thursday.  One is a classic and one is a modern YA book with a similar theme to the classic.  Books are free and yours to keep!  Spread the word! You can find SYNC on Facebook.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Navigating Life with Epilepsy - a review

Navigating Life with Epilepsy
By David C. Spencer
Oxford University Press, 2016

I recently found myself in need of information on epilepsy, and found this book in my college library's collection.While I sincerely hope that you do not find yourself in a similar situation, I can recommend this book if you do.

Navigating Life with Epilepsy is not too difficult for the average person to understand, yet offers very specific medical and practical information. It contains a brief history of epilepsy, first aid for seizures, types of epilepsy, diagnostic and testing methods, real life scenarios, discussion of surgical options, a basic explanation of brain functions, treatment options for epilepsy, and more. A glossary, index, and a description of the most commonly prescribed medications are also included. Many of the sections begin with a real-life scenario making it easy to skip over medical information that is not pertinent to your interest or specific type of seizure.

It's helpful to know as much as possible about a life-altering medical condition, however, it's often difficult to process everything a doctor says during an office visit. Navigating Life with Epilepsy can assist in understanding treatment options and in knowing what questions to ask of your medical professional.  My family has found it helpful.

This is part of the Neurology Now Books series that includes Navigating Life with Migraine and Other Headaches, Navigating Life with a Brain Tumor, and other titles.

You can read a sample of Navigating Life with Epilepsy here.

For a fictional look at epilepsy, try 100 Sideways Miles, a YA novel by Andrew Smith. I reviewed 100 Sideways Miles for AudioFile Magazine.

If you're seeking more information on epilepsy, start with the Epilepsy Foundation website.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sam Sorts - a review

Sam Sorts

by Marthe Jocelyn
Tundra Books, 2017

Sam Sorts is a delightful combination of a messy room, a happy boy, collage art, and the math concepts of sorting and counting.
"Sam's things are in a heap. Time to tidy up. First he finds Obo the robot, one of a kind. Then two snarling dinosaurs, three little boxes, and four fake foods. How many things is that?" 
 Even Venn diagramming makes an appearance with circles created from the red and white string that is synonymous with bakery boxes. But it's not all math—there's fun as well. When creatures meet people, there is visual pandemonium. Realia and cut paper combine to make a mashup gathering featuring a lucha libre wrestler, mermaid, caveman, snake, alien, robot, cowboy, pirate, tiger and more. Sam Sorts is a perfect book for sharing one-on-one or in very small groups. The opportunities for counting and sorting are endless and can inspire similar activity at home.

My copy of Sam Sorts was provided by LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

Friday, May 5, 2017

A comparison of Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow

I recently read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
(Penguin, 2016) which I consider the best, new adult novel I have read in years. I followed it up with his first book, Rules of Civility.

Here is my take on both.

First - the most basic differences:

Rules - spans one year
Gentleman - spans one adult lifetime
Rules - social climber
Gentleman - social outcast
Rules - Manhattan
Gentleman - Metropol Hotel, Moscow
Rules - female protagonist
Gentleman - male protagonist

My takeaway: Become the master of your circumstances or they will master you.

The protagonists in Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow manage their circumstances with aplomb, however, the characters could not be more different. One's fortunes are ascendant, the other's—quite the opposite. Both protagonists are smart, well-read, and appreciative of life's finer things.

Rules of Civility spans a single year—1938 in New York City. The young secretary, Katherine Konstant, can recognize a custom-made suit, an expensive lighter, or a fine glass of liquor because she aspires to have fine things. A Gentleman in Moscow spans a tumultuous period in Russian history—from the Bolshevik Revolution to the Cold War. It takes place within the confines of the fictional Metropol Hotel in Moscow, where Count Alexander Rostov has been sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest. He, too, can easily recognize a custom-made suit or a fine glass of liquor—not because he aspires to have them, but because he had always had them.

Katherine (Katey) is a woman who enjoy life's smaller pleasures. She enjoys people-watching, a well-written book, a well-timed phrase or gesture. But her enjoyment is fleeting—a moment marked in time, appreciated, and discarded without sentimentality.

The Count enjoys similar simple pleasures—but he savors them, appreciating that it is these small joys that make a life worth living. Although his fortunes literally and figuratively spiral downward, his spirit and joie de vivre are rarely diminished. At the worst of times, he finds pleasure in the most basic events.

 The Count has deep, genuine, and lasting connections with those people he counts among his friends—be they cook, revolutionary, poet or child. Katey, too, appreciates her friends, but in a more offhand manner—seeking or eschewing their company as it suits her mood or needs. Still, each has an ethic that suits his/her particular place and time.

Amor Towles' writing is replete with short literary passages that are worth reading on their own. That he has filled two historical fiction novels with thought-provoking commentary of literary quality is impressive. The words of a young girl in pre-WWII Manhattan and a disgraced aristocrat in post-revolutionary Russia jump off the page and insert themselves in the modern world in a way that is urgent and immediate, and not without surprises.

I know that I am late to the party and both books have garnered numerous awards, but I would like to add my hearty recommendation of Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. I cannot wait to see what Amor Towles will offer next!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Monticello - a review

Monticello: A Daughter and Her Father; A Novel
by Sally Cabot Gunning
Harper Collins, 2016
ISBN 9780062320438

No one can ever recount with certainty the conversations and events that transpired within Thomas Jefferson's sphere of influence at his famous Virginia plantation, Monticello.  However, because of his status as, arguably, the most famous of the nation's founding fathers, the particulars of his business dealings, his ownership of enslaved people, and other financial matters are as well known today as they were in his own time.  Also well-documented are his periods of travel to/from Monticello and the important life events (births, deaths, marriages, etc.) of his legal family members.

Armed with this information, Sally Cabot Gunning has crafted a thoughtful piece of historical fiction that explores the relationships of Martha Jefferson, the former President's eldest child, with her father, her siblings, her large family through marriage, and the people enslaved by her family—particularly Sally Hemmings.

The story unfolds in three parts, arranged by date and the plantation at which Martha lived. It begins with the years 1789-1800, and her residence at the Varina planation with her husband Thomas Randolph, whom she married shortly after returning from France.

Martha had decried the decadence and filth of Paris to Tom Randolph, but in truth, there was something as decadent about Monticello, although in a different way—the slower pace of life, perhaps, or the way her father's French wines and more elaborate French furniture, just now beginning to arrive from France, seemed out of place.  And then Negroes.  They crept about in an unnerving, pantherlike silence that Martha hadn't noticed before she left for France.  What did they hear as they moved about? And why hadn't Martha ever before wondered about that?  Martha puzzled over what seemed such a great change, either in her or in life at Monticello, she truly didn't know which.  She asked Maria, pointing as Sallys' sister Critta whispered out of the room after stirring up the fire, "Were they always so quiet?"
(from page 20)

This finely crafted work of historical fiction gently forces the reader to view history through a variety of lenses, none of which are rose-colored. Wishing for an end to the family's dependence on slavery, Martha nevertheless becomes embroiled in a lifelong conflicted existence - constrained to the restrictions and social mores of a Virginia planter's wife and daughter of a President, which render her often helpless yet still complicit in her family's continued connection to enslaved people. The political upheavals of the new nation provides the backdrop of the story, but politics is not the story.  This is a story of a woman's struggle to be a good wife, to be a good mother, to honor her father, and to help shape his legacy.


My copy of Monticello was an Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors - and its Malaysian alternative

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

by Drew Daywalt with pictures by Adam Rex
Harper Collins, 2017

I read The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors on the advice of a librarian friend (thanks, Rebecca). It tells the fictional origin story of the game that siblings and playground pals have used to decide things for as long as one can remember.  Of course, with the combination of Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex, you know it's going to be funny.

I don't want to review it, however, I want to tell a story.

When my children were little, a Malaysian friend of mine came over to visit.  We each had three kids and they played together often.  When I suggested that they decide something with Rock Paper Scissors, she was puzzled, so I explained the concept.

"Oh!" she said.  "I know that.  In Malaysia, it's bird, water, rock," and she made the appropriate hand gestures for each.  It took me a minute to wrap my head around that.  Water wears down rock, bird drinks water, rock crushes bird.  At first, it seemed a gruesome game for little kids to play, but who am I to say? Honestly, I always thought that rock covers paper was a rather lame win. Is Bird Water Rock not a more accurate depiction of how things work in the world? 

My roundabout point here is that we must always remember that everyone comes into life with a different backstory.  That's what makes the world such a rich and interesting place. That it the reason for the #WeNeedDiverse books campaign.  Not only is it comforting to see yourself in the pages of books; it's eye-opening and mind-expanding and refreshing to see someone different in the pages of books.

And speaking of refreshing, I kid you not ... On another warm summer day, nearly twenty years ago, I asked this same friend if I could get her a cold drink.  She asked for a shandy.

"A what?" I asked.

"Half beer, half lemonade," she said. "We drank that in Malaysia all the time."

"Ha! ha!" I laughed.  "That sounds awful!"

That was nearly twenty years ago.  How I wish we would have run with that thought to the patent office or the nearest brewer!  Now shandies are so popular - but don't kid yourself into believing that Budweiser invented them.  Just ask someone from Malaysia.

So, enjoy The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (a sample is below), but keep Bird Water Rock in the back of your head.  Both are worthy of your attention.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hell and High Water - a review

Hell and High Water
by Tanya Landman
Candlewick Press, 2017

Many, many years ago, I was a waitress working the graveyard shift at a diner.  When the annual change to Standard Time came rolling around, I thought nothing of it–until I went to work that night.  Standard Time means an extra hour of sleep for most people.  For a waitress working the graveyard shift, the switch to Standard Time means a 9-hour shift with no overtime pay. Why do I mention this? Because this experience helped me to see with great clarity the relevance in a story that takes place more than 250 years ago.

Tanya Landman's publisher notes that author  "explores the lives of history’s dispossessed and disenfranchised."  Not only is this true, but her depiction of 1750s England also has a message and a relevancy to our own era.  When we read of something momentous in a history book, it does not have the same urgency or immediacy that it can have in the a work of historical fiction. If you read in a history book of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, it would have little meaning to you if you had not had a similar experience. However, consider this scenario from Hell and High Water,

The village went to sleep on the evening of Wednesday, September 2nd, and woke on the morning of Thursday the 14th, yet this was no enchanted sleep or supernatural occurrence.  A year earlier an Act of Parliament had decreed that England's calendar must be synchronized with those of other nations.  In order to do so, eleven full days must be struck from the year.  Drinking coffee in Porlock's, Pa had explained the matter of the Gregorian and Julian calendars in great detail, but Caleb had paid little attention.  It involved politicians. Foreign nations.  Who cared about numbering the days?  It could make no difference to him and Pa.

He had given it no further thought at all until Letty returned from Tawpuddle with a rumor that William Benson would be collecting rent for the whole month of September as usual.  No concession was to made for the changing calendar.  Every tenant had lost eleven days of work and consequently eleven days of pay, but Sir Robert would not lose eleven days of rent.
The news made Anne dizzy with panic. "How can we manage? We will be turned out!"
"It can't be true!" Caleb scoffed.  "No man could be so unfair."
"Word of advice, boy . . ." The steward leaned toward him until his face was an inch from Caleb's.  Raising his voice so that the men who were unloading the boat could hear, Benson said, "If you want to keep a roof over that miserable hide of yours, you keep your head down and your mouth shut.  And you pay your rent when it's due, the same as everyone else."

The fact that Caleb is a person of color in 1750s England only makes his situation more difficult. His father is accused and convicted of a crime he did not commit, and Caleb is left to fend for himself in a world where birthright equals power and power equals money. Hell and High Water is a work of historical fiction, but it is also a murder mystery, and a story of race, class and privilege.  Sadly,  it has great relevance in our modern age.

Hell and High Water will be on a shelf near you in June, 2017.

My copy of Hell and High Water was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Short - an audiobook review

by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Read by Tara Sands
Listening Library, 2017

I recently had the opportunity to review Short for AudioFile MagazineA link to my complete review of Short is available here. [] It's a realistic fiction chapter book featuring Julia, a young girl whose mother insists that she try out for a summer community theater production with her younger brother.  Because of her small stature, Julia is chosen (along with her brother) to play a munchkin in "The Wizard of Oz," hardly the way she wanted to spend her summer. 

Please read my review for AudioFile for more details, but if you don't have time right now - keep this kernel of information in mind:  If you have a customer, child, parent, or patron seeking a book that includes adult little people, this is the book for you. 


A personal note:
I do not want to post medical information about a family member, however, I'd like to mention that one of my children has suffered a life-changing accident, only as a reason to explain my lack of blog posts.  It is the latest of many changes in the last year including a move to Florida, a new job, a hurricane, and now this - the most impactful of events.  I will be posting posting sporadically while I help my child heal and recover.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Threads - a review


by Ami Polonsky
Disney Hyperion, 2016

I have always appreciated an interdisciplinary approach to everything.   My favorite children's science books integrate the hard and fast facts of science with the ways in which science affects people's lives.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition) and The Day the World Exploded are two fine examples of this style of writing.  The same interdisciplinary approach can be taken with the social sciences. My children will attest to the fact that when they neglected to wash strawberries before eating them, I would point out that they may be riddled with toxic chemicals.  If they protested that I had purchased organic berries, I would counter that many migrant farm workers who pick strawberries have inadequate access to clean bathroom facilities.  In this way, they understand that there are choices to be made in the cultivation and harvesting of food. Produce does not arrive in the grocery store by some tidy and precise process. Hard human labor is behind every easy purchase.

Ami Polansky takes an interdisciplinary approach, and thereby broadens the reader's scope of the world while addressing a very personal and intimate problem.  Threads is a book about loss and grief and the difficulty in carrying on in the wake of a loved one's death.  However, she has placed it in within the broader story of Chinese adoption, forced child labor, and the complexities of Chinese culture.

In first person voice, 12-year-old Clara struggles with her adopted sister's death from cancer, while simultaneously attempting to assuage her grief by rescuing a similarly aged girl working in a sweatshop somewhere north of Beijing. 

A car horn honks and I snap my head up.  Dad is waving to me through the closed window, the air around his car glistening in the heat.  I stand up.  I don't know what to do with this letter and photograph, but Dad will.
He's scrolling through something on his phone--probably a text from Mom asking him how I'm doing, if I seem like myself.  I open the car door and look one more time at Yuming's photograph before getting in.

Yuming, the unfortunate captive girl, also relates her story in the first person; and chapters alternate between the two girls.

The door to our room creaks open.  My heart flutters, and I look back down at my sewing.  I know very well that by now someone in America could have found my note, and I curse myself yet again for signing my name and including the photograph.  I wasn't thinking; those risks were unnecessary.  Whoever finds the note could easily notify Mr. Zhang or the police.
Clara and her family journey to China, but with different goals in mind.  Clara hopes to find Yuming.  Her parents hope to find closure.  Yuming's goal is more immediate.  She needs to escape Mr. Zhang's purse factory.

This is a satisfying story on all fronts and I was thankful that I had a realistic conclusion.

From the publisher:
  • Age Range: 8-12
  • Grade Range: 3-7
  • Pages: 256

My copy of Threads is an Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Paint me a Picture - a review

Paint Me a Picture
A Colorful Book of Inspiration
by Emily Bannister
Kane Miller, June, 2017

An edited version of my review appears in the February, 2017, edition of School Library Journal

Looking for a color mixing concept book? Go with Mouse Paint. Wishing for a fanciful romp through colors? Read Swatch: the Girl Who Loved Color. Seeking to inspire a child to pick up a paintbrush and give it a try? Paint me a Picture will suit you just fine.

My copy of Paint Me a Picture was provided by School Library Journal.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Stanley's Store - a review

I first met Stanley at the farm in 2015.  It was love at first sight. Peachtree Publishers calls him "the hardest working hamster in the book business." Today I'm pleased to participate in a blog tour for Stanley's latest gig as a storekeeper.

Stanley's Store
by William Bee
Peachtree, 2017

With simple text,
It's going to be another busy day at Stanley's Store,
and vivid colors outlined in black against a white background,

Stanley's Store is perfect for very young listeners—but there is much more to like.  There are myriad opportunities to explore shapes, colors, numbers, and food groups while sharing this and other Stanley books. There is also some light humor, as when silly Charlie spills Stanley's fruit display and ends up with a banana on his head.  Stanley's Store spans the course of a day, so the concept of time is included as well.  The day begins with the delivery of produce to the store, proceeds to shopping, and ends with supper, bath, and bed - a recurring theme in the series.  A sturdy cover and substantial pages complete the cheery story. 😊
View an excerpt from Stanley's Store here.

Previous Shelf-employed reviews of Stanley books:

Bee, William. 2015. Stanley the Farmer. New York: Peachtree.
Stanley is a hardworking hamster. Illustrations and text  are bright and simple, making Stanley a perfect choice for very young listeners. Along the lines of Maisy, but with a crisper, cleaner interface.  Nice size, sturdy construction.

When I next encountered him, he was offering a small and sturdy look at colors and shapes.

Stanley's Shapes by William Bee
Peachtree Publishers, 2016

William Bee's illustrations are crisp, bright and simple. In Shapes, he ensures that the featured shape on each double-spread page is easy for children to discern, outlined heavily in black.   There are 8 shapes in all, and each one is something that should be easily recognizable for a child.  A tent is a triangle, a window is a square, bike wheels are circles, a kite is a diamond, etc. Text is minimal for each shape,
Wheeeeeeee! Circles make the best wheels!
Preceding the simple, black text is a white outline of the featured shape.  The final spread is an illustration that contains all of the shapes,
What a lot of shapes! How many can you see?
Stanley's Shapes is exactly what a concept board book should be.

Stanley's Colors by William Bee
Peachtree Publishers, 2016

Like Stanley's Shapes, Stanley's Colors is a perfectly simple, child-sized, concept board book.  There are eight featured colors on double-spread pages.  The background is white, except for a colored banner on the bottom.  The colored banner contains the simple black text,
Choo Choo!  Here is Stanley driving his purple train.
and matches the color in the illustration.  Almost everything in the image is purple with the exception of Stanley, and a few small accents.  Black outlining ensures clarity.

If you're looking for a color concept book for very young kids, this is a great choice.

My copy of Stanley's Store was provided by the publisher at my request.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Astronaut Instruction Manual - an audiobook review

The Astronaut Instruction Manual: Practical Skills for Future Space Explorers
by Mike Mongo, read by Mike Mongo with foreword by Alyssa Carson
Listening Library, 2017
47 minutes

If you'd read my blog for any length of time, you will know that I'm an avid fan of several things - two of them are nonfiction and outer space.  I was happy for the opportunity to review the audiobook version of The Astronaut Instruction Manual.

Mike Mongo narrates his own book with an infectious enthusiasm for his topic guaranteed to draw you in to this practical and inspirational look at the future of space travel.

The Astronaut Instruction Manual began as a book on Inkshares, basically a "Kickstarter" for self-published books.  Largely do to its author's subject knowledge and enthusiasm, it became a popular seller, hence the recent release of the audiobook version.  According to the Hollywood Reporter, there is also a television series in the works.

My complete review of The Astronaut Instruction Manual may be found in AudioFile Magazine, in print and online at this link [].

Friday, February 10, 2017

Scratch Coding Cards - a review

Scratch Coding Cards
No Starch Press
Creative Coding Activities for Kids by Natalie Rusk
 December 2016, 75 cards ISBN: 978-1-59327-774-1 Full Color, Box Set

No Starch Press was kind enough to provide me a review copy of their new Scratch Coding Cards.  The set of 75 cards contains instructions for a variety of projects including games, stories, and the creation of virtual pets.  Each card shows the desired project on the front and simple instructions on the back.  They are large and sturdy and would be perfect for classroom use.  While the cards can be used as definitive instructions for particular projects, their true purpose is to be inspirational and instructive for the creation of personalized projects.  Scratch teaches kids (and adults) to think logically and act creatively.  With time and practice, you can create almost anything with Scratch.  It's a great precursor to other coding languages.

To illustrate, I used the basic instructions on the cards to create a small sampling of things that can be designed with Scratch.  To begin, click the green flag below. (Turn on your sound) If the project does not appear in your browser, you can use this link:

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Queen of Frogs - a review

The Queen of Frogs

by Davide Cali with illustrations by Marco Soma
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2017

If you have seen the popular South African movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980, 20th Century Fox), then you will understand the premise of this delightfully illustrated cautionary tale of a colony of frogs who suddenly discover a crown. If you have not, I will suggest that queen in question has the desire and ambition of "Yertle the Turtle" (from Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories) and the clueless bravado of the infamous emperor in "The Emperor's New Clothes." Turnabout is fair play is exhibited in the book's humorous ending with a twist.

The illustrations appear to be a combination of pencil sketches painted with the muted earth tones of a frog bog. The anthropomorphic frogs cavort with great expression. Humorous details include frogs fishing with spools of thread for reels and a Venus Flytraps as bait. The frogs fish up, of course, as the target catch are flies! A bottle cap can also be spotted as the official seal on the the royal spokesman's podium.

The Queen of Frogs was first published in Portugal. My copy was courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program. I highly recommend it as a read-aloud for older listeners or a read alone for elementary school students.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Sachiko - an audiobook review

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story
by Caren Stelson
Read by Katherine Fenton and John Chancer
Dreamscape Media, 2016

The survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings are known as "hibakusha" in Japan. As with all combatants and victims of WWII, their numbers are dwindling; it is important for their stories to be told.  Sachiko shared her personal story and that of her family with author Caren Stelson.  Despite the horrific circumstances of the bombing, and a lifetime of related hardship, Sachiko remains amazingly positive.  Her story is compelling and Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story contains the historical information that young people may need to put her story in context.  I highly recommend it.

I reviewed Sachiko for AudioFile Magazine.  You can read my entire review here: []

Sachiko was on the National Book Award Longlist for Young People's Literature, 
and has garnered numerous other awards and accolades.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I Dissent - a review

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
by Debbie Levy with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddely
Simon and Schuster, 2016

"Disagreeable? No." "Determined? YES." Whether objecting, dissenting, resisting, or disapproving, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always done it with passion, with flair, and with conviction. This is her story, from childhood to the present. She has spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of women and minorities - beginning with her refusal to write with her right hand in grade school(she has always been left-handed), and continuing today with her Supreme Court decisions in favor of equal opportunities for women and minorities. The story is compelling; the illustrations have a cartoon-like quality, but are detailed and emotive.

There should be no dissent that I DISSENT: RUTH BADER GINSBURG MAKES HER MARK is a powerful introduction to a determined, successful, and inspiring woman.

Back matter includes:
  • More About Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Notes on Supreme Court Cases
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Quotation Sources
I Dissent is a 2017 winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award
See the entire list of winners and honor books at the Association of Jewish Libraries website.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mouse and Hippo - a review

Mouse and Hippo
By Mike Twohy
Paula Wiseman Books, 2017

How does a mouse view a hippo? How does a hippo view a mouse? And more importantly, can they be friends? Mouse and Hippo is an entertaining commentary on artistic perspective, but at heart, it's a comical story of friendship.

On a shelf near you beginning in February, 2017.

My complete review of Mouse and Hippo is in the January, 2017 edition of School Library Journal.

Advance Reader Copy provided by School Library Journal.