Sunday, December 24, 2017

See you next year!

I'll be talking a holiday hiatus to vacation with family.

Best wishes for a a joyful and peaceful end to your year. May the new year be filed with hope, promise, and good books! 
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I'll be traveling with Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire (Harper Collins, 2017).

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground - a review

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Harper Collins, 2017

Cool Papa Byrd was Clayton's grandfather, his best friend, his musical muse, and the coolest electric blues guitar player in Washington Square Park.  Without him, Clayton was a discordant jumble of sorrow and loneliness.

"Everyone saw Clayton leave the school with his mother.  Some had even laughed at him and teased him about the whipping he had coming.

Clayton wasn't worried about a whipping.  His mother wasn't the whipping kind.  She'd take away his treasures first, the things he loved, and the things he loved to do.  But she didn't believe in whipping.  She did, however, believe in scolding.

Clayton's mother scolded from the time they left the school to the time she drove home to the time they got in the house.  Even when she wasn't out-and-out scolding, she spoke in scolding tones, In you-know-betters, what's-gotten-into-yous.  She said over and over, 'Your grandfather's passing is no excuse for this behavior.'

Clayton remained silent through the scolding. He couldn't tell her what was wrong even if he wanted to. He didn't understand it all himself. Even if he could tell her, she would only blame Cool Papa, and Clayton was tired of her being angry at the person he loved the most. He said nothing.'
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is Clayton's journey through the blues.  Rita Williams-Garcia infuses this story of family grief, anger, and reconciliation with the bluesy notes of Clayton's harmonica, the smooth sounds of Cool Papa Byrd and his group, the Bluesmen, and a ragtag band of hip-hop street performers who ply their trade in New York's subway system.  No slow-starter here—Clayton Byrd Goes Underground grabs the reader from the pickup note.

I read this in one sitting.  Because of its brevity and musical connection, this would be a perfect middle-grade book for an in-school project collaboration between music and language arts teachers.  Queue some blues on your favorite music streaming service and get yourself in the mood for this award-winning book.

Awards for Clayton Byrd Goes Underground include:
National Book Award Finalist * Kirkus Best Books of 2017 * Horn Book Best Books of 2017 * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017 * School Library Journal Best Books of 2017 * NAACP Image Awards Nominee * Chicago Public Library Best Books * A Boston Globe Best Book of 2017

Note: If you want to hear some awesome blues harp, listen to the Led Zeppelin version of "When the Levee Breaks." (originally recorded in 1929 by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Bet you didn't know! - a review

A few days ago I suggested a possible holiday gift for the youth services librarian on your list.  Today I have a suggestion for a child - especially if you know a curious child who is a reluctant reader. Of course, this book would be a great purchase for any school or public library, too. *

Bet you didn't know!: Fascinating, Far-out, Fun-tastic Facts
National Geographic Kids, 2017

A teacher used to seek my advice whenever her class was prepping for the annual "academic bowl," which pitted schools against each other, and was difficult to prep for because of the random, Jeopardy-like questions.  I always supplied books similar to Bet you didn't know!: Fascinating, Far-out, Fun-tastic Facts.  They are entertaining as well as educational.

Although many books in this genre are similar, I like this one for the following reasons:

  • It's big—192 pages and more than 12" in size.
  • It has an index.  It's fun to browse randomly, but sometimes you just need to quickly find the page number for a particular fact.
  • You can always count on National Geographic books to have excellent photographs.
  • The categories within the book (there are more than 80) were chosen specifically for their kid-appeal factor, e.g., "Dolphin Facts to Flip Over," "Fiery Facts about Dragons".
  • It's very current.  The "What's the Difference" category even discusses the difference between macaroons and macarons. 
 My favorite section is "Page-Turning Facts About Books."  Among the ten bookish facts is this little-known gem,

"J.K. Rowling considered calling the final Harry Potter book Harry Potter and the Elder Wand."

 The publisher's suggested age range for this book is 8-12.  If you decide to purchase a copy, consider your local independent book store.

 From the publisher:

"BIG, packed with gorgeous photos and illustrations and guaranteed to keep kids occupied for hours and hours, Bet You Didn’t Know is the perfect holiday gift for the fact-lover or for your kid’s favorite teacher’s classroom. Did you know that the first stop signs were black and white? Or that a litter of kittens is called a kindle? Or that butterflies can see more colors than humans can?  Based on a favorite department in Nat Geo Kids magazine, this book is overflowing with fascinating facts, silly stats, and catchy little knowledge nuggets in all kinds of cool categories, from astronomy and sea creatures to revolutions and breakfast. Special features include Extreme Weirdness, Strange Places, Wacky World, and more."

Note: My copy of Bet you didn't know! was supplied by the book's publicist.

*As always, I make no promises that I will review books that I receive, and I receive no remuneration for books that I review for my blog.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Lit - a review

Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult
Written and read by Bruce Handy
HighBridge Audio, 2017

Some unsolicited gift advice for you today. 🎁

I recently had the pleasure of reviewing Wild Things for AudioFile Magazine

Usually, I'm a proponent of using your local library, however, if your holiday gift list includes a youth services librarian, you might want to buy this one!

Click any of the links to read my review of this Earphones Award winner in AudioFile Magazine

Thursday, November 30, 2017

My Brigadista Year - an audiobook review

My Brigadista Year
by Katherine Paterson
Read by Frankie Corzo
Brilliance Audio, 2017

In 1961, following the Cuban Revolution, Cuba was largely populated by illiterate, rural farmers. Whatever may be your thoughts on Fidel Castro and the often brutal results of the revolution, it is difficult to be unimpressed by Castro's Literacy Campaign, one of his first initiatives. Using hundreds of thousands of young volunteers, he embarked on a one-year plan to bring literacy to the entire country.  Most of the volunteers were young, teenage girls from Havana and other large cities, who traveled to rural areas to live and work with farming families by day, and educate them by night. Amazingly, he succeeded. My Brigadista Year is a fictionalized, epistolary account of one volunteer.

Note: The current literacy rate in Cuba is 99.8%, according to the CIA World Factbook, and Cuba continues to have one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Reliable, current statistics on the US literacy rates are not readily available.

Below, author Katherine Paterson discusses her book.

My copy of My Brigadista Year was provided by AudioFile Magazine. *Edited to add video(oops).

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Everybody's Somewhere - a review

Everybody's Somewhere
by Cornelia Maude Spelman
Illustrated by Alea Marley
Quarto, 2017

Everybody's Somewhere is a rhyming concept book that explores a sense of self and place. Global in scope and culture, the cheerful artwork in bright but softly muted tones,shows a wide variety of children and adults from a wide variety of settings and locations—a city, a farm, a person in a wheelchair, campers, a soldier, and more.
Each of us is somewhere
Here or there.

Each of us is someone
In our own somewhere.

This is a fine choice for storytime. (Read it first so as not to stumble over the rhyme.)

My copy of Everybody's Somewhere was provided by the publisher at my request.  It will be donated to the preschool where I read it this morning. The teacher was quite taken with it and loved the illustrations. 😊 The kids enjoyed it, too!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mouse - a review

by Zebo Ludvicek
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2017

A mouse with a cherry meets the letter M.
May I have a bite?
"A bite? Absolutely not!" replied Mouse.
May I PLEASE have a bite?
"All right. One bite." agreed Mouse.
Sadly for the mouse, the M's bite is rather large, and the mouse is left without a cherry.  The kindly M feels remorse and offers himself as a snack for the hungry mouse.  Mouse nibbles so much, that M, is soon an N.  And when Mouse sleepily climbs upon the N for naptime,  N tips over and becomes a Z.   And so it goes.  M transforms into several letters as the two become friends over their shared experiences and Mouse attempts to return his new friend to his original state.

Author and illustrator, Zebo Ludvicek, makes impressive use of white space and a minimal color palette to highlight the very expressive Mouse and his transformational letter friend.  Mouse's dialogue is in red italicized typeface; M is actually a part of his dialogue, complete with eyes, eyebrows, and mouth.  Some illustrations are double-spreads, but it is the large, single-page images of the mutually adoring friends that will win your heart.

Although the specified age range for this book is 3–5, I read this book to a group of first graders before their lunch.  (Older children often get so much more out of picture books.) After lunch, several of the kids clamored for me to read it again!

Look for Mouse on a shelf near you in a few days. 

My Advance Reader Copy was provided by the publisher at my request.

Note: See if you can read this book without thinking of The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood. Both mice are so winsome, yet fiercely protective of their fruit! 😊

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Sticks 'n' Stones 'n' Dinosaur Bones - a blog tour and book giveaway

 (An Unhinged History Book)
By Ted Enik
Illustrated by G.F. Newland
Schiffer, 2017

Welcome to Day #5 of the Sticks ‘n’ Stones Blog Tour

To celebrate the release of Sticks ‘n’ Stones ‘n’ Dinosaur Bones, written by Ted Enik and illustrated by G.F. Newland, blogs across the web are featuring exclusive content about this humorous tall tale and giving away chances to win a copy of Sticks ‘n’ Stones ‘n’ Dinosaur Bones.  Below, you can find today's Rafflecopter giveaway and the location of other blog tour sites.

From the publisher:
This first book in Ted Enik and G.F Newland's "Unhinged History" series is a ripping yarn - full of adventure and deceit - that brings to life the best-known public spat in all of paleontology: the bitter rivalry between Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh that became known as "The Bone Wars." Lively and witty rhymes plus beautifully demented illustrations by Newland reveal how the paleontologists' infamous rivalry began and how their mutual obsession with outdoing and ruining one another spun out of control.
Here's my takeaway on the book:

Stick 'n' Stones 'n' Dinosaur Bones is what I usually characterize as a picture book for older readers.  This one is unique in that it can appeal on several levels.  It's Seussian, sing-song nature and humorous illustrations will entertain even children too young to understand the book's overall concept.  It will attract kids interested in paleontology—and aren't all kids interested in paleontology at some point? And finally, it's useful in introducing the subject of information literacy.

Here's how:

The crazy one-upmanship and outright lies of Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh may be fodder for laughs and entertainment, but it's useful to point out that belief in outlandish claims is nothing new in American history.  One need only look to today's internet, television, and newspaper articles to see rampant and competing claims of "fake news!"  What's an educated news consumer to believe?

Sticks 'n' Stones 'n' Dinosaur Bones can be an educational or cautionary tale about the need to investigate news sources and shun sensationalism.  Remember, the "Bone Wars" was not the only time that a gullible populace has fallen for exaggerated, overblown, or downright false claims. Jim Murphy's book, The Giant and how he Humbugged America (Scholastic, 2012) and Candace Fleming's The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum (Schwartz & Wade, 2009), are two stellar books for older readers that spotlight the gullibility of the general public and the great lengths that people will take to exploit it.

I can't wait to see what topic will be tackled next in the "Unhinged History" series.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Schedule of Blog Tour
November 8: Books My Kids Read
November 10: Kid Lit 411
November 11: Shelf Employed
November 12: Frog on a Blog

From the publisher:
About the Author
Ted Enik has worked as an illustrator for most of the well-known New York publishing houses, applying his versatility to both original art as well as classic and current children’s book characters, including the Magic School Bus, the Eloise books, and the popular “Fancy Nancy I Can Read” series. This is the first picture book Ted has authored. It was first published in 2013 by Pixel Mouse House, New York, and honored as a Finalist in the American Book Fest’s 2014 Best Children’s Nonfiction and a Finalist in American Book Fest’s 2014 International Book Award for Best Children’s Nonfiction. Learn more about his books at and his illustration at
About the Illustrator
G.F. Newland is a part-time illustrator and the systems administrator at the School of Visual Arts, New York, NY. His doodles have found their way onto buttons, bags, posters, and T-shirts, and have been published by Scholastic, Hachette, and Pixel Mouse House. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and a pet fish named Enki. Visit his website at

My copy of Sticks 'n' Stones 'n' Dinosaur Bones was provided by the publisher.

Note: This book trailer was created by a previous publisher.

Friday, November 3, 2017

They Didn't Teach This in Worm School - a review

They Didn't Teach This in Worm School! : One Worm's Tale of Survival
by Simone Lia

The publisher's description accurately captures the spirit of this book.
A hungry chicken (who thinks he’s a flamingo) and a quick-thinking worm set off on a madcap adventure — and forge an unlikely friendship.

Published first in the UK, it has a definite feel of British humor, which I enjoy.  I often think that we, as Americans, take ourselves too seriously.  Canadians and Brits definitely have a quirkier funny bone, and it is on full display in They Didn't Teach This in Worm School.  When Marcus and Laurence set off on their adventure, the goal is to find Africa so that Laurence can unite with his "fellow" flamingos.  Along the way, they become convinced that they've found France because of the many "Eiffel Towers" that they encounter.
Source: OpenClipart
Marcus and Laurence take this all in stride, even the fact that no one in "France" seems to speak French.  Things go poorly and, aided by some local worms, they narrowly escape with their lives, prompting Marcus to remark,

     I was really glad to have met these French worms.
     They were really kind and helpful.
     I liked them, even though they were weirdos.
Their adventures continue in a similar zany vein until eventually, all is sorted out, and the two have become fast friends despite their disparate interests.

My Advance Reader Copy was of one color, but the finished book with have two-color illustrations like this sample page:

Every page is illustrated to some degree, and there are occasional double-spread images throughout. Simone Lia's illustrations bear some resemblance to those of Sara Varon, but have more straight-up humor and none of Varos' pathos.

They Didn't Teach This in Worm School is a perfect choice for readers with a quirky sense of humor who won't mind a rather heavy-handed dose of ethics on the friendship front.

Look for this on a shelf near you in February, or pre-order it now.

My copy of They Didn't Teach This in Worm School was provided by LibraryThing's Early Reviewers.

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 ...