Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Big Mooncake for Little Star - a review

A Big Mooncake for Little Star
Little Brown, 2018

Here is an excerpt from my starred review of A Big Mooncake for Little Star.  You can read my entire review in the August, 2018 issue of School Library Journal.

Little Star’s mother admonishes her not to eat the giant mooncake, but Little Star has her own ideas. “Yum!”
The relationship between Little Star and her mother offers a message of empowerment and reassurance. Lin’s loving homage to the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is sure to become a bedtime favorite.

Source: School Library Journal. Jul2018, Vol. 64 Issue 7, p45-45.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Good Rosie! a review

Good Rosie!
by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Harry Bliss
Candlewick, 2018
The genre of comic book styled stories in the children's picture book section has been the almost exclusive milieu of Toon Books, one of my favorite imprints.  While Good Rosie! is not completely comic book style, it certainly brings something new to the class.  Other than the obvious star power—Kate DiCamillo is a Newbery medalist and former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, and Harry Bliss is a New Yorker cover artist and picture book artist for best-selling books such as Diary of a Worm, Good Rosie! is a fresh mashup of comic book, graphic novel, easy reader, and chapter book.

In sections called "parts," (I love Part Six's title best, "Part Six: Somebody Does Something"), DiCamillo tells a story of a lonely dog named Rosie, and her older, balding owner, who both find companionship at the dog park.  She writes, as always with heart.  After we learn that Rosie feels lonely when looking at her reflection in her food bowl, we are reminded of her feelings later in the story,

That cloud does look like a dog! Rosie wags her tail. "Hello,  hello!" she shouts.
[the image contains a lettered "Woof, woof!]

The dog cloud does not answer her. Rosie feels lonely in an empty-silver-bowl sort of way.
Rosie's owner is kind and gentle, walking with a cane and trench coat, vulnerable against the elements of weather and terrain.  Rosie reflects his gentle personality.  They are as sweet a pair as Mr. Putter and Tabby, both in word and picture.  The man's words appear in classic comic book word bubbles,
 Isn't this great? Look at all these dogs. 
Panels are framed in black against white gutters.  The text is a simple black typeface, allowing the images to enhance the story. Rosie is a sweet brown and white terrier.  Her new found friends are a Saint Bernard named Maurice and what looks to be a long-haired chihuahua named Fifi.  They are full of expression and frolic against a backdrop of lush green grass, and blue cloud-filled skies.

A charming book for reading alone or reading aloud.

Good Rosie! extras:

My copy of Good Rosie! was provided by the publisher.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Happy Labor Day!

If you are one of the many U.S. workers enjoying a day off with pay today, please take time to remember the sacrifices of union leaders and members who struggled to make your work life better and better-paying.

Have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day!

Photo source: U.S. Department of Labor
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.
There are many great nonfiction children's books for studying the impact of women on the labor movement. Two of my favorites are:

Image and quotation source: United States Department of Labor

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Bookshop Girl - a review

The Bookshop Girl
by Syliva Bishop
Illustrated by Poly Bernatene
Peachtree, 2018

The Bookshop Girl is a little English mystery that features books, bookshops and a young girl named Property Jones with a very unlikely secret—despite growing up in the family’s book store, Property can't read, although she does manage to keep herself busy,
Property served tea and cake to anyone who wanted to sit in an armchair and read awhile, and she kept the shop smart and tidy.  Or she tried to. It didn’t help that everything in the shop was falling apart.

Netty was at the counter, Michael was hovering by the dictionaries, and Property had put the kettle on.  The White Hart opened at nine o’clock sharp.  (If you are thinking, But the White Hart is the wrong sort of name for a bookshop, then you are quite right, but also quite impatient.  I was going to explain.  The bookshop used to be the White Hart pub, and it had a very beautiful picture of a white stag hanging outside.  When Netty bought the pub and filled it with books, she couldn’t see any good reason to change the name when there such a nice sign already there.)

When the Jones family enters a contest and wins the magnificent Montgomery Book Emporium in London, mystery begins when a silent man arrives at the bookshop,

He was mostly made of a long, gray coat, with a long, gray face perched on top and shabby shoes underneath.

The bookshop crowd
poured around him live a river around a stone.

Who was this strange man and what did he want with their new bookshop?  It will take Property’s unique powers of observation to figure it out!

The Bookshop Girl is an illustrated novel for ages 8-12, and features just the sort of humor and asides that I recall appreciating at an early age. The premise of the mystery is unique and instructive, and the peculiar workings of the fanciful Montgomery Book Emporium will read like a dream-come-true.

Extras for The Bookshop Girl:

Look for The Bookshop Girl on a shelf near you in October.
My copy was provided by the publisher at my request.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Bat Can Bat - a review

The Bat Can Bat: A True Book of Homonyms
By Gene Barretta
Christy Ottaviano, 2018

Below is my review of The Bat Can Bat as is appeared in School Library Journal.

BARRETTA, Gene. illus. by Gene Barretta. 40p. Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780805099461.
Gr 2-4–Sports and animals are perennially popular, and Baretta uses them as the common denominator in this collection of illustrated homonyms. It begins with the easily understood “The bat can bat!” featuring a bat playing baseball, then progresses to more difficult examples. The font is simple, in black or white, depending on the background color of the full-bleed illustrations. The homonyms are printed in capital letters. The use of horizontal and vertical spreads is helpful in explaining the finer points of homonyms. One of the vertical illustrations features a two-tiered, high diving board—the top deck hosts an angry, red-faced rhino who is throwing a fit over the fit of his ridiculously tiny swimsuit. For comic relief, on the lower diving deck, a young girl casts a nervous glance upwards. A “Note to the Reader” includes useful definitions of homonyms, homophones, and homographs. VERDICT More concept book than storybook, this is a fundamental purchase for school libraries and public libraries with heavy educator usage.

See a preview of The Bat Can Bat at the Macmillan Publishers site.

School Library Journal. Feb2018, Vol. 64 Issue 2, p54-56. 2p.
Copyright © 2018 School Library Journal, the property of Media Source, Inc.  Reprinted here with permission.

My copy of The Bat Can Bat was provided by School Library Journal.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge - a review

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge
by M.T. Anderson
Illustrations by Eugene Yelchin
Candlewick, 2018

You may think that you view the world (and imaginary worlds) with an unbiased eye, but The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge may change your mind.

In a diplomatic mission of the greatest importance between the kingdoms of elves and goblins, you may be surprised to find that the elvish historian, Brangwain Spurge is a bit of a supercilious twit, while Werfel, his goblin host, is well-mannered, conscientious, and kindly, as well as a historian in his own right.

M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin combine to tell this epic story of adventure, politics, and diplomatic disasters in three distinct mediums: prose, letters, and illustrations.  In the manner of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, parts of the story are relayed solely in black and white illustrations, often wryly humorous. Letters from the Lord Spymaster to the king of the elves supplement the written and illustrated adventures of Spurge and Brangwain and fill in the grand clandestine plans of which the two historians are blissfully ignorant.

So, in this story of intrigue, perception, and the politics of kingdoms, which kingdom will prevail and how will history record it? Readers will not want to put it down until they find out. The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge is coming next month.  Make sure you have a copy in your library.

Some Brangwain Spurge extras:

Friday, August 3, 2018

Terrific Tongues - a review

Terrific Tongues!
By Maria Gianferrari
Illustrated by Jia Liu
Boyds Mills Press, 2018

I have to wait a few months before I am permitted to re-post reviews I write for School Library Journal, but here it is—better late than never.

I tested this book in a school classroom. The kids enjoyed it and were able to remember the differences between the animals' tongues. 😛

GIANFERRARI, Maria. illus. by Jia Liu. 32p. Boyds Mills. Apr. 2018. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781620917848.

PreS-Gr 3–An expressive monkey acts as a guide to the animal kingdom's most interesting tongues. Liu chooses the monkey's own mouth to illustrate, literally, the many things a tongue is similar to—straw, sword, nose, and mop. In each instance, Gianferrari's simple analogy appears in large font with a humorous illustration. “If you had a tongue like a sword, you might be a…” In the first example, the monkey's tongue is actually a sword as he dukes it out with a fencer. On the following page, we discover the answer, “Woodpecker!” and see a rendering of a woodpecker in its natural habitat, its long pointed tongue stabbing underneath the bark of a tree. A short paragraph explaining the workings of the animal's tongue is embedded within the illustration. Readers will enjoy finding the monkey in each habitat, too. Eleven creatures are featured in similar fashion. Back matter offers greater detail and also explains the workings of the human tongue. The appealing cover and bright, cheery illustrations will capture the attention of even casual browsers. VERDICT A fine addition to early nonfiction collections.

School Library Journal. Feb2018, Vol. 64 Issue 2, p112-112. 2/9p.

Copyright © 2018 School Library Journal, the property of Media Source, Inc.  Reprinted here with permission.

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
See more nonfiction books reviews at the STEM Friday blog.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon - a review

Countdown : 2979 Days to the Moon
By Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
Peachtree Publishers

2,979 days after President Kennedy announced,

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth,"

this nation did just that. Not only did we achieve the goal, we did it all in the days before personal computers, cell phones, ATMs, and video games were invented. If you visit the historic Mission Control room in Johnson Space Center, you will be amazed at what was accomplished with the technology of the time.

In free verse poetry, Suzanne Slade recounts the extraordinary journey, both daring and dangerous, that culminated in the first humans to walk on the lunar surface.

"The men steal a last glance at their beautiful home,
then Borman begins the TLI countdown: "9,8,7,..."
With each passing second,
excitement builds at Mission Control.
No astronaut—American or Soviet—
has ridden a rocket beyond Earth orbit.
"3,2, light On. Ignition," Borman announces.
"Ignition," Lovell confirms.
The third-stage engine reignites,
sending the craft on its long trek to the Moon.

As Apollo 8 screams into space,
Borman, Lovell, and Anders
become the first humans
to fly above Earth orbit."
The text is presented against a backdrop of illustrations in pastel, colored pencil, and airbrush.  Gonzalez has created a delicate balance of realism and magic. The artwork is recognizable as images seen in news media of the era, and yet, it is elevated with a patina of enchantment. The resulting combination is stunning.

Between chapters, there are two pages detailing each Apollo mission, which include photos,  astronaut bios, and mission statistics, e.g., dates, duration.

Extensive back matter includes more information on Apollo 11, and Author's Note, Illustrator's Note, Selected Bibliography, Sources for Quotations, and Photo Credits.

As the nation contemplates manned missions to Mars, it is fitting to look back on the sacrifices and triumphs of an earlier space-traveling generation.


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Free audiobooks from SYNC - time is running out

It's hard to believe that the summer is passing by so quickly!  Tomorrow will begin the final week of SYNC Audiobooks for Teens free summer audiobook program.  Today is your final day to get your copies of The Scarlet Letter and How to Hang a Witch. Get them today and check back at SYNC tomorrow for The Lost World and Monstrous Beauty. Hurry!

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik by David Arnold

 If you read or listen to only one YA fiction book this year, make it this winner of AudioFile Magazine's  Earphones Award, The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik .

You can read my complete review on the AudioFile site. Without giving too much away, I can safely say that this one is definitely mind-blowing. Loveable, quirky Noah Oakman has a relatively good life with his parents, his little sister Penny, and his twin best friends, Val and Alan—until the night when everything (except his strange fascinations) changes. This first-person narrative will take you deep into the suddenly changed world of the kind and introspective Noah Oakman. Even strings of text messages between Noah, Val, and Alan crackle with emotion or humor. Every one of the lesser characters is a star in his own right. Stellar writing, stellar narration! I could listen to it again!

As a side note, many will appreciate Alan, not because he is a gay character, but because he is a fully-developed and integral member of the cast of characters who just happens to be gay, the perfect foil to his dry, iconoclastic sister Val.

Fans of Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King will likely love Noah Hypnotik.

Paramount Pictures is developing a movie version of The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik (details here).  You simply must read it first!  I don't think a movie will do it justice (but I'd definitely go to see it).

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

What's a #kidlit "Easter egg?"

It's been a while since I've written for the ALSC Blog, but you can find me there today with a piece on *Easter eggs in #kidlit.

Hop on over 😉 and read it, please. []

And of course, Happy Independence Day!
Photo by Bryce Barker on Unsplash

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Hey-Ho, To Mars We'll Go! A Space-Age Version of "The Farmer in the Dell"
by Susan Lendroth
Illustrated by Bob Kolar
Charlesbridge, 2018

Hey-Ho, To Mars We'll Go! is one of an increasing number of nonfiction books with several different uses or target audiences. The book's primary, large font text, is written for singing to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell." The singing factor, combined with large, computer-created, colorful cartoon art, makes this a perfect choice for storytime crowds. Older folks (teachers, caregivers, elder siblings, and the like) will appreciate the smaller text insets that elaborate on the verse,

"Can you catch my sock?
Can you catch my sock?
Hey-ho, to Mars we'll go—
Can you catch my sock?"

"Imagine what a mess you could make without gravity. At home, if you leave your toys on the floor, they stay where you've dropped them. But in space, anything you don't put in a cupboard or fasten in place will drift like dandelion fluff, bouncing off walls and your crewmates."

The book begins with the launch, follows the crew during the journey, and ends with exploration of Mars. To give a sense of the journey outside the Earth's gravitational pull, the text and the pages have varying orientations—several pages are designed to be read upside-down.

Anything that introduces and interest in science and space exploration is a welcome addition to any library collection.

Discussion and Activity Guide for Hey-Ho, To Mars We'll Go!

Bob Kolar is also the illustrator for one of my favorites, The Boy & the Book.
My copy of Hey-Ho, To Mars We'll Go! was provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Alma and How She Got Her Name - a review

Alma and How She Got Her Name
by Juana Martinez-Neal
Candlewick Press, 2018

I admit to requesting this book only because it shared a name with one of my librarian friends, but I was delighted to find that there are so many other reasons to love it!

Alma Sofia Esperanza José Candela is unhappy with the length of her name,

"My name is so long, Daddy. It never fits," Alma said.
"Come here," he said. "Let me tell you the story of your name. Then you decide if it fits."

And with that, Daddy spins the thoughtful story of Alma's name, which honors special people from previous generations of her family. Alma finds a personal connection with each name. She too is a reader, an artist, a traveler, a caring person; and she finally understands the connection between her own unique self and those who came before her.

If the story of Alma's name is enchanting, the artwork is doubly so. Illustrations in "graphite, colored pencils, and print transfers on handmade textured paper" are gently cartoonish, in shades of gray with soft edges and muted colors used to highlight only the vibrancy of Alma in her red striped pants, and selected items from the past—the beautiful, blue painted pot that held Sofia's tree, or the chest that holds treasures from Esperanza's travels.

Short and sweet and perfect for storytime.

My copy of Alma and How She Got Her Name was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers

The tradition of naming a child after ancestors is common in many cultures.  Each of my children bears a name from a previous generation, as do I.  I requested this book because it reminded me of my friend, Alma,  but after reading it, it reminded me of a long-ago coworker named "Sue." Sue came from Mexico but traced her heritage to Spain. Her sister often stopped by the office to chat. Her sister's name was "Lulu."  Knowing that Lulu is usually a nickname, I asked Sue what her sister's real name was.  "Susana," she replied. "But your name is Susana," I countered.  "All of my sisters are named Susana," she answered.  As it turns out, every sister in the family has a lengthy name that begins with Susana.  Lulu was Susana de la Luz, or Susan of the Light. How lovely, no?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

I'm a Mail Carrier (A Tinyville Town Book) - a review

I'm a Mail Carrier (A Tinyville Town Book)
By Brian Biggs
Abrams, 2018

Tinyville Town: I'm a Mail Carrier is one book in a planned series featuring workers in the fictional Tinyville Town. Small board books will focus on individual occupations, while larger ones will focus on community members working together. According to the author's website, characters will appear across books. For example, in the book, I'm a Mail Carrier, the mail carrier delivers mail to the Mayor, the beauty salon, the architect, and the veterinarian. These people and shops will likely appear in future books, showing a true sense of community. The characters are of varying races, genders, ages, and ethnicities. Cartoon illustrations are simple, colorful, and cheerful. Sparse text,

 "I carry all kinds of mail for the folks of Tinyville Town,"
is enhanced with dialogue in word bubble format. When the mail carrier delivers her children to their teacher at school, she calls out,
 "Special delivery!" 
To which the teacher responds,
 "Ha ha! Good morning." 
A full set of these books would be a welcome addition to any library and much appreciated by preschool teachers—and there's a teacher's guide, too.

 (My copy of I'm a Mail Carrier was provided by the publisher at my request. It is currently entertaining my 3-year-old grandnephew. 😃)

Friday, May 25, 2018

Fannie Never Flinched - a review

Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman's Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights
by Mary Cronk Farrell
Abrams, 2016

Fannie Never Flinched is the true and tragic life story of early labor leader, Fannie Sellins, but it is also the heartbreaking story of tens of thousands of laborers in the United States.  Fannie first became interested in the rights of American workers when she was forced to work in a garment factory sweatshop after the death of her husband.  Working conditions in the late 1800s were harsh—long hours, dangerous conditions, and extremely low pay.

In 1902, Fannie launched Ladies' Local 67 of the United Garment Workers of America, eventually earning a shorter work day and increased wages for the new union.  Seeing that other Americans were suffering as well, Fannie became an outspoken labor leader. She traveled the country supporting other unions, including coal miners working under horrific and deadly conditions in Missouri, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Although her activism ended in her murder by sheriff's deputies in a Pennsylvania coal mining town, her legacy lives on.

Fannie Never Flinched is a treasure-trove of annotated images and photos chronicling the American labor struggle. At one point, Fannie was briefly jailed. Readers can see one of the many postcards sent to President Wilson to petition for her release. In telling her story, the author uses Fannie's words whenever possible,
"Help us fight," she told union coal miners during a speech in Illinois in November 1909.  "We women work in factories on dangerous machinery, and many of us get horribly injured or killed.  Many of your brothers die in the mines.  There should be a bond of sympathy between us, for we both encounter danger in our daily work."

The miners stomped their feet and shouted their agreement.  Some were so moved by Fannie's speech, they wiped tears from their eyes.
The struggle for American labor rights is a story of individuals striving for fair wages and safe workplaces, realizing that there is strength in numbers. Fannie Never Flinched is a well-researched, compelling story of the individual human sacrifices that were made for the common good, in order to provide future generations with things that we now take for granted—weekends, lunch breaks, the 8-hour-day, safety regulations, and vacations. There will always be friction between employers and workers.  The struggle continues today.

The book's end matter includes an Author's Note, Glossary, Time Line of Select Events in the American Labor Struggle 1877-1935, Notes, Sources, Websites for More Information, Books for Further Reading,  Acknowledgments, and Index.

A memorial to Fannie Sellins is located in the Union Cemetery in Arnold, Pennsylvania.

My local library did not own a copy of Fannie Never Flinched, so I requested that they purchase it, which they did.  It's a wise addition to any library collection.

Also by Mary Cronk Farrell:
Pure Grit: How American WWII Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Bridge - a graphic novel review

The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York
by Peter J. Tomasi
Illustrated by Sara DuVall
Abrams Comic Arts, 2018

 If you've never watched the Ken Burns documentary, "Brooklyn Bridge," you may not fully grasp the truly marvel qualities of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Besides being an engineering masterpiece, it is an architectural beauty, and the result of a heroic and lengthy commitment by the Roebling family and countless workers.  The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York is the true story in graphic format of the epic task of building the bridge.

The book begins in 1852, when the bridge was just a dream in the mind of John Augustus Roebling and his son Washington.  Washington Roebling's father was a non-nonsense man, who doled out praise sparingly, but had great faith in his son. In 1862, after designing the bridge and receiving approval for its construction, John Augustus Roebling died and the young Washington Roebling became the chief engineer—a job that he eventually shared with his wife, Emily, after he contracted what was then an unknown disease.

Peter J. Tomasi tells this heroic story with little need for explanatory text, employing artistic license to recreate dialogue that rings true and gives a real feel for the political and personal dramas that unfolded throughout the fourteen years that passed during the bridge's construction.This is not an entirely personal story however, Tomasi includes ample description of the actual engineering of the bridge—a process with many failures and tragedies on the road to eventual success.

This is Sara DuVall's first graphic novel and the style is simple and appealing.  The colors are bright and engaging, but background details are minimal, allowing the reader to focus on the expressions, the emotions, and the individual episodes that tie this epic story together.

The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York is well researched and accurately captures in graphic format this engineering marvel and the personal triumphs and sorrows associated with it.

See a slide show of images from The Bridge at Abrams Books.

Enjoy these actual photos from the New York Public Library's digital collection.

"View of Manhattan waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge under construction; temporary footbridge " The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1877

Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. "View of Manhattan waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge under construction; temporary footbridge " New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 18, 2018.

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn; men working on bridge cables; Fulton ferry boat "Hamilton"; sailboats, 1885
Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. "View of Manhattan from Brooklyn; men working on bridge cables; Fulton ferry boat "Hamilton"; sailboats" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 18, 2018.

"Pedestrians on the Promenade (copy of #23:7)" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1895.

Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. "Pedestrians on the Promenade (copy of #23:7)" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 18, 2018.

Note: My copy of The Bridge was provided by the publisher.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

I am a Cat - a review

I am a Cat
by Galia Bernstein
Abrams, 2018

This is a positively delightful debut picture book that reminds us to celebrate our similarities rather than focus on our differences!

Read this for storytime, or use it as a humorous introduction to a lesson on animal classification. This is definitely one of my new favorites! Watch the video and see for yourself that I am a Cat is a "must-have" picture book.

I can't wait to see what @galiabernstein does next. 😺

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Brightwood - a review

by Tania Unsworth
Algonquin, 2018 (paperback)

I missed this book when it came out in hardcover in 2016, but am I glad that I finally caught up with it.

About to depart for a trip with her family, Caroline noticed that her doll's shoe had fallen off on the dock below. Not realizing that she had gone back to retrieve it, the skipper of the Everlasting pulled away from the dock.

"The photographer's picture had been made large and filled almost the whole of the front page.  There were words above it, written in thick black letters almost as big as Caroline's hand:

The massive explosion yesterday on board the Fitzjohn family yacht is believed to have been caused by engine failure.  There are no survivors."
But, of course, Caroline had survived. Her grandmother had picked her up from the dock and taken her home to Brightwood, the family mansion. Now many years have passed and Caroline lives alone with her daughter, Daisy.  Daisy has never passed through the gates of Brightwood. Why should she? She and her mother have everything they need at Brightwood. 

"Daisy listened as the sound of the car grew fainter and fainter and then disappeared.  She curled back under the covers and closed her eyes.  Wherever she was going, her mum would be back by eleven o'clock. She was never late."
But this time, her mum didn't come back.

Brightwood is a middle-grade thriller with a strong female protagonist and a focus on mental illness. Adventurous readers will love it!

 Read an excerpt from Brightwood here.

My copy of this book was provided by Workman Publishing

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris - a review

As you if you read my blog often, you know that I occasionally post adult books in addition to children's literature.  This is a powerful graphic novel that is also suitable for young adults, and I think it deserves attention. 

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris
By Bessora
Illustrated by Barroux
Translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Bellevue Literary Press, 2018

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris is a tragic, graphic novel account of one man's attempt to flee a life of misery in Côte d'Ivoire and follow his wife and child to Paris. After numerous attempts to depart legally, Alpha discovers that the process to obtain a visa is corrupt and impossible for an impoverished man. He researches his options carefully and strikes out with a group of other would-be emigrants. Although he knows the trip will be dangerous, he is nevertheless hopeful that he will be reunited with his family and his relatives in France. He fancies himself an "adventurer." His first-person account of his "adventures" devolves into a living nightmare as the journey drags on with a constantly changing group of companions. The prose is simple, and the story is told without embellishment—there is no need for embellishment; the facts are gruesome enough,

"Very quickly, I learn to avoid the barricades. We stop a lot. Abebi is vomiting froth. She has no bile left. She's spitting bubbles of saliva. We've been on the road for nine hours, and we still haven't covered a hundred miles. Darkness falls. Perhaps Abebi will feel better tomorrow. Augustine sucks his fingers in silence. It's a cold night. We sleep huddled together, forming a sort of human radiator. We can't even make a fire—the smoke would betray us."

The illustrations—one or two panels per page, are also spare—mostly shades of black and greys with an occasional splash of color—Alpha's red shirt, the striped soccer jersey of an emigrant hoping to land in Spain and play for Barcelona, a flowered dress. The illustrations set a mood of haste and simplicity, appearing to be marker sketches - almost as if they could have been made on the journey.

An epilogue provides the outcome of the trip from Abidjan to Paris. It will be difficult to look upon the plight of any refugees without reflecting on Alpha's journey. This is a short and powerful, award-winning graphic novel.

Alpha: Abidjan to Paris resources:

 My copy of Alpha was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Book of Boy - an audiobook review

The Book of Boy
by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Read by Tim Gerard Reynolds
Recorded Books, 2018

Suspend your modern beliefs and enter medieval France in the Jubilee year of 1350.

I recently reviewed The Book of Boy for AudioFile Magazine. (my review is linked here)  I can't reprint my review in its entirety, but I highly recommend this unusual mystical, medieval fantasy which harbors more than one surprise.  With one minor exception (that I address in my review), the narration is stellar.  I assume that the print version is also excellent.  It's received great reviews and has the bonus of being an illustrated novel.

Whether audio or print, I highly recommend that you read this one!

An excerpt from The Book of Boy
A video interview for The Book of Boy with author, Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Other reviews for The Book of Boy

Sunday, April 8, 2018

National Library Week

 From the American Library Association website:

The National Library Week 2018 celebration will mark the 60th anniversary of the first event, sponsored in 1958.

Celebrations during National Library Week

  • Monday, April 9: State of America's Libraries Report released, including Top Ten Frequently Challenged Books of 2017.
  • Tuesday, April 10: National Library Workers Day, a day for library staff, users, administrators and Friends groups to recognize the valuable contributions made by all library workers. #nlwd18
  • Wednesday, April 11: National Bookmobile Day, a day to recognize the contributions of our nation's bookmobiles and the dedicated professionals who make quality bookmobile outreach possible in their communities. #bookmobileday2018
  • Thursday, April 12: Take Action for Libraries Day, a national library advocacy effort observed for the first time in 2017 in response to proposed cuts to federal funds for libraries.#fundlibraries

Friday, April 6, 2018

Kalinka and Grakkle - three questions with Julie Paschkis

Kalinka and Grakkle
by Julie Paschkis
Peachtree, 2018

Welcome to the final stop on the Kalinka and Grakkle blog tour.  I don't do many blog tours, but I love the artistic style of Julie Paschkis and so am pleased to participate. Her combination of ink and watercolors combines humor with a delicate and detailed art form reminiscent of Ukrainian psysanky

Julie Paschkis was kind enough to answer three questions for me. 
Q: In the author bio for Kalinka and Grakkle, it notes that, "One day, Kalinka flew into Julie's studio when she was rewriting the story "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."  Always helpful, Kalinka turned it into a story about herself (and Grakkle)."  Was that a metaphorical bird that flew into your studio, or an actual one? If it was a real one, I'd love to know what species. (I love birds!)

 A: The bird that flew into my studio was a metaphorical bird. I called her Goldibird at first; the seed of her character was Goldilocks. I always wondered why Goldilocks felt entitled to make herself so at home in someone else’s house. Goldibird was bossy - she just took over everything. I realized that she felt entitled because she thought she was helpful. She was self deluded as well as bossy, but she always meant well. Once the bears were kicked out of the story I renamed her Kalinka. I have had a real bird fly into my house (years ago). I caught it with a big soft towel and then released it back outside. Maybe it left the seed of an idea.

 Q:Just curious, although he's not a bird, is Grakkle's name a reference to the (messy) common grackle?

A: When I imagined what the beast would sound like,  “Grakkk” came to mind. It’s an outraged sound, and a funny sound - not a scary sound. So I called him Grakkle. The name of the bird- grackle -comes from the Latin graculus and means crow or jackdaw.  I guess that the word also originally came from the sound.
Q:  Like many librarians, I review picture books even though I am not an artist.  I try to learn as much as possible about picture book art via informational books, webinars, reviewer chats, and title page information.  As an author/artist, please tell me (and other reviewers) what aspects of a book do you wish we'd give more attention; or what do reviewers often miss?  (to which the polite and diplomatic Julie Paschkis replied ...)

A.  I don’t feel that there is any specific or general thing that reviewers miss. People brings their own stories to the experience of reading a book. I put in as much as I can of my story, but the experience of reading and looking at it will be different for each person. That’s a good thing!

Read and excerpt from Kalinka and Grakkle here.  Kids will surely enjoy this odd-couple friendship story.

Previous stops on the Kalinka and Grakkle blog tour:

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf - a review redux

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf (A StoryPlay Book)

by Mark Teague

TEAGUE, Mark. The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf, illus. by Mark Teague. 48p. Scholastic/Cartwheel. May 2017. Tr $5.99. ISBN 9781338157741.
PreS-Gr 2--When a farmer and his wife decide to move to Florida, they pay the three little pigs for their good work and send them on their way. And so begins the familiar adventure, with a comic twist. One pig spends his wages on potato chips, one buys "sody-pop," and the third, "who was altogether un-pig-like," buys building supplies. Teague's take on the story includes a hapless wolf who is very hungry and only somewhat bad. The three comically large anthropomorphic pigs are painted in Teague's signature action-packed, droll style. Jon Scieszka's The True Story of the Three Little Pigs may be the fractured folktale standard, but Teague's title is a worthy addition to the canon. This is a reissued, smaller variation of the original book (2013) and is repackaged as a "Story Play" book with two new additions--word bubble insets containing questions to promote early literacy skills (e.g., "Why was the wolf able to blow the straw house down?") and suggested writing and drawing prompts. VERDICT This version may suit educators but will be best shared in one-on-one settings because of its new, smaller size. For story-times, choose the original and enjoy these pigs in their full-size glory.

 Copyright © 2017 School Library Journal, the property of Media Source, Inc.  Reprinted here with permission.

All of these resources are available to accompany The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf
 My review of the original format of The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf is here.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Dollar Kids - a review

The Dollar Kids

by Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Illustrated by Ryan Andrews
Candlewick, 2018

After Lowen's friend is killed in a random shooting, he discovers an article describing a program in which families can apply to receive a home in a declining mill town for only one dollar.  Lowen is surprised when his family agrees to apply and is accepted into the program. It's a difficult transition. His father stays on in their old town of Flintlock to continue earning money, while Lowen, his older brother, younger sister, and mother work to fix up their dilapidated new home and get his mother's new family business up and running. Lowen hoped that the move would ease his mind after Abe's death, but life in Millville offers troubles of its own,

"Whereas Mum's shop was going to be a take-out place, the Busy Bee had around ten tables and a small bar.  A sign at the door advised them to seat themselves; they settled into the one remaining booth on the side of the room.  As they did, the noise level dropped to a whisper and all heads turned their way. If Dad were there, he'd probably wave to the onlookers or introduce the family to the people at the closest table. But that wasn't Mum's way. She dropped her eyes to the menu, willing others to be polite and look away.  Anneth pulled out her phone and began texting. Lowen reached to examine the bee-shaped salt and pepper shakers and wished for a moment that he hadn't complained about being hungry.

A man and a woman came in and, noticing that there were no booths left, resigned themselves to a center table. It didn't make sense, but Lowen felt like his family had sat down where they didn't belong."
The Dollar Kids touches on several themes including (but not limited to) moving, friendship, gun violence, grief, and perseverance, but it never gets bogged down and never feels forced. These things are merely part of a difficult period in the life of Lowen Grover's family. The story feels real and forces the reader to consider things from multiple points of view. There is often a rational motivation for behaviors that we might find hurtful or even inexplicable.

The setting and premise for the book is unique, but its best feature is Jacobson's storytelling format.  The book begins with a multi-page comic drawn by Lowen, a talented artist. (Artist Ryan Andrews created the comic artwork.) It is through the comic that we learn the circumstances of Abe's death.  Following the murder, Lowen refuses to draw. Later, as he comes to terms with life in Millville, he slowly begins to draw again and his comics appear sporadically in the latter half of the book. A letter and a final comic bring touching closure to a great story.

This is a tightly woven story, recommended by the publisher for ages 10-14. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Due on a shelf near you in August!

A note from The Dollar Kids author Jennifer Richard Jacobson

An interesting note:

I believe that the offer is now expired, however, the town of Ollolai, Italy, recently sold homes for one euro, with similar restrictions to the ones that "the dollar families" experienced in Millville.  You can read about it on CNN Travel , "Your own Italian home for $1? You can buy it in Ollolai" (Note: CNN's site does contain annoying ads.)

My copy of The Dollar Kids was provided by the publisher at my request.  The Dollar Kids is on this month's Early Reviewers List from LibraryThing (deadline to request is March 26) .

Revised 6/6/18 to correct typos

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Rabbit and the Shadow - a review

The Rabbit and the Shadow 
Eerdmans, 2018
(originally published in France)

It’s a good idea to step out of our cultural bubbles from time to time. One way to do that is experiencing books from other countries. These books often have an instant feel of “otherness,” when compared to our own American canon of children’s literature. Some examples are the dark humour of the British, Jim: Who Ran Away from his Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion (yes, he does get eaten!) , the family realism of Spain’s, Manolito Four-Eyes , and the beautiful, cutting and cautionary,  Queen of the Frogs from Portugal. 

When I entered my name to win a copy of The Rabbit and the Shadow by Mélanie Rutten, I did so because even on my laptop screen, I could tell that the illustrations are exquisite. When I won a copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers, I was also pleased to see that it was originally published in France.

The pen and watercolor illustrations are in gentle hues that fit the story’s outdoor setting. Most are small vignettes that expertly accompany the nearby text.  Rabbit is the story’s main character, but his life becomes entwined with those of the Soldier, the Cat, the Book, a Shadow, and the Stag, Rabbit’s caregiver. When the Soldier forcibly takes Rabbit from his hiding hole, a small vignette manages to encapsulate the vastness of the unknown world, the fierceness of the Soldier and the apprehension of the Rabbit.

The familiar valley lies behind them, and a red sky ahead hints at a dangerous future as the Soldier points his sword toward the future with the Rabbit in his grasp,

“And he dragged the Rabbit off, shouting: ‘On our own! On our own!’ “

The Rabbit and the Shadow is a lengthy, thoughtful book that is best suited for older children.  Although the Soldier has abducted the Rabbit, the Soldier bears him no ill will. The Soldier is merely angry, and the reader will find that the Soldier harbors a secret. The Cat suffers from a recurring dream that will not resolve; the Book searches for knowledge. The Stag searches for his Rabbit. The Shadow searches for nothing, and is ironically enlightening, as Rutten explores the weighty issues of anger, responsibility, separation, and growing up.

Artfully placed in the center of a beautiful yellow-hued palette, are the following words, surrounded by a dreamlike border illustrating the characters’ thoughts

“‘What do you think about
 to feel less afraid?’
asked the Rabbit.
‘Nice things from the past,’
 replied the Soldier,
 ‘like eating rice pudding cake
 when I was little.’

‘You’re still little!’ said the Cat. ‘Me, I think
 about nice things to come.’
‘Like when you’ll have a mustache?’
 teased the Soldier.

The Cat thought about his dream.
They all though for a moment,
about their dreams. “

I don’t know if The Rabbit and the Shadow is typical or exemplary in French children’s literature. Here in the United States, it is strikingly attractive, thoughtful, and distinctive.

If you're interested in reading the best in books from other countries, ALSC recognizes excellence in the category every year. The Mildred L. Batchelder Award is awarded yearly to “the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States.”

This year’s winner of the Mildred L. Batchelder Award is TheMurderer’s Ape by Swedish author, Jakob Wegelius. 

A Big Mooncake for Little Star - a review

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin Little Brown , 2018 Here is an excerpt from my starred review of A Big Mooncake for L...