Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book Review: Lucy Long Ago

Lucy Long Ago: Uncovering the Mystery of Where We Came From by Catherine Thimmesh. (Grades 5-8.)

Long ago, it lived... even before it had a name. It climbed on trees; it roamed the savannah on two legs; it munched on berries and grasses.

In its time, the dinosaurs had been extinct for more than sixty million years. A few million years would pass before modern humans would walk the earth that it now roamed upon

So begins the story of Lucy, a fossilized hominid skeleton, that was discovered in Africa in 1974. The scientists that discovered Lucy were ecstatic. It was just what they were hoping to find. But they soon had questions. Lots of them.

Was Lucy with her small, chimpanzee-like skull more closely related to apes? Or did her human-like pelvis indicate that she was a direct ancestor of modern humans? How old was she? Did she use tools?

In Lucy Long Ago, we get a glimpse at the scientists who discovered Lucy and asked questions about her in order to better understand where we came from. Fossils such as these are extremely rare and the discovery of Lucy changed how many scientists thought about ancient hominids.

Catherine Thimmesh, author of the Sibert-winning Team Moon, delves into this complex subject with aplomb. She explains everything in a clear, concise way. The writing is really tight, moving from an intriguing introduction to the various questions that scientists asked about Lucy and how they went about answering them. I thought it was the perfect amount of information - enough to clearly explain, but not so much that you got bogged down.

The format of the book - many pages are dark with light text on them - perfectly complements the subject. Our ancient ancestors are shrouded in mystery. Photos and illustrations add to the text and sidebars provide information that further clarifies what anthropologists do to find out about the past.

An index, glossary, and list of sources make this a great resource for reports. The clear, concise writing make it great for recreational reading, too. I don't know if this is a topic that many kids will know they're interested in, but the model of Lucy peering mournfully from the cover may be a draw.

I know it's only March, but let the Sibert buzz begin. This is a great follow-up to Team Moon.

Book Review: The Chosen One

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. (Grades 8+)

"If I was going to kill the Prophet," I say, not even keeping my voice low, "I'd do it in Africa."

So begins Kyra's story.

Kyra's thirteen when the Prophet announces that she's been Chosen. God has shown him that Kyra is to be married to Apostle Hyrum.

Apostle Hyrum, who is at least 60 years old.
Apostle Hyrum, who is Kyra's uncle.

Kyra thinks that it must be payback for her sins. She's committed many sins. There's thinking about killing the Prophet, for one. Then there are the books she's been sneaking from the mobile library that stops on the desert road outside the Compound. And then there's Joshua...

But Kyra must commit one more sin. Even if it means risking the lives of the people she loves, she knows that she can't marry Uncle Hyrum.

She's got to get out.
If she can.

When an ARC arrives with literally pages of blurbs from famous authors, bloggers, and reviewers, you take notice. This one's getting a lot of buzz, people. And it's worthy of that buzz because I think it's a book that teens are going to love.

Talk about a main character you're rooting for... Kyra practically jumps off the page. The plot's got enough twists and turns that it kept me on the edge of my seat. The bad guys are seriously bad here and you learn early on that they'll stop at nothing to get their way and keep their power intact.

Then there's the writing. It's not written in verse, but it could have been because some of the passages are just that poetic. Here's a passage* from when Kyra reads her first book from the library, Bridge to Terabithia:

"Who was this Katherine Paterson? Who was this Jesse and Leslie? People the writer knew? I could hardly read this book fast enough.
And when I did
when I got to the end
when I got to the end and
Leslie died
and Jesse was left alone without his best friend
I cried so hard that coming in from my hiding place, my tree, the book stashed in the branches, high in the prickles, Mother Victoria said, "Where have you been, Kyra? I needed help making bread." Then she looked at my face and said, her voice all worried, "Honey, what happened?"

I couldn't tell her a thing. Not a thing about Leslie or May Belle or Jesse all alone. I couldn't tell Mother Victoria a thing about drowning or running or painting." (pp 16-17)

Amanda wonders if it's a good idea to sensationalize a group of people about whom we know very little. It reminds me of a YALSA-BK discussion about Ellen Hopkins's Burned in which some readers felt that the book misrepresented the Mormon/LDS Church. I'm always a fan of author's notes to show how an author researched and/or what inspired her to write the story, but I will say that I firmly believe in reading responsibly. I don't think it's the novelist's responsibility to show all sides of the story or even to disclaimer, but it is our responsibility as readers to question what we read and do our own research. And as adults reading kidlit, maybe it's our responsibility to encourage kids to question and discuss the books they read.

Want more opinions? Check out reviews by Becky and Sarah.

The Chosen One
's due out May 12!

*All quotes are from ARC and may not reflect the final version of the book!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: Come to the Castle

Come to the Castle: A Visit to a Castle in Thirteenth-Century England by Linda Ashman, illustrated by S.D. Schindler. (Grades 2-4.)

In lively verse and detailed pictures, Linda Ashman and S.D. Schindler explore the lives of many different people in the castle. The earl, head of the household, has everything at his command, but he's bored. The solution? He orders a tournament to be planned and we hear from members of the castle community as they plan this event. The herald, the steward, the cook, the suitor, and many more tell their tales as they make ready for the event. The book introduces each person with a poem and then provides additional information about them at the end of the book.

This is a great introduction to the people who might live in a medieval castle. The verses are fun and interesting and they beg to be read aloud. Each person has a distinctive voice, which switches things up a bit.

Here's a bit from the herald's poem:

Robbers hover in the forest.
Wild animals attack.
Steady rain turns roads to rivers.
Constant riding hurts my back.

When the night falls, all the finest sleep in downy castle beds,
While the lesser knights and nobles find an inn to rest their heads.

As for me, I'm in a stable, bumping elbows, knocking knees --
Stuck with ten pathetic travelers, twenty rats, and countless fleas

The illustrations have a lot of intricate detail and many of the initial letters are drawn large and decorated like in medieval scripts. Kids will love little details, like the eyeballs and spare parts that are ground up into mystery meat and the vertical picture that shows the job of the gong farmer (his job was to clean out the privy...).

Each player gets a short, informative blurb at the back of the text that explains a little more about what they did in the castle or defines unfamiliar words used in the poem. All in all, this is a great introduction to the medieval castle. The poems are sure to pique kids' interest and add to any unit on the Middle Ages.

Come to the Castle is on shelves April 14.

It's Nonfiction Monday and Tina's got the roundup at Tales from the Rushmore Kid.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Battle of the (Kids') Books

SLJ has posted their bracket for the 2009 Battle of the (Kids') Books! (Link will open a PDF.)

Round one will kick off the week of April 13, so you have a little time to decide on your picks.

Also, did you know that you can follow the Battle of the Books on Twitter?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Top Ten Picture Books of All Time

So, you've probably heard that Betsy at Fuse #8 is compiling a list of the Top 100 Picture Books of All Time. Have YOU weighed in? You have until the end of March, so hurry hurry! I sent in my picks last week and I'm excited to see what books will make the cut.

There are tons of awesome picture books and everyone's list is going to be different (which is why it's such an interesting question to ask!). So what were my picks?

Abby's Top Ten Picture Books of All Time

1. Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann - This is a classic picture book that works for a big range of ages. The story is funny and the pictures have a lot of adorable detail. It works with a group and it works one-on-one. I love it!

2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle - This one is also a classic. It combines a fun story with counting, vocabulary, and food (which is something that a lot of kids love to read about). The bright illustrations pop off the page.

3. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems - Leonardo is my favorite of Mo Willems's books. The story is a little silly and the pictures are so funny! This is one of my favorites to read aloud because you can be a little dramatic with it.

4. Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg - This has been a favorite story of mine since my school librarian read it to our class in the first grade. I love seeing the world from an ant's point of view where a lawn can be a forest and a cup of coffee can be a lake.

5. Bark George by Jules Feiffer - I love Bark George because it always makes everyone laugh. Kids get a kick out of a dog who's making the wrong sounds and the punchline gets chuckles from the adults.

6. Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman - This is one of my favorites because there are so many great details in the illustrations. Every time I look at it I see something I didn't see before and the details are so funny! Ohhhh when will they make this in a big book format???

7. How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz, illustrated by Steven Kellogg - I have a great love for nonfiction picture books and this is one of the best. Whenever I read it out loud, the kids' jaws drop and they get so excited to learn if these are really true facts. Nonfiction picture books like How Much is a Million? make kids (and adults) want to know more and to seek out more nonfiction picture books!

8. A Hat for Minerva Louise by Janet Stoeke - This is a great winter story and I love Minerva Louise. She is one silly chicken! Kids love pointing out the mistakes that Minerva Louise is making and I love the picture of her with a mitten on her head and one on her tail.

9. Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book by Dr. Seuss - This is another one that was a favorite of mine when I was little. My family would read it together and my brother & I loved pointing out all the different sleeping creatures. A fun bedtime book with lots to look at.

10. How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jan Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague - This series is another classic series and it has staying power for a reason. A great rhyming text and humorous illustrations make this a great readaloud. Dinosaurs are popular with kids and this is one of the best!

So what does this list say about my taste in picture books? I prefer funny books. I love books about animals. And I have a soft spot for books about silly chickens. I also notice a trend in liking books that are written and illustrated by the same person. Only 2 of these 10 books aren't illustrated by the author.

Now you know what I picked for my top ten... what are your favorites? Email Betsy with your top ten or feel free to share your favorites in the comments or post them on your blog!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Around the interwebs

First off, I was given the Sisterhood Award from Sarah at GreenBeanTeenQueen (my favorite name for a blog) and the Zombie Chicken Award (teehee) from Melissa at Book Nut. Thank you, ladies, so much! I love reading your blogs, too!

It's March 27 and you still have a few days to enter Betsy's giveaway for a copy of Savvy by Ingrid Law (read my review here). This was one of my favorite books of 2008 and it won a Newbery Honor, so you won't want to miss it!

Speaking of Betsy, she and Adrienne pointed me to the upcoming celebration of National Poetry Month at GottaBook: Thirty Poets, Thirty Days. Greg's posting a previously unpublished poem by a different poet every day in April. Authors include Jon Scieszka, Linda Sue Park, Jack Prelutsky, Jane Yolen, and (my fave) Douglas Florian.

Thinking about professional development? The ALSC Blog pointed me to the ALSC's online course offerings. If finances and time permit, I'm contemplating the Newbery class.

Sarah at The Reading Zone just posted a press release from the National Federation of the Blind about Braille literacy.

Lisa's got bloggers thinking about intellectual freedom in light of a Wisconsin challenge against a GLBT booklist. There's definitely an interesting conversation going on over there, so check it out.

And I'll leave you with something that is not kidlit related in any way. You've elected to carry a reuseable water bottle instead of buying throwaway bottles. You've bought a lunch box so you can stop bringing your lunch in plastic or paper bags. (Maybe you have a super cool Olivia lunchbox like mine or maybe you don't.) But what about the baggies?!?! Well, Vegan Lunch Box is here to assure you that there are eco-friendly options for those, too. No excuses!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Book Review: White Sands, Red Menace

White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages. (Grades 6+)

It's 1946. They used the Bomb. And suddenly the world is a little more complicated.

Dewey Kerrigan's world is a little more complicated, too. After her father was killed in a car accident, she moved in with her friend Suze Gordon. When the war ended, they moved from The Hill to the small New Mexico town of Alamogordo. And life should be getting back to normal, right? But Dewey's constantly worried that something might happen to take her away from the Gordons - they don't have legal guardianship, after all - and the Gordons are the only people that she can depend on.

Suze has problems of her own. Since Dewey moved in, it's been great living with her best friend, but she's worried that science-minded Dewey is taking her mother's affection. And when she makes a new friend from the Spanish-speaking side of town, she learns that there are prejudices all around her.

Ms. Klages has done an excellent job of capturing the feel of the late '40s - that budding paranoia, the sense that everything's changed and nothing is as safe or easy as it was before. Most of the story is told in vignettes that cover August 1946 through May 1947. I typically don't care for that type of presentation, so it's a testament to Ellen's writing that I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

I loved The Green Glass Sea, so it was great to revisit the characters of Suze and Dewey - best friends that are so, so different. As I read, I sat back and took in the detailed desciptions of 1940s New Mexico. The book's worth reading for the setting alone. I honestly felt like I was there.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ellen Klages and hearing her speak passionately about the research she did for these books. I completely trust that everything's as accurate as she could possibly make it, which makes for absorbing reading. I especially liked this story because, as Ellen points out in her author's note, it's set in a time that often gets skipped over. In college, I took a class on post-war America and I've always been fascinated with this time period. It's so great to read about it in such a detailed and well-researched novel.

In short, I loved White Sands, Red Menace and I can see myself rereading this book in the future (which is something I almost never do). If you're looking for fantastic historical fiction, look no further. Highly recommended. (Um, you'll definitely want to read The Green Glass Sea first.)

Read more reviews at Jen Robinson's Book Page, A Fuse #8 Production, A Patchwork of Books, Oops...Wrong Cookie, and bookshelves of doom (among others). Check out Ellen's website and if you do get a chance to hear her speak, do it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Author Interview: Fiona Bayrock!

I am so pleased to post an interview with Fiona Bayrock as part of her blog tour! Fiona Bayrock is the author of many books for kids, including the recently released Bubble Homes and Fish Farts, which has garnered many rave reviews! Fiona was also the organizer for the 2008 Cybils Non-Fiction Picture Book category.

If you haven't picked up Bubble Homes and Fish Farts, I don't know what you're waiting for. It's an excellent nonfiction book about the many interesting and unusual ways that animals use bubbles. From comunication to protection to just plain fun, animals use bubbles in lots of weird and fantastic ways!

Abby: I had no idea that there were so many animals that used bubbles in so many different ways!

Fiona: Neither did I! It was a delightful surprise.

How did you come up with the idea to write about animals that use bubbles?

Finding clippings about the dolphin bubble rings and spider bubble homes in my idea file got me thinking about the spittlebugs in my garden and recent science news of the fish fart discovery. Here were four very different animals using bubbles in very different ways. I thought it would be a great idea for a book, but I needed many more examples. After a little preliminary research, I had a long enough list to go ahead, and that was that.

Can you tell us a little about your research for this book? Did you have all these animals in mind when you started or did you discover some along the way?

I wrote most of the book under contract, so I needed a complete list of animals in order to submit the proposal to the publisher. However, the list was based on preliminary research, and once I got into the real research a few things changed.

The violet sea snail and water shrew turned up during the research process. Finding hidden gems like that is always exciting. And the star-nosed mole was a last minute addition, as scientists discovered the secrets of its bubble use only after the final manuscript had been accepted, gone through several rounds of editing, and was ready to go to the illustrator. It was a kind of "Stop the Presses! We have to include this!" moment.

Sometimes preliminary research will show something that with further research you discover to be false. That was how the American alligator made it into the original proposal, but not the book. I had included it based on scientific papers by a pair of scientists who had reported seeing alligators blow bubbles as part of their mating ritual. But when I tried to find other sources to corroborate this, I couldn't find any support for it. None. Not even a hint. I eventually contacted an alligator biologist. In the thousands of alligator matings he had observed (Really! What a job, eh?) he'd never seen them blow bubbles before, during, or after mating. With no corroboration, and a good case against, the alligators had to go.

Did your research take you to any interesting places?

The internet allows me to go wherever the experts are. For this book, I talked to scientists in Australia, The Netherlands, England, and all over North America, from Texas to Alaska and British Columbia to Virginia. As luck would have it, one of the key scientists studying humpback whales and herring teaches at a university near me, so he and I spent an afternoon together on campus. I also toured the fish labs at the nearby Vancouver Aquarium, where I interviewed scientists about gourami breeding, dolphins, and beluga whales.

If you had to choose one of the animals in BUBBLE HOMES to be for a day, which one would it be and why?

LOL! Hmm...I think I'd like to be the dolphin. Playing with those bubble rings looks like an awful lot of fun!

How did you get started writing for kids?

I began by writing articles for kids' science magazines such as Odyssey, YES Mag, and WILD, then I moved into writing books for the educational and subscription markets. Now I write mostly trade books, some poetry, and the odd article here and there.

On your website, you mention that you've talked to scientists all over the world. Who's the most interesting person you've talked to and what did you talk about?

They're all interesting. And I'm not just saying that to be diplomatic. It's true. Each one has followed his or her passion, asked questions, and then devoted years to seeking the answers, often in very creative ways. When people talk about what is meaningful to them, the passion resonates and the subject is vibrant. I love being a part of that, whether I'm listening to the lead scientist on the Beagle Mission to Mars or the biologist who proved a simple relationship between two textures on the back of a tiny beetle no one's ever heard of.

You've served on Cybils panels, so I know you've read tons of non-fiction kids' books. What are a few of your favorites?

You are so right! But oh, that's such a hard question to answer because I know I'll miss a bunch. I'll just say I adored the Cybils winners the two years I served on panels: Nic Bishop Frogs by Nic Bishop, and Lightship by Brian Floca. That should keep me out of trouble.

Thanks so much, Fiona! :)

Thanks for having me, Abby. It's a pleasure to talk with a fellow nonfiction-ophile. :^)

And, readers, thanks for tuning in! Remember to pick up Bubble Homes and Fish Farts for the young animal lover in your life and check out Fiona's other stops on her tour:

March 23: The Well-Read Child
March 24: Right here!
March 25: A Year of Reading
March 26: Celebrate Story
March 27: Becky's Book Reviews

Something Maybe on Shelves Now!

Last month, I reviewed Elizabeth Scott's wonderful teen novel Something Maybe, and today's the official release date! Read what I had to say about it here and then run out and get your copy!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review: Freedom Walkers

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman. (Grades 4+)

Okay, so you knew about Rosa Parks. But did you know that there were two other women arrested before her because they wouldn't give up their seats on Montgomery's segregated buses? Did you know that the Montgomery bus boycott lasted over a year and that many people walked miles each day just to get to work or school or piano lessons?

If you think you know about the Montgomery bus boycott, you might want to pick up this book. If nothing else, it's got tons of photos that bring the people involved in the boycott to life. And who knows? You might just learn something.

I mean... it's Russell Freedman. Of course it's going to be well-written, accurate, and informative. It's definitely a compelling story, especially in light of the country's first black President being elected. What I wasn't expecting were so many great photos. They definitely brought the period to life, especially the many photos showing segregated areas. It seems so ridiculous today - how do you segregate a Coke machine?? But that's how it was.

The kids who will pick this one up will find an accessible story and much to think and talk about. I do have to wonder how many kids will be picking it up, though. Even now knowing the story behind the cover photos, I think it looks like a dull book, and I don't think this will be the nonfiction book to win the Caudill award. That said, it's an important story to know and I'd recommend it to kids interested in history or studying civil rights in school.

If kids want to know more about integration, I can highly recommend Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges or Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals (both are about school integration). Kids may also be interested in Freedom Riders by Ann Bausum, which is about young people testing the bus integration laws.

Read another review of Freedom Walkers at Maw Books.

Book Review: Bubble Homes and Fish Farts

Bubble Homes and Fish Farts by Fiona Bayrock, illustrated by Carolyn Conahan. (Grades 2-4.)

Did you know that animals use bubbles in all kinds of different ways? Sea otters use bubbles to keep themselves warm. Water spiders live in bubbles under the water. Spittlebug nymphs use bubbles to hide themselves until they're full-grown. And yes, herring "fart" (Fast Repetitive Ticks or FaRTs are the terms scientists use), possibly as a way to communicate with each other.

In Bubble Homes and Fish Farts, you'll learn about the ways many different animals use bubbles. It's told in a really accessible style that's sure to hook kids' interest and the beautiful illustrations include funny little text bubbles that add some humor. This will definitely be popular with any kid who likes animals (and, really, what kid doesn't like animals?).

Each animal gets a two-page spread that includes information about how they use bubbles as well as their name, Latin name, and a beautiful illustration. A section in the back of the book gives additional information, including the size of the animal, its habitat and range, and more facts about it. The book also includes a glossary.

And c'mon - the booktalk practically writes itself. I can picture myself standing in front of a class of third-graders and just telling them the title. They'll be clamoring for it and they won't be disappointed!

Read more reviews at Jen Robinson's Book Page, The Well-Read Child, and The Miss Rumphius Effect. Don't miss Fiona's website or Carolyn's website. Fiona also blogs at Books and 'Rocks and you might want to check out Bubble Stampede where Fiona and fellow author Laura Purdie Salas blog about promoting their new books.

This is a book you won't want to miss... and stay tuned because coming tomorrow I'll have an interview with Fiona as part of her blog tour!

Check out the blog tour schedule:

March 23: The Well-Read Child
March 24: Right here!
March 25: A Year of Reading
March 26: Celebrate Story
March 27: Becky's Book Reviews

Happy Nonfiction Monday! MotherReader's got the roundup this week, so be sure you pop over there and check it out!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Around the interwebs

Did anyone else completely miss the announcement that, beginning in 2010, there will be a YALSA award for YA nonfiction? Thanks to Fiona for the link!

I know I've linked to the Share a Story, Shape a Future blog event, but I feel that Pam's post on taking library storytimes home deserves a special mention. She offers some great suggestions for parents on how to recreate the storytime experience in your own home.

Speaking of sharing books at home, The Book Chook has a great interview with blogger Valerie Baartz. Valerie shares lots of information about how she incorporates early literacy into her daily routine with her two young kids. You'll also want to check out Valerie's blog The Almost Librarian, which has early literacy tips and great book lists.

On a completely different note, Scott Westerfeld's got a piece up - On Ghostwriting. I'd never really thought about ghostwriters before, but Scott gives a great peek into that hidden world. Thanks to Liz for the link.

Blogger and author extraordinaire Anastasia Suen has started a new blog in celebration of National Poetry Month. Pencil Talk will be a compilation of poems written by K-12 students and posted during April. Definitely something to keep your eye on.

And last, but not least, if you (like me) find it hard to keep up with all the YA books being turned into movies, check out Sarah's post about upcoming YA movies. She's got the scoop on Maximum Ride, The Lightning Thief, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and more... all in one convenient post!

Now, since it's my day off, I am going to sink my teeth into The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which I have finally gotten my hands on! Happy Friday!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Book Review: Crossing the Wire

Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs. (Grades 5-8.)

Ever since his father died, Victor Flores has been the man of the house. He plants and sells corn to support himself and his mother and younger siblings. It's a hard life and they're just scraping by, but when the price of corn falls disastrously, Victor knows he has no choice but to try and get across the border to El Norte where he can make enough money to support his family. It won't be easy. Victor doesn't have the money to hire a coyote to sneak him across and there are miles of desert between him and the American towns that he hopes will be his ticket to work and money. But Victor's got to try. This is his family's only hope.

This was an adventure story with lots of action and characters that had tough decisions to make. I wouldn't expect anything less from Will Hobbs.

In the author's note, Mr. Hobbs writes,

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the majority of illegal crossings along the U.S./Mexican border were deflected from populated areas to the most remote deserts and mountains of Arizona, with more and more people dying every year. I was moved to learn all I could, and to write a story that would put a human face on the complex and controversial subject of illegal immigration. (pg 215)

This story certainly does put a human face on illegal immigration. It's sure to spark discussions and debates just as it's sure to entertain. There's hardly a break in the action as Victor doesn't have an easy time crossing the border. Some people betray him while others provide unexpected kindnesses. Small twists and turns in the plot make this an enjoyable read and the sizzling desert landscape burns through every page.

I'd recommend this one to fans of adventure stories and if kids are interested in other stories of border crossings, hand them La Linea by Ann Jaramillo and Libertad by Alma Fullerton.

Read MotherReader's thoughts on it and check out Will Hobbs's website for more info about him and his books. HarperCollins offers a teachers' guide (link opens a PDF) for the book, which includes classroom activities and discussion guides.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book Review: The Thing About Georgie

The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff. (Grades 4-6.)

The thing about Georgie is that he's a dwarf. The thing about Georgie's mom is that she's having a baby - a baby that will eventually be taller than him. The thing about Georgie's best friend Andy is that he's making a new best friend and leaving Georgie out. And the thing about the meanest girl in Georgie's class is that she's going to be Georgie's partner for their history project. Could fourth grade get any worse??

The thing about The Thing About Georgie is that even though the main character has dwarfism, the story's about a fourth grade boy who is facing changes in his family and his friends. Of course, his dwarfism affects his life in some ways, but this isn't a story about a boy dealing with dwarfism. It's a story about a boy who's dealing with changes happening in his life and learning that things will still be okay. And this boy happens to have dwarfism.

Besides the fact that this is a character with a disability in a book that's about more than dealing with disability, I loved that all the supporting characters were well-developed. The reader gets a real sense of Andy's Italian family and Georgie's supportive, musical parents. I also felt like Georgie's relationship with Jeanie the Meanie happened organically. She's definitely an oddball, but I believed everything that happened with them. Georgie himself is a great character - imperfect, but likeable.

Hand this one to fans of realistic fiction and school stories. This first novel of Lisa Graff's isn't quite as spot-on as Andrew Clements, but I think it will appeal to his many fans.

Read more reviews at Shelf Elf, Big A little a, MotherReader, and kidsreads.com. Read interviews with Lisa Graff at Bildungsroman, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, The Longstockings, Miss Erin, Fuse #8, Cynsations, and MotherReader (whew!). Lisa blogs with her writing group at The Longstockings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

ARC Contest!

Hey guys, remember awhile back when I posted about some upcoming books I was looking forward to? Remember how one of those books was Breathing by Cheryl Renee Herbsman? Well, she's giving away an ARC over at her blog. So go enter. But only if you promise to share it with me if you win. (Just kidding, you don't actually have to share it with me. I can wait....... I suppose.......)

Booktalks on Women's History

Happy Nonfiction Monday! L.L. Owens has got the roundup, so head over there to see what nonfiction the Kidlitosphere is reading this week.

I'm going to a school this week to do some booktalks and they requested some materials for Women's History Month. I did similar booktalks last year, but here's what I'm taking this year.

I'll Pass for Your Comrade by Anita Silvey. During the Civil War, women were not allowed to fight, but many of them donned men's clothes and joined the army anyway. They had lots of reasons - some followed husbands or brothers, some wanted the bounty given to soldiers, and still others were so passionate about the cause that they felt compelled to do their part. In I'll Pass for Your Comrade, we learn how women disguised themselves, how they kept their secrets, and what happened to them if they were found out. The text is highly readable and it's accompanied by tons of great photos that bring these women to life. This is a great one for history buffs.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone. As NASA developed the space program and planned to send (male) astronauts to the moon in the 1960s, there were 13 women who took and passed the same physical and psychological tests that the male astronauts took. The "Mercury 13", as these women were called, were not allowed to train as astronauts. Almost Astronauts tells the story of these extraordinary women and their fight for equal treatment. (FYI, the woman to go into space was Sally Ride in 1983.)

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Suffragist: A Protest Movement That's Rougher Than You Expected by Fiona MacDonald. Think you know about American women's fight for the right to vote? It may have been a lot rougher than you think! Women went to great lengths to make their voices heard. Some set fire to mailboxes or assaulted police officers; many spent time in jail. This cartoon history gives an overview of the struggle for suffrage and many of the women who fought for equal rights.

Our Eleanor: A Scrapbook Look at Eleanor Roosevelt's Remarkable Life and The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary, both by Candace Fleming. Okay, there are lots of biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt and of Abraham Lincoln, but these books are pretty unique. They're each done in a scrapbook format, collecting lots of little stories and anecdotes like you might in a scrapbook. The thing I really like about this is that you can skip around and read the parts that interest you. Eleanor Roosevelt is obviously a very important woman in history. And I include a book about the Lincolns because Candace Fleming's written a book that puts the woman back into the story.

Looking for more books for Women's History Month? Check out the Amelia Bloomer Project and Wild Rose Reader's list of resources.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book Review: The White Giraffe

The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John. (Grades 4-6.)

When 11-year-old Martine's parents are killed in a house fire, she's shipped off to South Africa to live with a grandmother who doesn't seem to want anything to do with her. Unspeakably sad and somewhat of an outcast at school, the only thing Martine can be happy about is the lush African wilderness that surrounds her new game reserve home. When she hears stories about a mythical white giraffe that supposedly lives on the reserve, Martine is skeptical... until one rainy night when the white giraffe appears to her and Martine finds out that she must meet her destiny.

My favorite thing about this book is the rich setting. Lauren St. John lived on a reserve in Zimbabwe when she was a child and her experience with the animals and plants really shows in this book. It's quite a pleasant thing to be reading in cold, wet Chicagoland and find yourself transported to a lush jungle.

The White Giraffe kept reminding me of Lionboy, another kid-talks-to-animals fantasy book that I really enjoyed. Martine's a likeable character with a special gift that many kids will envy - the ability to speak to (kind of) and heal animals. I wish the background characters were a little more well-developed and, to be completely honest, I found some parts of it to be a little hokey. Overall, I think this is a story that will appeal to kids and I think the cover and title alone are enough to intrigue.

For those who do pick up the book and enjoy it, Ms. St. John has penned a few other adventures with Martine - Dolphin Song (2008) and The Last Leopard (March, 2009). It looks like a fourth book - The Elephant's Tale - is due out in the UK in August, but I don't know when it'll be hitting the shelves in the US.

Check out Lauren St. John's beautiful website to find out a bit more about her and her books. Read more reviews at Fuse #8 (where Betsy addresses the issue of Martine's race) and Deliciously Clean Reads. There's a booktalk posted at Booktalks - Quick and Simple. And definitely worth noting is that it looks like Walden Media is making a movie starring AnnaSophia Robb (yeah you know her; she was Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia). As far as I can tell, it's slated to be released this year. Read an interview with Ms. St. John on Walden Media's site.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Addicted to...?

Trisha tagged me for the five things I'm addicted to meme. So, without further ado...

1. America's Next Top Model. It is true! I am not ashamed! I really started watching this show about a year ago when my best friend came up here to visit me and now we're both obsessed. They've been rerunning past seasons of it on Oxygen and I've been recording them. In the past few weeks I've watched 3 or 4 seasons in their entirety and portions of other seasons. I love hate love it when they cry over their haircuts. :)

2. Books about medical issues. Maybe it's because my mom's a doctor, but I've always been interested in novels about diseases, surgery, psych hospitals... you name it! (Anyone have recommendations? Amanda and I already bonded over our shared childhood love of A Night Without Stars!)

3. Gag reels on DVDs. They are my favorite extra and I get really disappointed when they're not included.

4. Musicals. Ohhh how I love them! My all-time favorite is Miss Saigon. Runner up is Phantom. My sophomore year at IU, I was an usher at the IU Auditorium and got to see a whole bunch of shows for free. Ahhh, how I miss that perk... Since I moved to Chicagoland (just over two years ago), I've seen Wicked (twice), The Color Purple, Jersey Boys, and Sweeney Todd.

5. Shopping at Trader Joe's. Before I moved up here, I'd never lived in a place that had Trader Joe's. I love their tomato soup, their tomato-broccoli pesto frozen pizza, and pretty much every kind of cookie they have. Every time my friends or parents come up to visit, we have to stop at Trader Joe's. One time when a group of friends came up, we went three separate times over one weekend.

I'm not so into the tagging, so if you wanna do it or you're looking for something to do this weekend, consider yourself tagged!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

And the winners are...

My sources just texted me (thanks, J*!) and I'm happy to announce the winners of the 2009 Monarch Award and Rebecca Caudill Award.

The 2009 Monarch winner is Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude!

The 2009 Rebecca Caudill winner is The Lightning Thief!

Congratulations to the winners!!

(No word yet on the runners up, but I'll post that info as soon as I have it!)

ETA (11:03p) - The runners up for the Monarch are Skippyjon Jones in 2nd place and Superhero ABC in third place. The runners up for the Caudill are The Invention of Hugo Cabret in 2nd place and Shug in 3rd place.

*It was literally perfect timing. I had just turned to N and asked when she thought they would announce the winners. And she said that it would probably be a little bit later. And I said "I want to know now!" and like 60 seconds later I got the text. We are obviously made of win.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Around the interwebs

Oh my gosh, y'all. I feel so behind. I've been a little under the weather lately and I feel like I haven't actually written a blog post in forever. What I have been doing is rereading The Hunger Games (and I loved it even more the second time around, if that's possible). Who is going to be a dear and swipe me an ARC of Catching Fire from BEA? ;)

So let's catch up on the blogging world, shall we?

This wonderful thing's been going on - the Share a Story, Shape a Future Blog Tour. I'm a little bit late as it started, um, two days ago, but that link will take you to the complete schedule. Bloggers around the Kidlitosphere are posting about early literacy, selecting books, reading aloud, libraries, and reading & technology. Definitely worth checking out.

Mary Lee's just posted the 2009 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts. From her post:

Books considered for this annual list are works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry written for children, grades K-8. The books must meet one or more of the following criteria:
  • deal explicitly with language, such as plays on words, word origins, or the history of language;
  • demonstrate uniqueness in the use of language or style;
  • invite child response or participation.
In addition, books are to:
  • have an appealing format;
  • be of enduring quality;
  • meet generally accepted criteria of quality for the genre in which they are written.
Looks like a great list! I'm quite happy to see Ringside 1925 on the list as that's one of my favorite 2008 books that didn't seem to get much recognition.

Sarah's posted A Day in the Life of a Teen Librarian, which was lovely to read. One fascinating thing about librarians is that we each spend our days very differently. (Or maybe that's not fascinating... It's fascinating to me, anyhow.)

Waaaaay back in February, 100 Scope Notes posted an interview with author/illustrator Laurie Keller. I love Ms. Keller's books (especially The Scrambled States of America) and it's a great interview.

Sarah Miller pointed me to Editorial Anonymous's series - Definitions for the Perplexed. How exactly does an advance work? What's an F&G? If your book is strippable, is that good or bad? What do the numbers in an ISBN mean? If you've ever wondered about any of that, head on over there.

And also waaay back in February, Jennie posted about why she thought We Are the Ship shouldn't have won the Sibert Award. (Finally! Someone else who was bothered by the omission of the women who played in the Negro Leagues! Although she has many more reasons than just that!) Now, I liked We Are the Ship and I don't know that I completely agree with Jennie, but she's definitely got some interesting points.

Last, but not least, Shannon Hale posted (over three weeks ago.. sigh. I am not on the ball) about Confusion vs. Mystery in writing. I think it sums up pretty perfectly why I did not like Jellicoe Road. I didn't trust the author to explain everything, so I felt confused and frustrated instead of intrigued and invigorated. Maybe it's all my own fault because the Printz committee and most of my Cybils panel vehemently disagreed with me... Ah, well.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

8:30a - Arrive at work, turn computers on, etc. Check email.

8:45a - Set up story room for a class visit.

9:00a - On desk, wait for class to arrive. Look through storytime database to find felts for storytime.

9:15a - Class arrives, do booktalks. This class is a special ed class from one of the local middle schools and they come once a month for booktalks and to check out books.

9:30a - Class looks for books and I help them find things.

10:00a - Class leaves, clean up the room and talk to coworker about storytime. We get our books together, go over the stories and felts, pull browsing books.

10:30a - In office, check email.

10:55a - Open the doors for storytime - we have a big crowd today!

11:00a - Storytime. We read the following books: I Ain't Gonna Paint No More (sung), Who's in the Tub, I've Been Working on the Railroad (sung), and Leo the Late Bloomer, plus we did a felt story of The Cake That Mack Ate and sang Old MacDonald Had a Farm with puppets.

11:30a - Storytime's over, let everyone out. Clean up room.

11:45a - Meet with boss about our website.

11:55a - Lunch time! A new Jimmy John's opened up down the street, so a couple of us head down there. Yum!

1:00p -3:00p - Back from lunch and on desk. Between questions I work on my collection development list. Here's a sampling of questions I'm asked:

Can you give me info about this program that I missed?
Who wrote the books in this series?
I need to request a book to be checked out on a teacher card.
What order do the books in this series go in?

3:00p - Off desk, head down to circ to solve school loan bag mystery. (It has since been solved.)

3:30p - Work on some preschool loans.

4:00p - On desk again.

Can you put these two books on hold for me?
Can I register for this program?
Do you have nonfiction books on this topic?
Can you help me with this computer program?
Do you have this CD-ROM?

5:00p - Time to head home!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Book Review: A Small White Scar

A Small White Scar by K.A. Nuzum. (Grades 5-8)

Ever since Will's mom died, Will's been the one to look out for his feeble-minded twin brother Denny, but at fifteen Will has had enough. He's leaving his dad's ranch. He's leaving Denny behind. He's going to La Junta by himself and he's going to win first place at the rodeo and get a job with another ranch. He's going to start his own life. Finally. But when Will leaves for the rodeo, Denny tags along. And Denny gets in trouble. And Will has to save him. Again. How can Will hope to have his own life if he's constantly stuck with Denny?

Set in Colorado in 1940, this is a great western adventure story complete with roaring rivers, rattlesnakes, bull riding, and more. Will's a conflicted main character, trapped between finding his own happiness and fulfilling his familial responsibility. It's not an easy place to be and Will doesn't have an easy time of it.

Ms. Nuzum paints a vivid picture of the rough Colorado landscape and Will's struggle to decide between his family and his future is one that will stick with me for a long time. One slight critique I have is that I didn't really understand why it was set in the past. Maybe they don't have rodeos like that anymore, I don't know, but it seemed like a story that could have worked just as well in the present day.

Anyhoo, that's just me being persnicketty. This is a great adventure story with strong characters and a lot of action.

Check out K.A. Nuzum's website (which, I swear, just barked at me)!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Book Review: Starclimber

Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel. (Grades 5+)

If you haven't read Airborn and Skybreaker, I'm quite sure I don't know what you're waiting for. Talk about excellent fantasy adventure... I can't recommend these books enough. I was so very excited to find out that Kenneth Oppel had written a third book and I absolutely wasn't disappointed.

In Starclimber, Matt Cruse is offered the chance to qualify for the first ever team of astralnauts. The Space Race is on between Canada and France and Matt is determined to be on the first ship into space. To sweeten the deal, his beloved Kate will be going on the expedition to search for extraterrestrial life. But Matt's not sure he'll make it through the extremely tough qualifying trials and Kate's sufferagette antics cause her father to think twice about allowing her on the expedition. Will they both make it into the ether? And what is waiting up there for them?

Okay, so I loved this book. I love the characters of Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries so much that there was no way I wasn't going to love this book. It's full of action. There are tons of details about the alternate history that Oppel has created for us. It's an incredibly intriguing world in which airships rule the sky and people are finding ways into space around the turn of the century.

That said, I had to suspend my disbelief a lot. I mean, it's a fantasy world and an alternate history, so some suspension of disbelief is definitely expected. But while in Airborn and Skybreaker I could buy that the fantastic stuff could work with the inventions and discoveries Oppel worked into the world, in Starclimber I repeatedly thought to myself that there's no way this space travel would ever have worked. Now, I've read a little about space travel but I'm by no means an expert. Plus, I trust that Mr. Oppel has done his research. But a lot of the space stuff just really seemed like a stretch to me.

Even with my disbelief suspended all out of whack, I loved this book. That'll tell you just how much I loved the characters and the writing. I couldn't put it down. And I don't read series*, but I would definitely read more stories about Matt and Kate if Mr. Oppel chooses to write them. :)

I have to give mad props to my fellow blogger Sarah over at GreenBeanTeenQueen for sending me her ARC (my library still hasn't received its copies, so you saved me from a lot of agony).

You'll want to check out Kenneth Oppel's website, which has a lot of neat stuff, and check out another review at Reading Rants!

*Okay, I say that I don't read series, but I can think of lots of series that I do read. Like Percy Jackson and Chronicles of Ancient Darkness and Luxe. So maybe I should stop saying that I don't read series. I still really appreciate standalone books, though.

Mini-Review: Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis. (Grades 4-7)

I listened to the audio recording of this one on my way back from Springfield in October 2007 (pre-blog). Here's what I wrote about it:

"Emma Jean sees the world a bit differently from most of the seventh graders at her school. She is a master of observation, though she doesn't always understand why people act the way they do. She remains detached and it's very hard to get under her skin, so even though she doesn't have any friends her age, she's not bothered by that fact. When she comes upon Colleen crying in the bathroom, Emma Jean discovers that she can use her problem-solving abilities to help her fellow students. And so she proceeds to "help" Colleen with a project that eventually backfires mightily.

Colleen is pretty much the exact opposite of Emma Jean. She lets EVERYTHING get under her skin and is quite prone to crying in the bathroom (or her bedroom or her church or the car or...). At first grateful for Emma Jean's listening ear, Colleen is horrified when she finds out what Emma Jean's done to help. Colleen is certain her life is over. When she's finally able to talk out her problems, she finds that maybe what Emma Jean did was not so bad. And maybe Colleen needs to take another look at her own perceptions of the people in her life.

I feel like I say this about every book I like, but Emma Jean has unforgettable characters and it's both funny and touching. This book explores the meaning of friendship and popularity without being preachy or scandalous. I really enjoyed it."

Read more reviews at The Reading Zone, Fuse #8, Kidsreads.com, A Year of Reading, Shelf Elf, A Patchwork of Books, and Semicolon. Check out Lauren Tarshis's website and be aware that there's a sequel coming in May: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love.

Monday, March 2, 2009

History Night at Anderson's Bookshop

Last week my friend J and I headed down to Anderson's Bookshop for a history night. They had Sally M. Walker (author of Secrets of a Civil War Submarine), Larry Day (illustrator of the Cybils finalist Duel!), and Candace Fleming (author of The Lincolns).

All the authors gave great talks, but I was especially excited to see Sally M. Walker because I so loved Secrets of a Civil War Submarine. She talked a bit about her newest release: Written in Bone. I wanted to read it before, but hearing her talk about it makes me want to read it even more! She accompanied a forensic anthropologist who excavated graves at the colony of Jamestown. By studying the bones in these unmarked graves, scientists found out all kinds of information about the people who lived and died there. It kinda makes you think... what might your bones say about you?

Larry Day talked about his research for the illustrations in Duel! and about the special details he put into the pictures. And Candace Fleming totally made me want to read a book about Lincoln (which is something I never thought would happen... no offense, but in Illinois, Lincoln is kind of shoved down our throats...). She talked about her unique approach to capturing the stories of Lincoln and his wife by including Mary Todd Lincoln.

All of the authors gave great talks and answered questions and signed books. It was another great author event by Anderson's Bookshop (what would we do without them?).

Happy Nonfiction Monday! The roundup is over at Books Together.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Keeping my Readers' Advisory skills sharp

I want to post today about a local middle school assignment that I think is really interesting. I don't know the exact parameters of the assignment, but the kids are required to go to a library and/or bookstore and ask for three book recommendations - two fiction and one nonfiction. They'll take the recommendations to their teacher for approval and do a book report on one of the recommended books.

As a librarian, it's a great opportunity to speak with kids about what they like to read and to recommend some of the great books we've been reading. We don't always get a chance to do readers' advisory for these middle school kids because a lot of them are able to find what they want to read on their own. It's interesting to see what diverse subjects and genres they like and hopefully we can suggest something great that they might not have found on their own.

It's also a great chance to brush up on our readers' advisory and practice impromptu booktalks. I've booktalked The Hunger Games, Phineas Gage, Perfect You, Freeze Frame, Bodies from the Ice, Into the Wild, and others this week. I make sure to tell them that we're always happy to make book recommendations, either for book reports or pleasure reading.

There are two things that I really like about this assignment:

1. It brings kids into the library, so of course I love that. It gives us a chance to talk with kids and it gives them a chance to see what we can do for them. Hopefully they'll keep coming in to the library to get books or just to say hi.

2. It gives the kids a chance to read and write about a book that hopefully they will really like. I can't think of a better way to inspire a lifelong love of reading than helping kids find books they love and giving them school credit for it!