Sunday, May 21, 2017

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

Another quiet week, which is totally fine as I am trying desperately to catch up. Annual is in a month!

Gifted: I attended the first ever SLJ Innovator's Basecamp at Simmons College in Boston yesterday. Rita Williams-Garcia was the closing keynote speaker and each attendee received a copy of her latest book, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground. I was first in line to have mine signed to my students and whispered that I had the honor of writing the SLJ review of this profound and lovely story.


Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia. 166 p. Amistad/ HarperCollins Publishers, May 9, 2017. 9780062215949.

Publisher synopsis: From beloved Newbery Honor winner and three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner Rita Williams-Garcia comes a powerful and heartfelt novel about loss, family, and love that will appeal to fans of Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander.
Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen—he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live.

Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.

Also gifted: one of the conference organizers put out a selection of books for the taking. I chose this one:

Voyager's Greatest Hits: the epic trek to interstellar space by Alexandra Siy. 80 p. Charlesbridge, June 13, 2017. 9781580897280.

Publisher synopsis: 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the Voyager mission as the twin space probes that traveled to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, now journey beyond our solar system into interstellar space, where no probe has ventured before.
Learn the fascinating story of the scientists, how the Voyager probes work, where the probes have been and what they’ve seen, and what they carry on board—including the Golden Record, a recording of sounds and images about life on Earth.
Critically acclaimed science writer Alexandra Siy chronicles the ongoing saga of the Voyagers in a lively story full of nail-biting moments, inspiring scientists, and incredible NASA images.

For review:

King of the Bench: Control Freak by Steve Moore. King of the Bench series #2. 214 p. Harper/ HarperCollins Publishers, September 12, 2017. 9780062203328.

Publisher synopsis: In the second book of this new, highly illustrated middle grade series by the nationally syndicated cartoonist of “In the Bleachers,” Steve reprises his role as perpetual bench-warmer. Perfect for fans of Timmy Failure and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, King of the Bench is an ode to teammates, underdogs, and bench-warmers everywhere.
Steve is King of the Bench. No brag. That’s just a fact. And this season, Steve and his friends are ready to sit on the sidelines of the Spiro T. Agnew Middle school football field. But then they stumble upon an old-school video game controller, and they become convinced it can control sports plays. With it, Steve might become King of Football too!
Oh, and if you’re wondering why Steve would write a book and tell complete strangers about a mysterious magic device that pretty much controlled his first season on the football team, too bad! It’s a strict rule when writing a book that you have to build suspense first.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

SLJ Innovator Basecamp

So, I'm in Boston for my first ever SLJ Innovator Basecamp! I have never been able to get to one of their summits (Get it? Basecamp, summit?)  partly because that's usually in September and school's just gearing up and once because I didn't register early enough. So when I saw the ad for the Basecamp in Boston, I was on it in a flash. A plus was, it was an opportunity to visit #4, who lives nearby.

I am very excited about the whole program and had trouble choosing my breakout sessions! Looking forward to a fantastic day!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: Moto and Me by Suzi Eszterhas

Moto and Me: my year as a wildcat's foster mom by Suzi Eszterhas. 40 p. Owlkids Books, April, 2017. 9781771472425. (Review from copy borrowed from public library.)

I was browsing the new books section at my spectacular public library  the other day. Honestly, I love the public library that is conveniently located across the street from my school! My own town's library is small and lovely and completely serviceable, thanks to the ability to ILL. My second public library, the one I visit most often is Amazing! 

Now, I ask you, how can you possibly resist this cover? It definitely has the "aw" factor. Once lured, readers are in for a lovely memoir of the months the author/ photographer spent fostering a serval. A serval is a medium-sized, spotted African wildcat. They have the longest legs and the biggest ears of all the cats for their body size, lending an air of goofiness. They use those long legs to jump really high and run really fast. (p. 38)

Ms. Eszterhas is a wildlife photographer who travels the world photographing animals. She spent nearly three years in the Masai Mara, a wildlife preserve in Kenya. Moto, named for the Masai word for fire, was being carried by his mother across a road to escape a brush fire, when she was startled by a jeep carrying tourists. She dropped her kitten and fled to safety at the side of the road. The jeep stopped to investigate; but the tourists didn't see her and they carried the helpless kitten to a park ranger, who then contacted the author. The kitten was only about two weeks old and required a lot of attention and care. She also had to take care not to domesticate him. 

The story is engaging and well-organized. The font is pleasing and there's plenty of white space. There are plenty of well-captioned photographs documenting all the milestones in Moto's life. Some are full-page, some are collages and others are more snapshot-sized. Each one is cuter than the last. Case in point, my class was doing some writing so I thought I'd work on this post. A student looked over as I flipped through the book and said, "Aw-w! Let me see!" Soon, there was a gaggle of sixth graders oohing over it. See what I mean? Display this prominently and it won't spend much time on the shelf.

The book has value as a conversation starter in a conservation unit or as an introduction to said unit. It can also be used as a mentor text in a memoir unit. A final page in the book contains additional facts about servals. There is no other back matter. The book is dedicated to all the wildlife rescuers in the world. According the jacket flap, a portion of the royalties are being donated to the Mara Conservancy. Visit Ms. Eszterhas' beautiful website here. This is the first book I've read by the author, but won't be my last. I am shocked that I have missed her work. Don't you! Moto and Me is a wonderful addition to any collection.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Non-Fiction Monday: The Search for Olinguito: discovering a new species by Sandra Markle

The Search for Olinguito: discovering a new species by Sandra Markle. 40 p. Millbrook Press/ Lerner Publishing Group, January, 2017. 9781512410150. (Review from purchased copy.)

I'm a great fan of Sandra Markle's work. She not only writes accessibly but beautifully about her subjects, but they are always unique and fascinating. (Great Leopard Rescue, The Great Monkey Rescue, The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats, to name but a few.)

This short book highlights and celebrates scientific curiosity. What is science, after all, but the work of curious people? People who are careful observers who also have open minds, and, in many cases in the past, a good deal of courage and commitment. (Galileo springs to mind as does Semmelweis.)

In The Search for Olinguito, scientist Kristofer Helgen, who worked for the Smithsonian and was in charge of its mammal collection, noticed that a pelt of an animal classified as an olingo looked rather different than the rest of the olingo pelts. Olingos are mammals that are related to raccoons. They live in Central and South America. (p.7) He wondered if this was just a case of specimens from different regions or whether it was a different species. Museums around the world house olingo specimens as researchers have been studying them for over a hundred years. Thus he set out on what would be a ten-plus year quest to establish the fact that there indeed was a new species in the raccoon family tree!

The storytelling is compelling here as Markle deftly explains the science; folds in past research and not only connects all the dots in Helgen's work, but brings the scientist to life. His work required a load of patience, lots of travel as well as a campout in the cloud forest in Ecuador.

Plenty of full-color photos and maps illustrate the story of scientific sleuthing in action. This is perfect for any science class or career-readyness unit and is just the ticket for getting students excited about science. Backmatter includes an author note, source notes, tips for being a science detective, a glossary and three websites and a book for further reading. The book is beautifully designed as well, with green backgrounds decorated with green leaves lending a color to the already vibrant text. 

I do have one question though - why is it that while it was the reddish fur that first attracted Helgen's attention (photo, p. 9), subsequent photos of the olinguito(s) they found in the cloud forest do not appear to have that distinctive red coat?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Review: How to Build a Museum by Tonya Bolden

How to Build a Museum: Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture by Tonya Bolden. 60 p. Smithsonian series. Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, September, 2016. 9780451476371. (Review from purchased copy.)

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is free to the public, as are all of the Smithsonian museums, only, since its debut in September of 2016, it has become the hottest ticket in town. Seriously, if you are going to DC, don't plan on wandering in as you would all the other museums. You need to reserve a ticket online and there are none available until September. Only those won't be released until July! So, take a tour (of sorts) with this lovely book.

The road to this newest addition to the National Mall was long and arduous - 100 years long, suspended by the Great Depression, challenged by fundraising and finding the right spot for groundbreaking. Author Tonya Bolden chronicles the history succinctly, including the search for artifacts, one of which, an entire train car, that needed to be installed during construction of the museum because it was just too big to get in any other way. The second half of the books features themes and images from the museum's permanent collection.

Photos and maps are well-captioned and plentiful. The book is well-designed with a square trim and creamy backgrounds edged with lattice-work that mimics the lattice facade of the museum. A page with facts and figures, pages of Notes that include urls and an index conclude the volume.

Our eighth graders travel to DC every spring for three days and two nights. It's a packed trip and everyone comes back exhausted but happy. To prepare for the trip, each eighth grader has to research the city and the Mall and the monuments to create a travel binder. This book will make for a great resource for the assignment. 

It is truly a first-purchase!

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.


Yellow by Megan Jacobson. 259 p. Penguin Random House Australia, 2016. 9780143573333.

Publisher synopsis: If 14-year-old Kirra is having a mid-life crisis now, then it doesn't bode well for her life expectancy. Her so-called friends bully her, whatever semblance of a mother she had has been drowned at the bottom of a gin bottle ever since her dad left them for another woman, and now a teenage ghost is speaking to her through a broken phone booth.

Kirra and the ghost make a pact. She'll prove who murdered him almost 20 years ago if he does three things for her. He makes her popular, he gets her parents back together, and he doesn't haunt her. Things aren't so simple however, and Kirra realises that people can be haunted in more ways than one.

I actually read this recently with my ears and quite enjoyed it! As I wrote in my review, I wanted to reread to note the lovely language but I also thought my students would enjoy reading it. I have audiobooks in my library collection, most of them donated by me, but very few check them out. I used Gene Luen Yang's "Reading without Walls" theme to booktalk and included Yellow in the "Read an unfamiliar format" section. Students asked for the book. 

I had already placed an order through Book Depository, who was out of stock but awaiting replacement. Even though it was only available in paperback, I will reread and donate the copy so that my students can read it with their eyes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Alex Rider: Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz

Alex Rider: Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz. 368 p. Penguin Young Readers Group, October 10, 2017. 9781524739300.

Publisher synopsis: Following the events of Scorpia Rising, Alex relocates to San Francisco as he slowly recovers from the tragic death of his best friend and caregiver, Jack Starbright, at the hands of terrorists working for SCORPIA. With Jack gone, Alex feels lost and alone, but then, out of the blue, he receives a cryptic email--just three words long, but enough to make Alex believe that Jack may be alive. Armed with this shred of hope, Alex boards a flight bound for Egypt and embarks on a dubious quest to track Jack down.

Yet SCORPIA knows Alex's weakness. And the question of whether Jack is alive soon takes a backseat to a chilling new terrorist plot--one that will play with Alex’s mind as he grasps the magnitude of what is at stake.

From Egypt to France to Wales, from luxury yachts to abandoned coal mines, Alex traverses a minefield of dangers and cryptic clues as he fights to discover the truth. The #1 New York Times bestselling series, perfect for fans of James Bond and Jason Bourne, is back with a vengeance!

I learned about this from PW a week or so ago and was pretty tickled. The first Alex Rider book I read was Point Blank, not realizing it was the second in a series. I thought the ending was terrific and turned right away to read Stormbreaker. The series became my go-to books for students who want action.