Monday, December 11, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: Arc Review: The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta. Illustrated by Vivienne To. Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1. 368 p.Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., February 27, 2018. (Review of arc received courtesy of publisher)

Twelve-year-old Kiranmala goes to sixth grade in Parsippany, New Jersey, has the misfortune of having Halloween as her birthday, and is regularly embarrassed by her immigrant parents, who insist on loudly discussing her fiber intake and insists that she is really an Indian princess. When she returns home from school on Halloween expecting to celebrate her birthday, she finds her parents are missing. They have left a curious birthday card though. It contains foreign money and some sort of map along with instructions not to try to find them. She settles in to an evening of handing out candy to trick-or-treaters when two boys about her age ring the bell. She's confused when they call her princess and seem to think she should know them. They want her to come with them. She just wants to find her parents. She's convinced to go with them when a giant, snot-spewing monster destroys her house and tries to eat her.

It seems Kiranmala really is an Indian princess and her twelfth birthday was the expiration date of the spell protecting her from her father, the Serpent King. She travels to a parallel universe with the two princes and finds she needs to rely on her wits as well as the many Bengali folktales her parents plied her with throughout her childhood. 

This debut and series starter hits the ground running and doesn't let up. A kick-ass heroine + epic world-building + snarky and hilarious dialogue = one memorable ride! Fresh, funny and relatable, give this to your Percy Jackson fans whom you want to branch out to other mythologies. I have quite a few fans of Sarwat Chadda's Ash Mistry trilogy who will love this. Really, any reader looking for fast-paced adventure and laughter will gobble this whole.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Fact Friday: The Quilts of Gee's Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin

The Quilts of Gee's Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin. 56 p. Abrams Books for Young Readers Abrams/ June, 2017. 9781419721311. (Review from purchased copy)

I don't recall now when I first learned about the quilts of Gee's Bend. It might have been when Jacqueline Woodson's Show Way was published (2005) and I got interested in the history of quilting in the south among enslaved women.  Gee's Bend popped into my consciousness again in 2011 when I read Belle, the last mule of Gee's Bend by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud. I also became a fan of Susan Goldman Rubin after reading her biography of Diego Rivera. Books by her are basically an automatic purchase by me even if I can't get to read them all. 

The Quilts of Gee's Bend is just gorgeous through and through from the trim size through the cover to it's meticulous writing and arresting photographs of both the quilts and portraits of the quilter artist. 

The history of Gee's Bend dates back to the 1800s, when enslaved women would toil all day before returning to their quarters to cook, tend their family and quilt. Quilts were important in a variety of ways from the practical to the symbolic. New generations of quilters learned at the knees of mothers, grandmothers, aunts and other women. Once the Civil War and slavery ended, most stayed on in Gee's Bend and became sharecroppers. Most lived in abject poverty and constant debt that they could never pay off. Still, they were a tight-knit community who supported each other through good times and bad.

Readers will get to know a few of the more prominent quilter artists through the leisurely flowing text. There is hardly a page without a photograph of either the quilts (in full-color) or archival black and white photos and portraits taken during the late 1930s when FDR sent a team of photographers to the town to document the condition after an article was written by a journalist named Beverly Smith. 

Plenty of care went into the details of the book's design, with plenty of "white space." The background of the text is a creamy ecru with top-stitching that frames each page, a colorful, bright red, yellow and cream border along the top and page numbers framed in red and blue quilt rectangles.
Backmatter includes cheerful instructions for making a quilt square complete with traceable patterns. Three pages of notes follow. The bibliography includes six books, six articles, a video and three websites. Acknowledgements, image credits and an index conclude this fine volume.

Friday Memes: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty. 290 p. Random House Children's Books, May 1, 2018. 9781524767587.

Publisher synopsis: Middle school is the one problem Lucy Callahan can't solve in this middle-grade novel perfect for fans of The Fourteenth Goldfish, Rain Reign, and Counting by 7s.

Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn't remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she's technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test—middle school!

Lucy's grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that's not a math textbook!). Lucy's not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy's life has already been solved. Unless there's been a miscalculation?

A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty's smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.

First line: I don't remember the moment that changed my life 4 years ago.

Page 56: "Well, can she take it over?" She pauses for an answer that i can't hear. "I see." Pause. "Certainly." Pause. "Thanks for calling. Good-bye." She puts the phone down on the counter.
     "Wrong number?" I joke.
     "That was your math teacher. He said you got a 0 on today's test."
     What!" It wasn't even a test. It was an assessment.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

#tbt: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. 272 p. Candlewick Press, August, 2003. 978763617225. (Purchased)

#tbt features The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. This Newbery Award-winning book was suggested by a student. It was published in 2003 and was DiCamillo's third novel. It tells the story of Despereaux Tilling, a very small mouse with big ears who resides in Princess Pea's castle. She is in danger and Despereaux is determined to protect her from the rats of the castle. It is told from a variety of points of view and is beautifully illustrated.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: How I Resist: activism and hope for a new generation edited by Tim Federle and Maureen Johnson

How I Resist: activism and hope for a new generation edited by Tim Federle and Maureen Johnson. 286 p. St. Martin's Press/ Macmillan, May 1, 2018. 9781250168368.

Publisher synopsis: An all-star collection of essays about activism and hope, edited by bestselling YA authors Tim Federle and Maureen Johnson.

Now, more than ever, young people are motivated to make a difference in a world they're bound to inherit. They're ready to stand up and be heard - but with much to shout about, where they do they begin? What can I do? How can I help?

How I Resist is the response, and a way to start the conversation. To show readers that they are not helpless, and that anyone can be the change. A collection of essays, songs, illustrations, and interviews about activism and hope, How I Resist features an all-star group of contributors, including, John Paul Brammer, Libba Bray, Lauren Duca, Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband Justin Mikita, Alex Gino, Hebh Jamal, Malinda Lo, Dylan Marron, Hamilton star Javier Muñoz, Rosie O'Donnell, Junauda Petrus, Jodi Picoult, Jason Reynolds, Karuna Riazi, Maya Rupert, Dana Schwartz, Dan Sinker, Ali Stroker, Jonny Sun (aka @jonnysun), Sabaa Tahir, Shaina Taub, Daniel Watts, Jennifer Weiner, Jacqueline Woodson, and more, all edited and compiled by New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson and Lambda-winning novelist Tim Federle.

In How I Resist, readers will find hope and support through voices that are at turns personal, funny, irreverent, and instructive. Not just for a young adult audience, this incredibly impactful collection will appeal to readers of all ages who are feeling adrift and looking for guidance.

How I Resist is the kind of book people will be discussing for years to come and a staple on bookshelves for generations.

I learned about this from Tim Federle's Facebook page a couple of weeks ago. I am so thrilled about this collection. One, I have gutted my story collection and need new, relevant additions. Two, it's edited by Tim Federle and Maureen Johnson! Three, the topic! Four, the line-up of authors! Can. Not. Wait!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Teen Tuesday: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Six of Crow #1. 480 p. Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), September, 2015. 9781627792127.

Teen Tuesday features Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Six of Crows is the first in a dualogy by the author of the Shadow and Bone Trilogy. Six of Crows is set in the same world as Shadow and Bone, the Grieshaverse, but can be read on its own. 

Kaz Brekker is a criminal mastermind and survivor in the harsh and unforgiving world of Ketterdam. He allows no one to get close to him. When he is offered a huge sum of money to pull off an impossible, even suicidal heist, Kaz can't resist the lure of the payoff. This book features epic world-building, memorable characters, unbearable suspense, surprising twists and a cliffhanger ending that left me panting for the sequel. You don't have to wait, both are available in TMS library!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. Land of Stories #1. 448 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, July, 2012. 9780316201575.

This is a student recommendation but I have also read this and the second book of the series. When twins, Connor and Alex Bailey turn twelve, their grandmother gifts them an old book called, The Land of Stories. They are thrilled with the gift because they remember being read fairy tales from the book when they were younger. When the book begins buzzing one night, Alex discovers that it is a portal into the actual Land of Stories where they meet Cinderella, Goldilocks, Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood as well as other citizens. In order to find their way back to their own world, they need to cross The Land of Stories to find The Wishing Well; but find adventure along the way. 

The Land of Stories is the first of a six-book series. There are also five companion books. Additionally, The Wishing Well was optioned and is in development by Twentieth Century Fox with Chris Colfer serving as screenwriter and director.  

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Arc Review: Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin. 191 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., February 27, 2018. 9781338180619. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

Brian Selznick and debut author, David Serlin does for the Early Reader set what Selznick did for reluctant/ struggling/ dormant readers with his "brick" books* starting with The Inventions of Hugo Cabret. That is, gives those readers the thrill of reading a "big book" that is also accessible to them.

Oh. My. God! This is such an adorable book! Plus, it has all the hallmarks of a quality Early/ Easy Reader - large font, plenty of white space and repetition. Knock, knock, Geisel Committee, are you listening? 

It goes without saying that belief must be suspended what with Baby Monkey setting up shop as a hard-boiled detective (apparently with a rotating set of office interiors) and the inexplicable ease with which he nabs the culprits. Suspend that belief baby, cuz this one's a keeper! Also, peel your peepers over those office re-dos. They are gold!

Baby Monkey is utterly appealing. He loves to read. He listens really carefully to his clients. He takes notes. He eats his snacks. Then wrestles his pants on in order to set out to find the bad guy. Honestly, he spends more time getting his pants on than it takes to actually nab the perp. It's all so-o damn cute!

I'm in a middle school and plan on buying this gem. Not only will Selznick's fans want to take a look at this, I think it should find a home in the ELL classroom as well as replacement and cooperative ed teachers who may need an appealing book to entice below grade-level readers.

In short, Baby Monkey, Private Eye is a first-purchase! And, if you are not sold by my humble review, check out this Scholastic Preview.

*I will never forget the look on the first (and then every) reluctant reader that I showed this book to. "What? I can't read that!" Gets them every time!

Saturday, December 2, 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.

For review:

How to Say I Love You in Five Languages by Kenard Pak. 10 p. Wide Eyed Editions, February 14, 2018. 9781786030818. 

Publisher synopsis: Learn to say, “I Love You” in French, Japanese, Mandarin, English and Spanish with this press and listen board book! Meet a child from each country who loves a different person, from George in England who loves his dog to Jia in China who loves her brother. Buttons on the side of the book allow children to listen to the phrase in each language.


Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. 384 p. HarperCollins Publishers, October, 2017. 9780063440628.

Publisher synopsis: Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Don't miss this moving novel that addresses such important topics as adoption, teen pregnancy, and foster care.

The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury. A Sin Eater's Daughter Novel. Unabridged recording on one MP3 CD. 9 hours, 54 minutes. Read by Amy Shiels. Scholastic on Brilliance Audio. March, 2017. 9781536681833.

Publisher synopsis: Return to the darkly beautiful world of The Sin Eater’s Daughter with a sequel that will leave you awed, terrified...and desperate for more.

Ever since her brother Lief disappeared, Errin’s life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince whom the Queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep.

When her village is evacuated as part of the war against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she can turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys Errin’s herbs to cast dangerous spells she was never supposed to see. Silas promises to help Errin, but when he’s taken by the Prince’s forces, Errin must journey across her war-ravaged kingdom to find Silas’s family—a legendary band of alchemists with the power to cure Errin’s mother. But their abilities come at a great cost, and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom.

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Fact Friday: Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. unpgd. Seagrass Books, October, 2017. 9781633222762. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Let me put this right out there first: Language arts and social studies teachers who might be looking for a great title for a cross-curricular project, stop and take a look at this beauty! So rich with possibility!

Okay, now I can meander. 

I am not really a water person. While I love to be near the water, in the water? Not so much. I will enter the water as long as I can stand. Going out past where I can see land? Nope, nope, nope. The first time I saw the Mayflower II and realized just how small and rickety a craft it really was, I nearly barfed. That a hundred-plus people packed their worldly possessions and themselves onto the vessel and set out for the unknown boggles my mind. Still, those great expanses are intriguing. I confess that I never viewed the sea as a road. 

Traveling the Blue Road is a fascinating collection of original poems centered around the theme of arrival, whether by choice or capture or needing to flee a homeland. These poems will make you think. They are arranged chronologically and gorgeously illustrated with mixed media collages, most of which incorporate primary source images. This collection is one to get lost in both words and images. Seriously. Don't rush through it. In addition to a sprinkling of quotes throughout the book, the back-matter includes historical information behind each poem. Traveling the Blue Road: Poems of the Sea is a great addition to any library.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Taking Stock - November - 2017

Total posts this month: 44
Total books read this month: 29
Total books read this year: 361

Audio: 9/86
Debut: 3/25
Picture Book: 14/131

The Good: 44 posts this month! I have nearly reached my Goodreads goal of 365 books ahead of time. 

The Bad: Tried to celebrate Picture Book Month but lost momentum when I went to AASL earlier this month and never regained it. I read the most picture books in January this year, 21. Go figure.

The List:
333. After the Fall: how Humpty Dumpty got back up again by Dan Santat (11/1)*
334. Pig the Winner by Aaron Blabey (11/2)
335. Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares (11/3)*
336. Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon by Annette Bay Pimentel (11/3)
337. Love by Matt de la Peña (11/3)
338. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (11/4)
339. Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz (11/4)
340. Plankton is Pushy by Jonathan Fenske (11/6)*
341. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (11/6)*
342. The One Day House by Julia Durango (11/7)
343. Jack B. Ninja by Tim McCanna (11/8)
344. Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey (11/8)*
345. Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison (11/12)(SLJ)
346. The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson (11/12)*
347. Traveling the Blue Road: poems of the sea edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (11/16)*
348. Once and for All by Sarah Dessen (11/18)
349. Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (11/19)
350. The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (11/20)
351. Graceful by Wendy Mass (11/20)
352. Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key taught the world about kindness by Donna Janell Bowman (11/21)*
353. The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His Lesson the Hard Way by Patrick McDonnell (11/22)*
354. Writing Radar by Jack Gantos (11/23)
355. Slider by Pete Hautman (11/25)
356. Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht (11/27)
357. The Getaway (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #12) by Jeff Kinney (11/27)
358. The Quilts of Gee's Bend by Susan Goldman Rubin (11/28)*
359. Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin(11/29)
360. Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil-Rights Activist Nina Simone by Alice Briere-Haquet (11/30)
361. Around the World in a Bathtub by Wade Bradford (11/30)

#tbt: The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. 349 p. Chicken House/ Scholastic Inc., February, 2001. 9780439404371.

This is another student recommendation. The Thief Lord was originally published in Germany in 2000. Cornelia Funke is Germany's equivalent to J.K. Rowling. The story was translated and brought to the United States in 2001. It is the story of two brothers, Prosper and Bo, who have run away from a mean aunt and uncle who are supposed to be taking care of them. They fall in with a group of runaways who live in an abandoned theater and are led by the charismatic "Thief Lord." All is not as it seems however and the boys find themselves trying to elude the detective their aunt has hired to find them. The streets and canals of Venice come alive in this atmospheric stand-alone novel. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Picture Book Review: The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His Alphabet the Hard Way by Patrick McDonnell

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His Alphabet the Hard Way by Patrick McDonnell. unpgd. Little Brown Books for Young Readers/ Little, Brown and Company, September, 2017. 9780316502467. (Review of purchased finished copy)

I try to keep up. I really do. I get four review journals. I try to read most of the reviews. But I don't always get through them in a timely fashion so I rely on other online sources to keep me up-to-date. I have a lot of author "friends" on Facebook and have learned of new titles that way. I have a couple hundred blogs in an RSS feed and learn about books that way as well. Thankfully, that's how I found out about this wordless gem of an alphabet book. 

Wordless alphabet book? Why yes! Who'd have thunk? Don't skip the initial pages folks. While the end-pages are decorated with letters of the alphabet, there is a page with a bit of spot art before the title page. The story really starts there and continues on the Title page. The little red cat in question has awakened and spied an open door. It isn't long before it runs into an alligator! Next up comes a bear, then a chicken. All three are chasing the little red cat until they all stop dead upon encountering a dragon! This causes a rather hysterical reaction on the part of the chicken!

Cartoonists are masters of simple lines conveying lots of meaning. Take your time to read the pictures as this is cartoon gold. I adored it when I read it and happily reread it several times. But the proof of a picture book hit is sharing it as a read aloud. I shared it with a small group this morning and the audience loved the group reading. They were fully engaged throughout and laughed out loud frequently. We even did a little predicting. 

I will be adding it to a wordless unit the ELL teacher and I do every few years. We are due to introduce it this January. It will do double duty both by reinforcing the English alphabet and allowing ELL learners to tell their own story.

Don't miss this Vimeo between Victoria Stapleton and Patrick McDonnell discussing the story and art. And run, don't walk to pick up a copy to read aloud, to give as gifts, to recommend to your favorite readers. Remember, one is never too old for picture books!

Waiting on Wednesday: Everything Else in the Universe by Tracy Holczer

Everything Else in the Universe by Tracy Holczer. 320 p. G.P. Putnam's Sons/ Penguin Young Readers Group, June 12, 2018. 9780399163944.

Publisher synopsis: In the midst of the Vietnam War, a young girl struggles to embrace change in this tender family story for fans of Cynthia Lord and Wendy Maas

Lucy is a practical, orderly person—just like her dad. He taught her to appreciate reason and good sense, instilling in her the same values he learned at medical school. But when he's sent to Vietnam to serve as an Army doctor, Lucy and her mother are forced to move to San Jose, California, to be near their relatives—the Rossis—people known for their superstitions and all around quirky ways. 
Lucy can't wait for life to go back to normal, so she's over the moon when she learns her father is coming home early. It doesn't even matter that he's coming back "different." That she can't ask too many questions or use the word "amputation." It just matters that he'll be home. But Lucy quickly realizes there's something very wrong when her mother sends her to spend the summer with the Rossis to give her father some space. Lucy's beside herself, but what's a twelve-year-old to do? 

It's a curious boy named Milo, a mysterious packet of photographs and an eye-opening mission that makes Lucy see there's more to life than schedules and plans, and helps to heal her broken family. The latest from critically-acclaimed author Tracy Holczer is a pitch-perfect middle grade tale of family and friendship that's sure to delight fans of One for the Murphys and Rules.

Is that not the most gorgeous cover? I learned about this from The Nerdy Book Club a week or so ago and did a happy dance! I really loved The Secret Hum of a Daisy from a couple of years back. I never did get to review it, which sort of bums me out since it is a favorite of mine. I recommend it all the time.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Teen Tuesday: Girl, Stolen by April Henry

Girl, Stolen by April Henry. 224 p. Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), September, 2010. 9780805090055.

Today's Teen Tuesday feature is a title that was recommended by a sixth grade student. Sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Wilder is sleeping in the back of her step-mother's car while she pops into the pharmacy to pick up antibiotics for Cheyenne's newly diagnosed pneumonia. Griffin is under instructions to steal a car for his father and his criminal cronies. When he discovers Cheyenne in the backseat, he's worried that his dad will do something drastic until his dad learns that Cheyenne's father is rich. He decides to hold her for ransom instead. Complicating matters is the fact that Cheyenne is blind. She's also in very grave danger. Tension ratchets up as things go wrong. You may need to read this suspenseful novel in one sitting!

I happened to read this one with my ears four years ago. It is exactly the type of book I cannot stand reading because of the suspense. It was especially hard reading it with my ears despite the excellent performance by Kate Rudd because I couldn't read ahead! There is a sequel out called, Count All Her Bones which I may have to read though I get the willies just reading the synopsis.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Middle Grade Monday: Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm

Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm. Jennifer Holms Sunny Series #2. 224 p. Scholastic Inc., September, 2017. 9780545741729. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher)

In this sequel to Sunny Side Up, Sunny has returned home from spending the summer at Grandpa's during the summer. She's about to start middle school and her big brother, Dale is away at a military boarding school. She's missing him but also worried about starting middle school. Luckily, she has her best friend and Grandpa calls frequently to check on Sunny. She always says she's fine, even when she's not. When Dale does come home for a visit, he has changed, leaving Sunny bereft and confused. 

This installment seemed a bit more episodic and there were lots of pop culture references that made me smile. But I wonder if kids will get them. My suspicion is that they won't; but it won't matter because the Holms have a solid fan base and the story is compelling. Sunny is endearing and her middle school troubles are so relatable. Her concern for Dale is poignant and his treatment of her is heartbreaking. The story ends on a hopeful note. It looks as though the series might continue, which pleases me.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Picture Book Review: Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht. Illustrated by Jarvis. unpgd. Candlewick Press, September, 2017. 9780763695712. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

In our family, we have a section of our home library devoted to holiday books. We read to our boys each night at bedtime and had a tradition of reading holiday favorites* each year while trying on some new books to see if they would become new traditions. 

When I reviewed Red and Lulu earlier this month, I said that it would've made the cut. This one would've as well. The cover of Pick a Pine Tree reminded me of one of our holiday favorites, Night Tree by Eve Bunting (1994) in which a family "decorates" a tree in the woods with edible ornaments each Christmas. Closer examination reveals that the tree is decorated with lights, not food. Yet, it's still a gorgeous cover, literally wrapped up with a sparkly, red bow and featuring lush and lovely pine trees. 

This story of a family of four who sets out to choose a Christmas tree is told in jaunty rhyme and the gorgeous illustrations of pencil, chalk and paint lend a retro feel. The palette of colors is rich and vibrant featuring verdant greens and warm Christmas colors. It's a lovely story of choosing and decorating a tree. My only quibble is the timing of placing the tree topper. We do it first. But this is a small detail in an otherwise warm and lovely addition to the holiday cannon.

*Some of our regular holiday reads:
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present by John Burningham
The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman but we have a collection illustrated by different artists
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Uncle Vova's Tree by Jan Brett
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Again, we have a few editions of this by various artists, but perhaps the recording narrated by Patrick Stewart is the family favorite.
Silver Packages: an Appalachian Christmas story by Cynthia Rylant
Christmas at Long Pond by William T. George
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. Again, several editions of this by various artists including a hysterical one featuring little green goblins.

Saturday, November 25, 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.

Happy Thanksgiving (U.S.) weekend all. We hosted a lovely family celebration on Thursday. Sons #1 & 3 were able to make it along with two of my sisters and my brother along with in-laws, my lone niece and most of the nephews. Son #1 came with his fiancé  and they brought her father. Here's to expanding family.

For review:

Don't Forget Dexter! by Lindsay Ward. unpgd. Amazon Publishing, January 2, 2018.

Publisher synopsis: Introducing Dexter T. Rexter, the toughest, coolest dinosaur ever. At least he likes to think so.

When his best friend, Jack, leaves him behind at the doctor’s office, Dexter T. Rexter panics. First he tries to find Jack. Then he sings their special song. Then he sings their special song even louder. But when Jack still doesn’t appear, Dexter starts to wonder. What if he’s being replaced by another toy? It can’t be—after all, he can STOMP, RAWR, and CHOMP! Right? Right?!

This hilariously neurotic dinosaur will do whatever it takes to get his friend back—even asking the reader’s advice—in this first book of a brand-new series.


Writing Radar by Jack Gantos. Unabridged recording on 3 compact discs. 3.5 hours. Read by the author. Macmillan Audio, August, 2017. 9781427291219.

Publisher synopsis: Newbery Award–winning author Jack Gantos shares advice for how to be the best brilliant writer in this funny and practical writing guide perfect for all kids who dream of seeing their name on the spine of a book.

With the signature wit and humor that have garnered him legions of fans, Gantos instructs young writers on using their "writing radar" to find story ideas in their own lives. Incorporating his own misadventures as a developing writer, Gantos inspires listeners to build confidence and establish good writing habits as they create and revise their stories. Pop-out text boxes highlight key tips, alongside Gantos's own illustrations, sample stories, and snippets from his childhood journals. More than just a how-to guide, Writing Radar is a celebration of the power of storytelling and an ode to the characters who—many unwittingly—inspired Gantos's own writing career.

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC's the Hard Way by Patrick McDonnell. unpgd. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September, 2017. 9780316502467.

Publisher synopsis: Bestselling and award-winning artist Patrick McDonnell uses the ABC's to tell a hilarious, high-energy alphabetical adventure.

It starts with an ALLIGATOR and a BEAR chasing a CAT. When a DRAGON (and a chicken and an egg!) join in pursuit, things start to get REALLY interesting. A wild and wacky chase through snow and ice, and to jungles and over mountaintops, leads the whole crew to a wonderful realization: They're better off as friends.

From New York Times bestselling author and Caldecott Honor recipient Patrick McDonnell comes an exciting new take on the alphabet book for everyone who has ever wondered what's just beyond the front door.

The Getaway by Jeff Kinney. Diary of a Wimpy Kid #12. 224 p. Amulet Books/ Abrams, November, 2017. 9781419730603.

Publisher synopsis: Greg Heffley and his family are getting out of town. With the cold weather and the stress of the approaching holiday season, the Heffleys decide to escape to a tropical island resort for some much-needed rest and relaxation. A few days in paradise should do wonders for Greg and his frazzled family. But the Heffleys soon discover that paradise isn't everything it's cracked up to be. Sun poisoning, stomach troubles, and venomous critters all threaten to ruin the family's vacation. Can their trip be saved, or will this island getaway end in disaster?

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Fact Friday: Step Right Up: how Doc and Jim Key taught the world about kindness by Donna Janell Bowman

Step Right Up: how Doc and Jim Key taught the world about kindness by Donna Janell Bowman. Illustrated by Daniel Minter. unpgd. Lee & Low Books, October, 2016. 9781620141489. (Review from purchased copy).

William Key was born enslaved in Tennessee, where he showed an early propensity with animals and a natural curiosity that was encouraged by his "kind" owners. He learned to read and was able to travel from plantation to plantation to care for and train animals, earning himself the nickname, "Doc." He observed that animals were routinely beaten into submission and maintained that they would learn faster and better through kindness.

After the Civil War was over, he settled in Shelbyville, Tennessee and began to set up a series of businesses around the care and treatment of animals. He made medicines, including a liniment, that were in demand and so, he traveled the south with his medicine cart to sell his goods. While traveling through Mississippi, he came upon a circus that was trying to sell off their horses. He spied Lauretta, a broken and abused mare and recognized that she was an Arabian. He bought her and nursed her back to health. He had hoped to breed her but when her foal was born sickly, those hopes were dashed.

Nonetheless, he cared for the colt that he named Jim and Jim bonded with Doc. Doc noticed how observant Jim was and set about to see just how much Jim could learn. A lot, it turned out. The pair performed at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, where they were a huge hit and soon in demand. Eventually, Doc Key teamed up with humane societies to spread their message of being kind to animals.

The linoleum block cut prints were painted with warm-toned acrylic. The mostly double-page spreads perfectly complement the engaging and well-told story. There's plenty of back-matter with more information about the famous pair, along with photos and historical context. Source notes and bibliography round out this unique and important addition to the biography section. 
I learned of this when it made the Notables List. Once I read it, I knew it would be a perfect addition to my sixth grade picture book biography unit. I appreciate it more with each reading. It makes for a great read aloud. I chose to read it to my sixth graders on the half-day before Thanksgiving break rather than dragging the laptops out for the half hour. They were rapt.

Visit Lee & Low's website for more information on how to use this book in the classroom. There's a downloadable teacher's guide on the book's web page as well as interviews and even a video of the artist discussing his process. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

#tbt: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Shiloh Quartet #1. 144 p. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September, 1991. 9780689316142. 

Shiloh, the story about an abused dog and the boy who insists on rescuing him won the Newbery Medal in 1992. Everyone loves a boy and his dog story and this one is sure to tug at your heartstrings. Marty lives in a quiet, rural community in the south where everyone minds their own business. When a beagle shows up on Marty's property and it's obvious he's been abused, Marty begs his father to keep him. His dad recognized the dog as belonging to Judd Travers, a neighbor, a hunter and a mean drunk. Since the dog is clearly Judd's, Marty's dad insists that he return the dog. But Shiloh keeps running back to Marty.

The book has undergone a number of cover reworkings, thankfully. Truth be told, I'm not a fan of the original, which is the one I read to my boys. Here are a couple of better cover images.

Shiloh was made into a movie, which I never saw, so of course, there was a movie version cover.

Perhaps my favorite is one that never was. A while back Travis Jonkers did a series called Covering the Newbery where he created or updated the covers. Here's the one he made for Shiloh:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Grump: the fairly true story

Grump: the fairly true tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by Liesl Shurtliff. 304 p. Knopf Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Random House, May 29, 2018. 9781524717018.

Publisher synopsis: Ever since he was a dwarfling, Borlen (nicknamed “Grump”) has dreamed of visiting The Surface, so when opportunity knocks, he leaves his cavern home behind.
     At first, life aboveground is a dream come true. Queen Elfrieda Veronika Ingrid Lenore (E.V.I.L.) is the best friend Grump always wanted, feeding him all the rubies he can eat and allowing him to rule at her side in exchange for magic and information. But as time goes on, Grump starts to suspect that Queen E.V.I.L. may not be as nice as she seems. . . .
     When the queen commands him to carry out a horrible task against her stepdaughter Snow White, Grump is in over his head. He’s bound by magic to help the queen, but also to protect Snow White. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, the queen keeps bugging him for updates through her magic mirror! He’ll have to dig deep to find a way out of this pickle, and that’s enough to make any dwarf Grumpy indeed.

Two fifth graders did a happy dance in the library the other day when I told them this was coming. Their only disappointment is that they have to wait until May. Mine is the cover. Honestly not loving it, especially compared to the others. It has too much of a Disney vibe to it what with the palette and that cutesy rabbit. Still excited for the story though. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Teen Tuesday: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Unabridged audiobook on 6 compact discs; 6.5 hours. Read by the author. HarperAudio, 2017. 9780062663634. (Review from finished audiobook borrowed from the public library. Hardcover copy purchased.)

Teen readers who enjoyed Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase books might consider reading Gaiman's retellings to learn a bit more about those rascally Norse gods. Gaiman does a marvelous job of explaining the relationships between them and most of the stories are entertaining if not downright funny. Most students are readily familiar with the gods of Greek mythology; but other cultural mythologies are well worth reading. Personally, I've been trying to expand my own horizons. 

I read the book with my ears but the hardcover book is a thing of beauty, sporting a gorgeous embossed cover. The physical book also has a glossary I might have found useful for consulting were I reading with my eyes. Gaiman is a wonderful narrator though. Most of the stories are short but they are all interconnected and don't lend themselves to skipping around if you're reading with your eyes. 

The Norse gods were as harsh and brutal as the climate in the Nordic countries. There's plenty of deception, betrayal and gore as they hurtle their way, seemingly uncaring, to Ragnorok. Good stuff. Hand this to your readers who love mythology. Challenge your students to read beyond Greek mythology. Offer it to students who enjoy Gaiman's other work and his quirky sense of humor.