Monday, July 31, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: Middle Grade Monday: Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova. 224 p. Yen Press/ Hachette Book Group, July, 2015. 9780316381307.

Penelope, Peppi, Torres is anxious and arty. She's also about to start a new school, so she has a couple of rules - #1 is don't get noticed by the mean kids and #2 is seek out groups with similar interests. When she trips and falls on her first day, the only person to help her is a boy named Jaime. When all the kids start taunting her about her "nerder boyfriend," Peppi pushes Jaime. So much for rule #1. 

She does find her peeps in Art Club though and learns that the members are bitter enemies with the members of the Science Club. Guess who's a member of the Science Club? And guess who isn't doing so great in Science? While we're at it, guess who Peppi's scary Science teacher assigns as a tutor?

The muted palette veers a bit pink but the art is energetic and playful. Bonus points for the backmatter, which includes character studies and a step-by-step introduction to the artistic process. 

Don't miss this appealing graphic novel!

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: Fact Friday: Hockey Then to Wow!

Our Fact Friday might seem familiar to anyone who reads this blog regularly. I reviewed it on Monday. The Daily Booktalk originated on my library webpages and the morning announcements. I decided to migrate it here partly because I thought these "mini-reviews" are better than no review at all. 

Sports Illustrated Kids: Hockey: Then to Wow! This is the third book in the Then to Wow series and as sports history books go, this series delivers the content beautifully. The NHL celebrates its 100th year this year, though hockey has been played since the late 1800s. The extra-wide layout is perfect for timelines of events, players, uniforms and equipment. It's crammed with photos, both vintage and full-color, as well as facts and trivia about the game, teams and players. If hockey is not your cup of tea, check out the other two entries in the series - baseball and/ or football.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: #tbt: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins. 310 p. Scholastic Inc., August, 2004. 9780439678131.

It's time for #tbt! Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins was published in 2004. It is the first in The Underland Chronicles series that eventually became five books. It is summertime and Gregor isn't looking forward to spending it babysitting his two-year-old sister, Boots and keeping an eye on his grandmother, who seems to be losing touch with reality. When Boots disappears through a grate in their apartment house laundry room, Gregor goes in after her. The two tumble downward into darkness and when they land, they find themselves in a city below New York City peopled by strange humans and giant rats and cockroachesl. Scary! Not only that, but the humans below seem to be expecting Gregor. There's a prophecy about a warrior from the Overland coming to rescue the Underland from the giant rats. Gregor is only eleven. How can he possibly be that warrior of prophecy? Terrific worldbuilding, memorable characters and adventure keep the reader turning pages and wanting the next book, Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, asap!  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Arc Review: The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick. 193 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc. August 29. 2017. 9780545863223. 

To say that sixth grader Maverick Falconer has it tough is an understatement. He misses his dad, who died a hero in Afghanistan and his alcoholic mom can't seem to hold onto a job or attract a stable boyfriend - or at least one who doesn't hit her. He has lived in a series of awful apartments, wears old clothes that he usually launders himself and his sneakers are falling apart. Oh, and he's been bullied mercilessly at his elementary school and has little hope that things will be different in middle school. But, he soldiers on. He has a pet hamster he loves despite being allergic to him and a supportive aunt he adores. Plus, he has the plastic sheriff's star his father gave to him before his last deployment.

I must repeat what I wrote on Goodreads: Classic Sonnenblick M.O. He sucks you in with a winning, earnest, imperfect narrator; then breaks your heart while making you laugh out loud; zings education and some educators; and gently imparts his message of kindness without didacticism. Love!

Maverick is such an endearing character. He's a roiling mixture of sarcasm, cynicism and hope. Despite the trauma in his life, he remains kind. Like many survivors of trauma, he is hyper-observant - constantly assessing the mood of adults around him and seeking to protect his secrets. Despite his mother's alcoholism and failings, he protects her and covers for her and beats himself up when he can't protect her from abusive boyfriends.

Another endearing character is Vice-Principal Overbye, or the "Bee." His reputation precedes him and Maverick is terrified. He wants to avoid him but, of course, ends up in his office on the first day of school.

While all of Sonnenblick's main characters in all of his books face tremendous challenge such as serious illness, injury or anger, Maverick's problems are grittier and more difficult to identify and help. His is a situation of neglect and poverty and loss. He's the kind of kid who could very easily fall through the cracks. Even his doting aunt was unaware of how dire his situation was. What I especially liked here was the fact that on two separate occasions, just as I was about to mentally insult a character, Sonnenblick revealed an insight that brought me up short and reminded me not to be too quick to judge. 

This world we live in needs books that help young (and old) readers build empathy now more than ever. The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade is such a book. Read it, read it aloud to your students, and recommend it widely.

The Daily Booktalk: Waiting on Wednesday: All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson. 248 p. Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Young Readers Group, September 5, 2017. 9780525429999. 

Happy Wednesday Summer Readers! Waiting on Wednesday features All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson. It is Jamieson's second graphic novel, her first being the very popular, Roller Girl, which won a Newbery Honor. You might also notice the "misspelling" of "faire" in the title. That's no typo but a play on words as our main character and her family work at a Renaissance Faire in Florida. Eleven-year-old Imogene, Impy, has been homeschooled her whole life but has decided that she wants to try middle school. She's proud of the work her mother and father, and now she does at the Faire, but they don't earn much money. While Impy has always dressed for comfort, she is soon judged for her clothing. When she visits a classmate's McMansion after school one day, she realizes she could never invite her new "friend" to her dingy apartment. She also keeps her work at the Faire a secret.

Jamieson excels at creating unique main characters and her artwork is clear and colorful. All's Faire in Middle School is due out on September 5. I was lucky to receive an arc (advance reader copy) from the publisher. I really enjoyed it (Review here) and know that fans of Jamieson as well as Reina Telgemeier are going to love it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: Teen Tuesday: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Our Teen Tuesday feature really is best for teens, eighth grade and up but not limited to a YA audience because it's a timely, urgent, intense, important and beautifully written book. The Hate U Give is Angie Thomas' debut novel. It's the first-person narration of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who, though she lives in run-down, poverty-stricken Garden Heights, attends a mostly white, private school 45 minutes away. Her parents work very hard to provide this education for their three children. They are strict and loving and often laugh-out-loud funny. Starr is grateful, but admits she splits herself into two different Starrs to fit into each world. She reconnects with a close friend, Khalil at a neighborhood party and, when gunfire erupts, the two leave the party in Khalil's car. It isn't long before he's been pulled over and it's not long after that when he's shot in the back by the white police officer, who claims that Khalil was reaching for a gun. In fact, he ducked back inside the car to check on Starr. 

This 400+ page book debuted on the New York Times bestseller list back in February, where is has mostly remained. It also received six starred reviews from the professional review publications (a rare feat) and has been optioned for a movie starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr. The book started out as a short story written for the author's senior thesis. It expanded though and was set aside for a while because it was emotionally draining for the author to write. The Hate U Give lives up to the hype. It is also a spectacular audiobook, narrated by Bahni Turpin. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Non-Fiction Monday: Sports Illustrated Kids: Hockey Then to Wow!

Sports Illustrated Kids: Hockey Then to Wow! by the Editors of Sports Illustrated Kids. 80 p. Then to Wow series. Liberty Street/ Time Inc. Books, September 26, 2017. 9781683300113. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher)

The NHL turns 100 this year and SI Kids knows how to celebrate! This third installment of the Then to Wow series is sure to please fans of the sport and invite new young fans. It is as attractively designed as the previous installments the last being, Baseball Then to Wow! with its embossed cover featuring a line-up of famous players from eight decades. 

The end-pages are decorated with a top-down view of a hockey rink. As in Baseball, there are four chapters and the first two cover the basics and the players, the third is called, Face Off and covers coaches, strategies, global games, units, records, women's hockey, goals, dynasties and the Stanley Cup. The final chapter, Fan Fun covers things like play-off beards, video games, fan fashion, cards and stories about the items fans have taken to throwing "over the boards," which happens to be against the rules. 

It's interesting to note that while the first rules for hockey were published by The Montreal Gazette in 1877, as noted in the timeline, there is no mention on it (or anywhere else in the book) about the formation of the NHL, except to say that in 1918, the NHL added two blue lines on the ice. 

There's plenty to goggle over as double-page spreads show the evolution of the sports equipment (current skates can cost over $1000!) through the sweaters, the sticks and the arenas. The goalie pads are particularly interesting in that they now resemble body armor rather than mattress padding.

Hockey Then to Wow! is a great addition to any collection!

The Daily Booktalk: Middle Grade Monday: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Our Middle Grade Monday feature is Ghost by Jason Reynolds. 192 Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/ Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, August, 2016. 9781481450157

Seventh grader, Castle Cranshaw runs fast. Ever since that night, three years ago, when his father tried to shoot him and his mother while in a drunken rage. Castle renamed himself Ghost that night and hasn't stopped running. He is having trouble dealing with his rage and helplessness over that awful night. When he comes across a track practice one day on his walk home, he stops to watch. Turns out, it's an elite squad that is coached by a former Olympian. After watching for a while, Ghost concludes he can run faster than any of them, even their fastest sprinter. He pesters the coach, who gives him "one run." Ghost is the first in a planned four-book series about Coach's elite team. The second entry, Patina, has recently been released. 

I had the honor of meeting the author, Jason Reynolds at a publisher party in Chicago and was happy to tell him about his many fans at TMS. 

Saturday, July 22, 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.

I attended a Scholastic Reading Summit in the Washington D.C. area on Tuesday. I went to one two years ago in the Boston area and really enjoyed it so I thought I'd make a little trip to DC not realizing that Herndon, VA is not all that close and convenient to DC. Doable, but I got a late start on Monday and didn't get to see anything once I got there. But l took the long way home and hit three Civil War battle fields.

I highly recommend attending one of these Summits if they are in your area. As conferences go, it is not expensive and you get so much. Plus, there's a Scholastic Book Fair too!

Each attendee got a cool messenger bag filled with some conference material and these books:

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey.

Riding Chance by Christine Kendall.

Pink is for Blobfish by Jess Keating. 

The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell & Anne Atwell Merkel.

I already have the first three books in my library and have read two of the three. I may just give these books away to some new teachers in my building. I have not read The Reading Zone and am behind in my professional reading.

I also received Groovy Joe: Ice Cream and Dinosaurs by Erc Litwin for signing up for.., hm, you know? I can't remember. 

Then, of course, I bought from the fair. I showed great restraint and resisted buying tons. Here's what I couldn't resist:

Every Child a Super Reader by Pam Allyne & Ernest Morrell.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Adam Rex.

Shark Lady: the true story of how Eugenie Clark became the ocean's most fearless scientist by Jess Keating.

Abraham by Frank Keating.

Olinguito, from A to Z!/ ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! Unveiling the Cloud Forest by Lulu Delacre.

Good Dog by Nicola Jane Swinney

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Audiobook Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Abertalli. Unabridged audiobook on 6 compact discs, 6.75 hours. Read by Michael Crouch. Harperaudio, April, 2015. 9780062415097. (Review from audiobook borrowed from public library)

So this title has been languishing on my tbr list probably since it was announced as a Morris Award finalist. I am so-o behind in my YA reading! Anyway, I've grown to become quite the Michael Crouch fan and when I looked him up and saw that he had narrated this went the submit button on my ILL (Inter-Library Loan). I picked it up Monday, just before heading to the D.C. area for a Scholastic Reading Summit. I read (with my ears) most of a mg book on the way down; finished it whilst driving to the Manassas and Antietam Battlegrounds and read about 2/3s of Simon vs. ... on my drive from Gettysburg home. I was so wrapped up by this gem of a story that I popped it out of my car cd player and finished the last two discs in one sitting in my house because I did not want to wait for errands requiring use of my car. 

Chapters with Simon's first-person narration alternate with strings of email between Simon and Blue, the anonymous boy he "met" by commenting on his post on their high school's Tumblr. Neither one is out, but they have an instant online rapport and Simon begins to look forward to Blue's next email. And it's that that gets him in trouble. He couldn't wait to read Blue's email, so he logs onto a computer in the library to read it. He forgets to log out, leaving the email for the next user to read. Turns out, it's Martin Addison and Martin wants something from Simon.

There's something about Simon that makes him instantaneously likable. I believe that were I reading with my eyes, I would've swallowed this book whole. Michael Crouch's performance tripled Simon's likability. Simon is laid back, bright and funny. He asks interesting questions like why do heterosexuals not need to "come out." He finds his parents affectionately annoying, misses his older sister, Alice, who is away at college and worries a bit about his self-possessed younger sister, Nora. He's got two best friends in Lia and Nick and the three have enfolded new-girl, Abbey into their midst. It's Abbey that Martin has set his sights on and he blackmails Simon into helping him get close to her.

I've mentioned before that Crouch is my new favorite voice. When I looked up his work, I was so surprised to find that he is, in fact, not new to me! I thought that I first came to his work in Salt to the Sea, where he voiced the POV of the despicable German Navy Seaman, Alfred. Turns out, he also narrated Richard Peck's The Best Man and Loot by Jude Watson and Lily and Duncan by Donna Gephart. He also narrated The Haters by Jesse Andrews. I enjoyed each and every one of these and look forward to hearing more of his work. Crouch has great female voices as well. I find that female voices show weaknesses in most male narrators who tend to create either annoyingly breathy voices or caricatures.

There is so much to love in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in addition to Simon. The writing is fluid. The dialogue is smart. The characters are unique and memorable. While the title is a tad mature for middle school - there's some refreshingly frank talk about sex and sexuality - keep the title in mind for that savvy, mature eighth grader. I get one or two each year who would be able to handle it.

The Daily Booktalk: Fact Friday: Migration Nation (National Wildlife Federation): Animals on the Go from Coast to Coast by Joanne O'Sullivan

Migration Nation (National Wildlife Federation): Animals on the Go from Coast to Coast by Joanne O'Sullivan. 96 p. Charlesbridge, May, 2015. 978163254055.

Here's a fascinating look at another kind of road trip - the kind that many species of animals instinctually do each year - migration. This beautifully designed book is chockfull of photos, maps and text boxes. It tells the stories of animals that travel - from a few short miles to hundreds if not thousands of miles for hunting or breeding purposes. The book is divided into the sections, land, sea and sky. It's great for browsing or research and contains backmatter for those wishing to do further reading.

Friday Memes: The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick

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

The Secret Sheriff of Sixth Grade by Jordan Sonnenblick. 193 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc. August 29. 2017. 9780545863223. 

Publisher synopsis: In sixth grade, bad things can happen to good kids. Bullies will find your weakness and jump on it. Teachers will say you did something wrong when really didn't mean to do anything wrong. The kids who joke the loudest can drown out the quieter, nicer kids.

Maverick wants to change all that. One of the last things his father left him was a toy sheriff's badge, back when Maverick was little. Now he likes to carry it around to remind him of his dad - and also to remind him to make school a better place for everyone... even if that's a hard thing to do, especially when his own home life is falling apart.

THE SECRET SHERIFF OF SIXTH GRADE is a story about standing up for yourself - and being a hero at home and in the halls of your school.

First Line: Chapter One: Why I am the World's Lamest Hero

Let me get a few things out of the way, right from the start.
     I can't fly. I'm not even a particularly good jumper. Truthfully, I twisted my ankle so badly during the three-legged race at my third-grade field day that I ended up in the emergency room, along with my partner, Jamie Thompson. Well, most of her. Her two front teeth stayed behind, buried somewhere in the field.

Page 56: Mom came home a few hours later, happily convinced that hard times were over. She was always doing this. Every time a guy dumped her, or we got kicked out of an apartment, or she lost a job, she would somehow find a shred of good news. Then she would cling to it and ignore every other bit of reality, in order to convince herself that this time our lives were just about to turn around.

Anyone who knows me or this blog, knows I'm a huge fan of Jordan Sonnenblick - ever since my colleague, Lisa M., eighth grade language arts teacher at my last school asked me if I read Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie. I had not, but remedied the situation asap as Lisa reads almost as much as I and never steered me wrong.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: #tbt: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. 240 p. Penguin Young Readers Group, September, 2006. 

Our road trip theme continues with An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. This is Green's second novel and possibly my favorite. It was published in 2006 and won a Printz Honor. Colin Singleton is a genius who thinks he's losing his edge. He has also had nineteen girlfriends - all named Katherine and they all dumped him. Colin thinks there's a geometric theorem in this and sets about to prove it. He sets out on a road trip with his best friend, Hassan, with rather hysterically funny results. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Applewhites Coast to Coast by Stephanie Tolen

Applewhites Coast to Coast by Stephanie Tolen. 320 p. HarperCollins Publishers, October 17, 2017. 9780062133212.

Publisher synopsis: This third story about the madcap family introduced in Stephanie Tolan’s Newbery Honor Book Surviving the Applewhites features even more outlandish adventures and will appeal to fans of the Applewhites and those meeting them for the first time.

E.D. and Jake are doing their best to forget their bewildering kiss—after all, they’re practically family—and get back to “normal” life with the decidedly abnormal, highly creative Applewhites. When the family’s biggest fan, Jeremy Bernstein, pulls up to Wit’s End in an “Art Bus,” he brings with him a proposal for an Education Expedition: a cross-country road trip, educational quest, and video-documented competition for a big cash prize. Jeremy also drags along his troubled but beautiful niece, Melody. She’ll be joining the expedition with her own rebellious flair, much to Jake’s delight . . . and E.D.’s exasperation.

With characteristic Applewhite enthusiasm, the artists face disastrous performances, fainting goats, and some very bad ideas—but can they make it through the road trip in one piece?

I found this last week while scanning upcoming books looking for a road trip book to feature on Waiting on Wednesday. I just loved Surviving the Applewhites and have time to read the second installment before this releases.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Audiobook Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Unabridged audiobook on 10 compact discs; 11.75 hours. Read by Bahni Turpin. Harper Audio, February, 2017. 9781470827137. (Review from audiobook borrowed from public library. Print copy purchased.)

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives in Garden Heights but attends a private school about 45 minutes away. Her father is an ex-gangbanger and ex-con but owns a grocery store in the neighborhood. Her mother is a nurse who works in a neighborhood clinic. They are committed to the neighborhood, but after Starr witnesses the murder of her best friend, Natasha in a drive-by shooting at age ten, her parents made the decision to remove their three children from the public school. Their family is not perfect, but is intact and striving. 

Starr talks about straddling two worlds with her two personas; her private school persona and her neighborhood one. She also has a white boyfriend, which her daddy doesn't know about. Her private school friends and boyfriend have never been to Garden Heights. This delicate balance is disrupted when Starr reluctantly attends a neighborhood party. She's catching up with Khalil, a childhood friend and former crush, when gunshots ring out. Khalil grabs her hand and the two flee in his car.  When they are pulled over, Starr recalls the rules her daddy drilled into her. But Khalil questions the officer. Starr focuses on the badge number - 115 and is terrified, especially when Khalil is dragged out of the car by an increasingly agitated 115. When Khalil ducks back into the car to check on Starr, 115 shoots him in the back. Three times. 

This remarkable debut sucked me into Starr's world immediately and I was sorry to leave it. The setting is so vividly evoked and while a specific city was never mentioned, it could be anywhere. All the characters are so memorable! Even minor characters are so fully fleshed out that I feel I could recognize them. While tragedy is never far away, there are hilarious moments that provide respite. I listened to 4/5 (8 of 10 discs) of it and finished the book reading with my eyes. If you have never experienced a performance by Bahni Turpin, this is a great place to start. She has a remarkable range of voices, which added depth to an already deep and important book. 

The Hate U Give has received a remarkable six starred reviews and has spent quite a number of weeks on the NYT best seller list. (Should "best seller list" be capitalized?) The book was on my tbr pile for quite awhile. I would get to it eventually, but what made me move it up on the pile was an eighth grader. One day toward the end of the school year, I got a inter-classroom phone call from the eighth grade science teacher who asked if I was busy/ had a class. I was not, so she told me that she had a student dying to talk to me about a book and could she come up? Absolutely! The library is on the second floor and the science classroom is on the first. She must've run from the classroom because she arrived in seconds, panting and attempting to tell me why I HAD to read this book once she learned that I had not yet read it. I take student recommendations very seriously and intended to crack the book open sooner rather than later, when I heard that Bahni Turpin was the narrator for the audio. I ordered it through Inter-Library Loan (ILL) and waited and waited. The audiobook was worth the wait and while the performance was incredible, I HAD to find out how it ended and couldn't sit through the last two discs to find out. I was so glad I had the book to finish reading it without needing to drive somewhere. 

The Hate U Give lives up to the hype. It is, if not the most, one of the most important books of 2017. It is intense and timely and wholly influential. I expect it will be life-changing to all teen readers who discover it and I expect to do my part to get it into as many hands as possible. 

The Daily Booktalk: Teen Tuesday: Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee. 288 p. Scholastic Inc., February, 2009. 9780439838443.

Continuing the road trip theme with Absolutely Maybe, Lisa Yee's YA debut. Maybe is short for Maybelline Mary Katherine Mary Ann Chestnut. She's seventeen and done with putting up with her beauty pageant mother and her latest fiancé. When her mother chooses to believe him over her, she decides to accompany her best friends on a road trip from Florida to Hollywood, California to find her biological dad. The only problem is, he doesn't know a thing about her and she knows very little about him. Alternately hysterically funny and heartbreaking, Maybe is a memorable character, who, with her besties, Ted and Hollywood, will find a place in your heart. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: Middle Grade Monday: So B. It by Sarah Weeks

So B. It by Sarah Weeks. 256 p. HarperCollins Publishers, April, 2004. 9780066236223.

I thought of a few other "road trip" books and thought I'd continue featuring that theme through this week. I can't believe I didn't think of So B. It by Sarah Weeks sooner! Twelve-year-old Heidi doesn't know when her birthday day is or even who her father is. She lives in a small apartment with her mentally disabled mother. They are assisted by an agoraphobic neighbor, who also homeschools Heidi. Her mother has only 23 words in her vocabulary, "soof" being one of them. Neither Bernadette nor Heidi can figure out what it means. When Heidi finds an undeveloped roll of film, she decides to set out by herself on a cross-country bus trip to discover the mystery behind her birth.

The movie is releasing in October, shortly after Ms. Weeks spends the day at my school. My students love her books and are quite excited about both the visit and the movie. It seems the movie stayed faithful to the story. Here's a link to the trailer.

Non-Fiction Monday: As Strong as Sandow by Don Tate

As Strong as Sandow: how Eugen Sandow became the strongest man on Earth by Don Tate. 40 p. Charlesbridge, August 22, 2017. 9781580896283. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher ALAAC17)

Eugen Sandow was born Friedrich Muller in 1867. He was frail and skinny growing up in Prussia in the 1800s. But he transformed himself into a healthy, hulky, hunky specimen as an adult. It was after a trip to Italy, where he viewed sculptures of ancient athletes that he was inspired to become strong like them and began to exercise. He exercised through his teens and left for university, where he studied anatomy. He ran away from college to join a circus, where he worked as an acrobat. When the circus ran out of money, he supported himself by posing for artists. Eventually, he came under the tutelage of Professor Attila, a professional strongman. By the time he was twenty, he changed his name to Eugen Sandow and went on the road billed as the Strongest Man on Earth. 

Author/illustrator Don Tate brings the father of modern bodybuilding to vivid life with simple flowing text born of extensive research and mixed media illustrations that depict the period and Sandow's life with a muted palette and much humor. Additional information as well as a photo is supplied in an Afterword. A page is also devoted to encouraging young readers to exercise and stay active. Four exercise suggestions are provided. In an author's note, readers discover that Mr. Tate's own interest in bodybuilding and competing helped inspire the book. Backmatter continues with a list of 18 books and websites for further reading, quotation sources and photo credits. 

Strong as Sandow is a fine addition to any collection. I plan on adding it to a unit on picture book biographies for my sixth graders come fall. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: Fact Friday: Voyager's Greatest Hits: the epic trek to Interstellar Space

Voyager's Greatest Hits: the epic trek to Interstellar Space by Alexandra Siy. 40 p. Charlesbridge, June, 2017. 9781580897280.

It's time for Fact Friday! 40 years ago this summer, NASA began what might be considered the ultimate road trip with the launches of the Voyager rockets. The two were launched separately with Voyager 2 bringing up the rear, enabling scientists to make adjustments based on the data Voyager 1 sent back. Science writer, Alexandra Siy writes about the Voyager's journey from inception (by a grad student working part time in the Jet Propulsion Lab) through its planning (lots and lots of math) and design, its launch and some of the many discoveries the data they send back have helped NASA to make about space. Even though the cameras and computers in our smart phones are more powerful and efficient than those on the Voyager rockets, they soldiered on through space and are now in Interstellar space. On board each Voyager is a Golden Record, of music and language and a sampling of what life on Earth was like up to 1977 - just in case there is intelligent life out there. It makes for a great non-fiction/ fiction pairing with Monday's entry, See You in the Cosmos, as the hero, Alex wishes to launch his own rocket containing a Golden iPod to update the intelligent beings out there.

Friday Memes: The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine

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

The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine. 247 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., October 10, 2017. 9781338148527.

Publisher synopsis: Some might say Julian is sheltered. But he lives large, and his eternal optimism allows him to see infinite possibilities wherever he looks.

Despite his optimism, he is anxious about his stressed family falling apart. Even his ability to "uni-sense" what's happening with his sister is gone. If he can make his family focus on the magic in the universe, surely they'll appreciate life again. Now that they are moving from Washington, DC, to rural Maine, Julian can use his beloved telescope without any light pollution. He can discover a comet, name it for himself, and show his family how they're all truly connected.

As Julian searches the night sky, he encounters a force that may drive his plan apart. His neighbor, Mr. X, could bring an end to his parents' dream of opening their B&B. Could one negative force unravel everything? An avid student of science, Julian understands that there is much about the universe that we don't yet know. Who is to say what's possible and what's not?

First Line(s): 1 - Black Holes and Messier Objects

   Magic is all around us, but most people never see it.
   Sometimes even I can't.
   Like right now.
   I'm in the back seat holding my breat, leaning away from the black hole and trying not to get sucked in.
   The black hole is my sister.

Page 56: 
   Mr. X doesn't seem to understand how incredible Mr. Julian was.
   "Don't you see? In spite of everything he left the world a much better place. I want to be like that, too. People say, His legacy lives on. That means we still use the discoveries he made. Even though people don't know his name, they're grateful for all the stuff he did-lots of stuff. Percy Lavon Julian saved people he didn't even know and weren't evn born until after he died! That's magic!"
 i realize I'm standing up now because Mr. X is leaning back in his seat to get away from me.

I became a fan of Ms. Erskine's when I read Mockingbird. The Absolute Value of Mike and Seeing Red are also favorites of mine. I am already smitten by Julian.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: #tbt: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. 288 p. HarperCollins Publishers, June, 1994. 

This book won the 1995 Newbery Medal. It is the story of thirteen-year-old Salamanca (Sal) Tree Hiddle. She's furious with her father for abruptly moving the family from her beloved farm to a suburb where all the houses look alike. Sal wants to get to Idaho before her mother's birthday and her grandparents' agree to take her on a road trip retracing the path her mother took across the country. It is a story with a fairly complicated plot and many twists and turns as well as gorgeous writing. It is filled with humor but also great sadness. Students who love sad books adore Walk Two Moons.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Zoo Scientists to the Rescue by Patricia Newman

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue by Patricia Newman. unpgd. Millbrook Press/ Lerner Publishing Group, October 17, 2017. 978151215711.

Publisher synopsis: Go behind the scenes and discover how scientists at three U.S. Zoos are helping wild and captive orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinoceroses. 

I have been a fan of Patricia Newman every since reading her book, Plastic Ahoy. She writes accessibly and her books are always beautifully designed. I will be using her book, Sea Otter Heroes as a mentor text in a seventh grade research class this coming school year and hope to skype with Ms. Newman. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: Teen Tuesday - We Were Here by Matt de la Peña

We Were Here by Matt de la Peña. 368 p. Random House Children's Books, October, 2009. 9780385736671.

Continuing the road trip theme on The Daily Booktalks this week with one of my favorite YA books ever. We Were Here is the court-ordered journal of Miguel. He was sentenced to one year in a juvenile home for a crime Miguel can't bring himself to write about. He's intending on keeping his head down, serving his time and getting out but all that changes when Mong decides he's breaking out to escape to Mexico. Miguel's roommate Rondell is in so Miguel figures a new start in Mexico might not be so bad. This book is peopled with memorable characters and while at times laugh-out-loud funny, prepare to have your heart broken. Miguel, Rondell and Mong found a place in my heart and We Were Here is a book I reread every few years and cry and love as much as the first time.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Daily Booktalk: Middle Grade Monday: See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng.

This might be familiar to those who regularly read my blog, but I featured it in my daily booktalk on my web page, which I replicate here.

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng 

Eleven-year-old Alex Petrosky is obsessed with outer space in general and the interstellar journey of the two Voyager spacecrafts and their payload - the Golden Records. He decided to launch his own rocket and place a golden iPod on board to update any intelligent beings out there about life on Earth. The book is the transcript of Alex's iPod recordings. I read the book with my ears, so I guess I was listening to the "actual" iPod recordings. The story is essentially Alex's road trip - first from Colorado to New Mexico, where he intended to launch his rocket at a rocketry festival called SHARF. While there, he receives a message from (another interest of his) that provides an address for a man with his father's name and birth date. His father is dead, but Alex decides to head to Las Vegas to investigate this mystery.

Non-Fiction Monday: Voyager's Greatest Hits: the epic trek to interstellar space by Alexandra Siy

Voyager's Greatest Hits: the epic trek to interstellar space by Alexandra Siy. 74 p. Charlesbridge, June, 2017. 9781580897280. (Review from gifted finished copy.)

I finished a unique debut novel the other day called See You in the Cosmos. In it, the main character, an eleven-year-old boy named Alex is obsessed with space in general, but with the journey of the Voyagers and their payload, the Golden Record, in particular. Carl Sagan is his hero. He has even named his dog, Carl Sagan. I was reminded that I had this book sitting on my tbr pile and pushed it to the top. The two books make for a great fiction/ non-fiction pairing.

Voyager's Greatest Hits is a beautiful book from the covers, which open up to reveal a Voyager rocket seemingly headed to the center of swirling stars (It is not captioned, so I don't know if it's real or photoshopped but it sure is pretty.) to the endpages. The front endpages show a close-up of the label on the Golden Record - "The Sounds of Earth." Side 1. NASA. United States of America. PLANET EARTH! Etched in the black section surrounding the label are the words, "To the makers of music. All worlds. All times. The back endpages feature the directions for playing the record. In between are chapters called Tracks. Clever subheadings break up the chapters, excuse me, tracks. Some of them are song titles, such as Rocket Man or On the Road Again, or just plain fun, like, Slingshot in Space, or The Junk on the Bus. 

Each chapter is well-organized and chock-full of information from the historic discoveries through the ages that paved the way for Gary Flandro to consider the problem of gravity-assist rocket trajectories in 1965 (p.5) to the conception needing a whole lot of math to the collaboration of scientists all over the world to its construction and launch. There are plenty of well-captioned, full-color photos that intrigue and boggle the mind. The tone is light and conversational. Backmatter includes an author's note, glossary, websites and books for further reading, source notes and an index. 

This book is a great addition to any school, public or STEM classroom library!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Audiobook Review: See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng. Unabridged audiobook on 5 compact discs; 6 hours, 10 minutes. Performed by Kivlighan de Montebello and a full cast. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, February, 2017. 978152470008. (Review from purchased copy.)

See You in the Cosmos is the "transcript" of the golden iPod recordings of eleven-year-old (older in responsibility age) Alex Petrosky. Alex lives with his mother in Colorado and supported long-distance by a much older brother who lives in LA. His father died when Alex was very young. He is obsessed with space and Carl Sagan. He even named the dog he convinced his uninvolved, apparently mentally ill mother (she has "quiet days") to keep, Carl Sagan. He has built a rocket, which he hopes to launch in New Mexico at SHARF, Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival. Alex plans on loading these iPod recordings onto his rocket and send it into space the way the Voyager II rockets did in 1977. 

He has planned the trip with precision - purchased a train ticket, cooked and labeled all the meals his mom would need and packed for the weekend. What he hadn't planned on was the need to be sixteen to travel alone on the train. The ticket agent doesn't buy his responsibility years but a free-spirited young man, wearing a backpack, offers to pose as his big brother in order to get Alex and Carl Sagan on the train. 

Alex is bright, open, innocent and filled with curiosity. He is also preternaturally competent as the reader infers this from his offhand comments about his unusual home life. He really is suffering from neglect and social services should've been called a long time ago.

The best thing about this audiobook is that Alex is voiced by a kid! Finally! Even though there are a handful of adult narrators who can pull off a kid narrator, it sure was refreshing to hear a real live kid do the job. I hope there are more audiobook narrations in Kivlighan de Montebello's future. He is a terrific actor/ narrator. He really brings Alex to vivid life.

Belief needs to be suspended big-time here for as much as Alex planned, lots and lots of things go wrong for him. He is far too trusting, and lucky. Or not, poor Carl Sagan. And the adults he runs into have a few screws loose, harmless, thankfully; they possess no real sense of responsibility or common sense. But, it makes for quite the road trip and, somehow, works.

I am glad I chose to read it with my ears because I think the audio format, with its multiple narrators and sound effects, is perfect. The structure was unique and Alex is a winning character. 

Give this quirky book to kids who like sad books with a spunky main character and to kids who, like Alex, are interested in astronomy in general, or the Voyager rockets in particular. It's the 40th anniversary of the launch of the two Voyager rockets. This book reminded me that I had another book to read on the old tbr pile. I thought the two would make for a terrific fiction/ non-fiction pairing - Voyager's Greatest Hits: the epic trek to interstellar space by Alexandra Siy. Look for the review tomorrow.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Arc Review: All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson. 248 p. Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Young Readers Group, September 5, 2017. 9780525429999. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

Twelve-year-old Imogene (Impy) grew up with the actors at a weekend Renaissance Fair as her extended family. She has been homeschooled all her life, but has decided to try middle school. Her family does not have a lot of money; they live in a rundown apartment complex but they are close-knit. She isn't aware of all the latest trends and fashion. She frankly doesn't care. She's very psyched to be promoted to role-playing a squire at the fair. She's realistically anxious about starting middle school. 

While she is befriended rather quickly by a trio of girls, led by mean-girl Mika, she notes the hierarchy. She is relieved to be asked by Mika to sit with her at lunch but she's a bit cowed by everything and unwilling to share her Ren-fair life with the kids at school.

As she did in her debut, Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel, Roller Girl, Jamieson nails tween life in all its gloriously weird permutations. Impy is EveryGirl but wholly unique in that she's immersed in the world of the Renaissance and role-playing. Her family is loving and supportive even though her little brother drives her crazy. 

She loses herself a bit in her efforts to navigate the shifting landscape and things come crashing down on her in a realistic way. The problems are also resolved slowly and realistically.

Not all the art was finished in the arc, but what was there is energetic and colorful, with a variety of panel sizes. Each chapter is decorated as an illuminated manuscript reminding readers how immersed in all things Renaissance Impy is, how important it is in her life and how it helps her navigate the "real" world. Even though this was the arc, the page stock was nice and heavy. 

I cannot wait to see the finished book come September and have ordered multiple copies for Jamieson's many fans. My three copies of Roller Girl do not spend much time on the shelf and I anticipate that All's Faire in Middle School won't either. I am so thrilled to have another graphic novel with a female main character. What I really loved about checking out Roller Girl since it pubbed is that it is equally loved by boys as well as girls. I anticipate the same with All's Faire in Middle School. I also anticipate a spiked interest in Renaissance Fairs. I think I might check out our local one that runs in the fall and found myself feeling a bit nostalgic about Medieval Times. I might check that out again.