Monday, January 22, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti

Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti. Illustrated by Scott Wegener. Spy on History series #2. 96 p. Workman Publishing, January 23, 2018. 9780761193265. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

This was fun even though I stink at decoding. If you have a history or spy buff in your life, hand this book to him or her. Heck, just display this attractive, enticing little volume and it should go out and stay out. Everything from it's trim size through the blood-red, die-cut cover screams, "Pick me up!" Profusely illustrated in black, gray and red, the narrative engages from page one and ratchets up the suspense as events unfold. Selected typography pops bold and enlarged on nearly every page. There are clues embedded throughout the book from the map at the front, the copyright page all the way to the end. 

Readers will find an envelope (hopefully) containing four items needed to break the codes in the front. It should be interesting to see how this works with library books, as my 39 Clues books were rarely returned with the cards in place. Backmatter includes a historical note, suggestions for further reading, and sealed pages with the answers, which, of course, I had to look at because I solved NOTHING. 

While I was aware of deception using dummy equipment during WWII, this story really brought to life how complicated the entire project was as well as the danger to the very talented troops recruited for the top secret task.

This is the first I've learned of this series. I am definitely ordering #1, Spy On History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring and will be on the lookout for any future entries. Check out the Workman's page for the book where you can view some of the pages.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

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:

Heroes of Black History: biographies of four great Americans by the Editors of TIME for Kids magazine. Liberty Street/ Time Inc., December, 2017. 9781683300120.

Publisher synopsis: TIME For Kids Heroes of Black History presents the stories of four great American heroes every child should know about in one volume: Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama. Featuring an introduction by journalist and civil rights activist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Heroes of Black History shines a light on the long fight for social justice in the United States as it highlights the accomplishments and personal histories of these four pivotal Americans.

Young readers learn about the life of Harriet Tubman—born a slave around 1820, she escaped to the North, but returned to the South nineteen times as a conductor on the Underground Railroad to lead 300 slaves to freedom. An incredibly gifted athlete, Jackie Robinson endured taunts, slurs, and death threats when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus in 1955 and paved the way for a Supreme Court decision that declared segregation on Alabama’s public buses was unconstitutional. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama took the oath of office as our country’s first African American president. 

Illustrated with a dynamic mix of photographs and illustrations, the biographies of these Americans delve deeper than their accomplishments to reveal details on their childhoods, early experiences, schooling, family life, and more. Sidebars about related topics—Underground Railroad routes, sports firsts, the Harlem Renaissance, and more—give context and additional insights for young readers. Heroes of Black History also gives readers a timeline overview of three centuries of African American history, beginning with the slave trade, touching upon the formation of the NAACP, the civil rights movement, the March on Washington, and other pivotal events, up through the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Brief profiles of more than twenty additional heroes of black history, a glossary of key terms, and a detailed index are also included in this comprehensive book.


Posted by John David Anderson. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3-CD. 9.5 hours. Read by Patrick Lawlor. HarperAudio/ Blackstone Publishers, May, 2017. 9781538419007.

Publisher synopsis: John David Anderson, author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, returns with a funny, honest, and original story about bullying, broken friendships, and failures of communication.In middle school, words aren’t just words. They can be weapons. They can be gifts. The right words can win you friends, or make you enemies. They can come back to haunt you. Sometimes they can change things forever.When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well. Before long the sticky notes spiral out of control, starting a war of words and insults that threatens to tear friendships apart.In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky note wars escalate, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this eighth-grade year, nothing will ever be the same.John David Anderson, the acclaimed author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, returns with the story of five friends struggling to fit in, to find themselves, and to summon the courage to say the things that need to be said.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3-CD. 11 hours. Read by Greg Tremblay. Brilliance Audio, June, 2017. 9781543617948.

Publisher synopsis: Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor–winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3-CD. 2 hours. Read by Dion Graham. Brilliance Audio, July, 2009. 9781423397984.

Publisher synopsis: The stunning companion to the National Book Award finalist--from a three-time Newbery Honor winning author

Twelve-year-old Lonnie is finally feeling at home with his foster family. But because he’s living apart from his little sister, Lili, he decides it’s his job to be the “rememberer”—and write down everything that happens while they’re growing up. Lonnie’s musings are bittersweet; he’s happy that he and Lili have new families, but though his new family brings him joy, it also brings new worries. With a foster brother in the army, concepts like Peace have new meaning for Lonnie.Told through letters from Lonnie to Lili, this thought-provoking companion to Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award finalist Locomotion tackles important issues in captivating, lyrical language. Lonnie’s reflections on family, loss, love and peace will strike a note with readers of all ages.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you? Leave your link and I will definitely visit and comment. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Fact Friday: Let's Talk about Race by Julius Lester

The world of children's literature lost a giant yesterday. This Fact Friday Feature honors author Julius Lester. He wrote over 40 books, 31 for children. His non-fiction book, To Be a Slave won a Newbery Honor in 1968. Jerry Pinkney won a Caldecott Honor for the illustrations in Lester's book, John Henry (a book I cannot read without tearing up). He won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, a Coretta Scott King Award and was a National Book Award Finalist. He was a musician who wrote folk songs as well as a college professor. In 2005, he wrote a picture book called Let's Talk about Race, illustrated by Karen Barbour. In this simple, yet stunning book, he engages the reader in a conversation starter about race that is natural and thoughtful.

Let's Talk about Race by Julius Lester. Illustrated by Karen Barbour. unpgd. HarperCollins Publisher, January, 2005. 9780060285982. (own)

Friday Memes: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

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

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. 340 p. Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic Inc., March 27, 2018. 9780545946179.

Publisher synopsis: When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn't sure she should read it. It's addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.

So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert's history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter's promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?

First Line: October 17, 2007
April Caldwell stared at the letter.
The letter stared back.

Page 56: "Do you have a computer and Internet at home?" Candace asked Brandon as they entered the atrium. "Please tell me you do. Now that we know his name, this could be our big break."
     "It's super-slow, but it works," Brandon said. :Do you really think it's that simple? We do a web search on this Parker guy, and that leads us to the money? That seems...I don't know. Convenient. Easy."
     "Maybe. It's just that I can't help but wonder-what if this was the one clue my grandma missed-just like we almost did. What if..."

The Westing Game is pretty popular at my school as are Johnson's "Heist" books. I've enjoyed his YA fare and am thrilled that he's turned his talents to middle grade. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

#tbt: Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. 273 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., 2005. 9780439755191. (Own)

This one's near and dear to my heart. Not only is it one of my all-time faves, it's my go-to book for students who love sad books and students who love funny ones, as well as students who say they hate sad books. In 2005, the eighth grade LA teacher at my last school read Drums and told me it was a must-read. I read it, and totally agreed. We also agreed that her classes needed to read the book and we needed to arrange for Jordan to visit our school for a day. These were done and his visit was a smashing success. Students loved the book (especially boys who didn't like sad) and they really appreciated meeting Jordan. As a former LA teacher, he gets middle schoolers and knows how to tell a good story. (Believe me, not all visiting authors can keep the attention of middle school students.) He still does school visits. Check out the information here.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie was originally published by a small company, DayBlue Publishing. Unfortunately, it went out of business shortly after Drums debuted. Luckily, Drums was bought by Scholastic, where Jordan has gone on to publish six (by my count) more books. He published four books with Feiwel & Friends-a three-book middle grade series beginning with Dodger and Me and a YA book set during Woodstock, Are You Experienced?

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie has been named to quite a few State Award lists as well as the YALSA's Best Picks list. In 2010, a companion novel, After Ever After was published. That won a Schneider Family Book Award among other honors. I still cry whenever I reread this one.

Drums opens at Steven Alper's eighth grade graduation. As he sits on stage, he reflects on the previous year. His pesky five-year-old brother, Jeffrey was diagnosed with leukemia early in the school year and Steven was basically on his own to muddle through. At turns heartbreaking and hysterically funny, readers ride an emotional rollercoaster right beside Steven. This is the rare book that is a successful whole-class read. Many students go on to read the rest of Jordan's books.

Here are a few more covers. The original cover is on the right.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya. 272 p. Penguin Young Readers Group, August 21, 2018. 9781101997260.

Publisher synopsis: One boy's search for his father leads him to Puerto Rico in this moving middle grade novel, for fans of Ghost and See You in the Cosmos.

Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you're only in the eighth grade, you're both a threat and a target. 
After a fight at school leaves Marcus facing suspension, Marcus's mom decides it's time for a change of environment. She takes Marcus and his younger brother to Puerto Rico to spend a week with relatives they don't remember or have never met. But Marcus can't focus knowing that his father—who walked out of their lives ten years ago—is somewhere on the island. 

So begins Marcus's incredible journey, a series of misadventures that take him all over Puerto Rico in search of his elusive namesake. Marcus doesn't know if he'll ever find his father, but what he ultimately discovers changes his life. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.

I learned about this from the author's essay on the Nerdy Book Club blog earlier this month. I really enjoyed his debut, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora and can't wait to read his sophomore effort!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Teen Tuesday (audiobook review): Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. Unabridged audiobook on 1 MP3-CD. Read by Julia Whelan. HarperAudio, December, 2017. 9781538518755. (Review from purchased audiobook.)

Teen Tuesday features Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. Benway won the National Book Award for Literature for Young People for this book last November. The story is told from three perspectives - Grace, a sixteen-year-old girl who, having given up her own daughter for adoption decides that she wants to learn more about her own birth mother who gave her up at birth. She learns that she has two half-siblings, a sister, Maya, who was also adopted at birth and an older brother, Joaquin, who was surrendered to foster care, was never adopted and is about to age out of the system. This multi-layered, (make no assumptions) deeply emotional book (there will be tears) is best read by students in grade 8 and up. 

I enjoyed this one but I had to get over the narrator's annoying voices for any male character. While she was rather soft-spoken, the whole narration was a bit dead-pan and dry.