Monday, October 31, 2016

Non-Fiction Monday: Whoosh: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton

Whoosh: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton. Unpged. Charlesbridge, May 2016. 9781580892971. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Are you looking for a book to teach perseverance? Looking for a book with a STEM component? Looking for a book that is just plain old fun? Whoosh is the book for you! 

Bless Lonnie Johnson's parents ability to put up with is penchant for collecting and tinkering! Young Lonnie shared a small house with five siblings and all the parts he collected for his inventions. He loved to build and create things. He managed to build and launch a rocket, much to the delight of his classmates but couldn't manage to pass an exam to become an engineer. The exam "said" he wouldn't make a good one. Discouraged, he returned to the drawing board. In 1968, he and his team won first place in a science fair that was held at the newly desegregated University of Alabama. He did go on to become and engineer and was part of the team that launched the Galileo rocket. But what he really wanted was to be a full-time inventor.

As with many inventions, a failure while trying to invent a more efficient and environmentally-friendly refrigeration method led to an idea for the ultimate water gun, a Super Soaker. Kids today, and maybe their parents, might be surprised to learn that toy manufacturers were reluctant to sign on to Lonnie's idea. He heard a lot of "Nos" and had to downsize from a house to an apartment in his quest to hear a "yes!"

Don Tate's energetic cartoon style perfectly captures Lonnie's buzzing energy. The design, from the mechanical drawings on the end-pages to the dramatic gatefold dramatically illustrating Johnson's success, adds to the recipe for success. The combination of engaging text and zippy illustrations make this a perfect read aloud. The class I read this to were so smitten, they asked to find out more about Lonnie Johnson and took to the Internet to read more. That's the power of a great informational picture book! 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Wendy Mass Author Visit

When Trish, from Books, Bytes and Beyond sent an email in early September asking if I'd be interested in hosting Wendy Mass, I flew to my principal's office to ask; prepared to beg if the answer was anything but yes. He said to run the idea by the fifth and sixth grade LA teachers. All five teacher's eyes lit up when they heard, "Wendy Mass." No brainer. Each and every one of them have many Mass titles in their classroom libraries. I have quite a few in mine and they circulate briskly.

I have a sixth grade book club that meets at lunch. We had met to discuss our first book of this school year shortly after the phone call from Trish. While I usually let the kids pick their own next selection, I told them about the visit. After the happy dances and squeals died down, I suggested that our next book be The Candymakers. Agreement was unanimous. We usually meet on Thursdays and Thursday was the day of our visit with Ms. Mass. This club was the brainchild of two friends, who, as fifth graders approached their teacher with the idea. She asked if I could help them and I was happy to. Unlike other years that I tried running book clubs, these girls are just organizational wunderkinds. All I have to do is show up and guide discussion. A large bunch of enthusiastic readers show up. It is so much fun.

Anyway, the girls made a game, for our book club meeting, which was supposed to be the day of Mass' visit. They dropped it off on Tuesday. I should've take a photograph of it because they returned on Wednesday asking if they could take it home to "make sure it works." I said sure and was about to say, "Don't forget to bring it back!" But decided not to.

I should have. They forgot. Thursday morning, they asked if I could postpone our meeting to next week. The bright side? They said the kids could play the game and discuss the author visit along with the book.

They had a point. 

The visit was great! Wendy had a Prezi where she spoke about the 20 books she published since her debut, A Mango-shaped Space, which won The Schneider Family Book Award. Her book, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life was made into a movie so she shared the trailer. Prior to the acceptance of A Mango-shaped Space, she received rejections. She asked for three audience members to help her share the letters of rejection. See below. Impressive! 

That is quite a visual. She also shared a technique she uses in which she "interviews" a main character.

At one point she made the comment that no matter how many drafts she writes, she always finds something to change. I felt a bunch of my students turn to look at me. I told them that I was going to ask her if she felt her writing was ever done. I am teaching a new class this year to sixth graders. They are researching a topic of their choice with the end product being a segment in a class "news hour." Of course, I had two students "finish" pretty quickly. They rejected my suggestions that they add to their paper and so I gave them a variety of jobs in the class. I kept repeating the mantra that, "writing is never done." As we got to the point of practicing with the teleprompter, the two students suddenly realized that their segment was not long enough and went back to their resources. 

The fifth and sixth grades listened respectfully to Wendy's presentation. Then, she opened it up for questions and I panicked when I realized that I forgot to go around to the classes to remind them about the Q & A. How they should really listen to the author and form questions on what they hear; that they should not ask questions like, "Where do you get your ideas?" or "How much do you make?"

Oops! Turns out, they had some really thoughtful and terrific questions! I think it was because many of the students read one or more of Wendy's books, loved them and were interested in finding out more. One student wanted to know if any of the rejection letters really stood out to her. She responded that one editor stated, "I don't even know what to do with this." They thought that was "harsh."

And that is what makes for a great author visit. That sweet spot of great presentation and an audience who is familiar with the author's work.

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.

It has been a quiet couple of weeks but this arrived! It was in a pre-order with another audiobook that is yet to be released. I removed that other for another time in order to receive this:

Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson. Seeds of America Trilogy #3. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3 CD. 8 hours, 11minutes. Read by Siiri Scott. Brilliance Audio, October, 2016. 9781423367444.

Publisher synopsis: Return to the American Revolution in this blistering conclusion to the trilogy that began with the bestselling National Book Award Finalist Chains and continued with Forge, which The New York Times called “a return not only to the colonial era but to historical accuracy.”
As the Revolutionary War rages on, Isabel and Curzon have narrowly escaped Valley Forge—but their relief is short-lived. Before long they are reported as runaways, and the awful Bellingham is determined to track them down. With purpose and faith, Isabel and Curzon march on, fiercely determined to find Isabel’s little sister Ruth, who is enslaved in a Southern state—where bounty hunters are thick as flies.
Heroism and heartbreak pave their path, but Isabel and Curzon won’t stop until they reach Ruth, and then freedom, in this grand finale to the acclaimed Seeds of America trilogy from Laurie Halse Anderson.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday Memes: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

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

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom. 275 p. Poppy/ Little, Brown and Company, February 7, 2017. 9780316260060.
Publisher synopsis: In the vein of It's Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.

For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm's length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel's compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she's been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

First Line: Interestingly, this book starts with a chapter 0. Here's the first line:
    My big brother, Nolan, used to say everyone has a superpower. Not a skill you learned, but something you were born with. And it's not always cool.

Chapter one switched back to a traditional font but is headed by curious sentences with the verbs in a comic sans font. I don't have that font available, so I substituted courier.

                         Hamster is Active
                         Hummingbird is Hovering
                         Hammerhead is Cruising
                         Hanniganimal is Up!

I'm in a better mood than the situation merits.

Page 56: Declan says, "You don't know how god you've got it. I wish I had siblings to reduce my time under the microscope and my parents' questions."
     "I can't remember the last time someone at home asked me a meaningful question," Holly says. "With sisters who've been fighting since before I was born, I'm ignored like dining room furniture."

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Arc Review: Moo by Sharon Creech

Moo by Sharon Creech. 278 p. Joanna Cotler Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, August, 2016. 9780062415240. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher) 

Reena and her brother Luke are city kids through and through. When their journalist parents both lose their jobs and are unable to find new ones, they pack up and head to Maine and the great unknown. Reena and Luke are pretty on board with the move. She anticipates beaches, blueberries and lobster. What she gets is work. She and her brother are volunteered by their parents to help an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Falala, with chores. This includes tending her cow, Zora. Zora is one nasty cow and Mrs. Falala is a bit crotchety herself. Both of them scare poor Luke leaving Reena to deal with Zora. Luckily for Reena, Beat and Zep, who work the cows on a neighboring farm, are willing to mentor Reena. As Reena's confidence grows and Zora becomes more tractable, Reena begins to appreciate both Mrs. Falala and Zora. This is a lovely story about family, friendship and farming.

This poetry/ prose hybrid is classic Creech - sweet, tender, amusing, and udderly readable. For fans of Love That Dog, this book will feel like a warm homecoming or putting on a favorite pair of slippers. New readers are in for a treat. Sharon Creech's books are so accessible thanks to her spare narrative style, her keen eye for small moments and her gentle affection for both her readers and her characters. 

Waiting on Wednesday: Lights, Cameras, Middle School! by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Lights, Cameras, Middle School! by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm. Babymouse: Tales from the Locker #1. 208 p. Random House Children's Books, July 4, 2017. 9780399554391.

Publisher synopsis: It’s a new kind of book for Babymouse! Fans of Dork Diaries, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and James Patterson’s Middle School books, this is going to be epic. . . .
For Babymouse, middle school is like a monster movie. You can never be sure who’s a friend and who’s an enemy, and the halls are filled with mean-girl zombies. Instead of brains, the zombies hunger for stuff—the perfect wedge sandals or the right shade of sparkly lip gloss—and they expect everyone to be just like them.
But Babymouse doesn’t want to fit in—she wants to stand out! So she joins the film club to write and direct a sweeping cinematic epic. Will making the film of her dreams turn into a nightmare?

I learned of this last weekend on FB. I just adore the Babymouse series and have many of them in my middle school library. I am absolutely thrilled that Babymouse is going to middle school! It looks as though the books will be more illustrated novel than graphic novel but that's fine. Anything by either or both Holms is an automatic purchase for me.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Memes: Moo by Sharon Creech

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

Moo by Sharon Creech. 278 p. Joanna Cotler Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, August, 2016. 9780062415240.
Publisher synopsis: Fans of Newbery Medal winner Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog and Hate That Cat will love her newest tween novel, Moo. This uplifting tale reminds us that if we’re open to new experiences, life is full of surprises. Following one family’s momentous move from the city to rural Maine, an unexpected bond develops between twelve-year-old Reena and one very ornery cow.

When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn’t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents “volunteer” Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna—and that stubborn cow, Zora.

This heartwarming story, told in a blend of poetry and prose, reveals the bonds that emerge when we let others into our lives.

First Line: The truth is, she was ornery and stubborn, wouldn't listen to a n y b o d y, and selfish beyond selfish, and filthy, caked with mud and dust, and moody: you'd better watch it or she'd knock you flat.

Page 55/56: 
Zep held his own head high
admiring the heifers
as I stood there
wanting to say something
wanting to keep him there
a little longer
this gangly Zep boy
but no words came out of my mouth

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: Footloose by Kenny Loggins

Footloose by Kenny Loggins. Illustrated by Tim Bowers. With bonus CD performed by Kenny Loggins. 28 p. Moon Dance Press/ Quarto Publishing Group, October, 2016. 9781633221185. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

As earworms go, very little beats Footloose, the 1984 hit co-written by Kenny Loggins and featured in the movie of the same name. While I love the song, I never fully mastered the lyrics. But as soon as I hear those opening notes to that long introduction, my mood immediately lifts and I find a spring in my step. Well, Loggins is a grandfather now, as he shares in his author's note. He took Footloose and reworked to create a dance party for his young granddaughter. 

The result is this exuberant picture book illustrated by Tim Bowers. Zookeeper Jack's about to close the zoo for the night. He and the animals have plans to party. Two little tykes slip back in unbeknownst to everyone and witness the festivities, which include a DJ elephant, dancin' monkeys, giraffes, and kangaroos. Even a line of rhinos get on the dance floor. 

The font color, size and even position on the pages make the words bounce and pop. Bowers' ebullient, textured art exudes joy and humor. The decorated end-pages add to the story as well. This is a read-aloud that begs to be sung and danced to. Make room for your listeners to bust out some moves. It is probably a good idea to take a listen to the bonus CD first. It definitely helps you ease through some of the trickier transitions. The hefty weight of this is sure to stand up to repeated requests for rereads. Visit Quarto Books to view a trailer and a pdf with suggested activities. 

Come on everybody! Cut loose!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Double Audiobook Review: Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. Unabridged audiobook on 12 compact discs. 13.5 hours. Read by Fiona Hardingham and Steve West. Listening Library, 2015. 978110890776. (Review from finished copy borrowed from the public library)

An Ember in the Ashes was one of the most hyped debuts of 2015. It was on my tbr from before its publication but I wasn't able to get to it until I found it on audio. Wowzers, am I sorry it took so long! Epic storytelling, intriguing characters and vivid world building along with spectacular performances by new-to-me narrators, Fiona Hardingham and Steve West. 

The action starts with a bang as Laia and her brother, Darin attempt to escape a Mask raid of the home they share with their Scholar grandparents, Nan and Pop. Laia suspects her brother is working with the Empire thanks to the smell of metal and the sketches of weapons in his sketchbook. But the Masks arrive to arrest Darin for treason. So, is he working for the Resistance? Laia's parents and much older sister died working for the resistance. She is not smart and brave like them. At Daren's insistence, she flees; but has no idea where to find refuge. The Marshals and the Masks have an iron-fisted hold on the mostly oppressed population of the Empire. In desperation, she searches the catacombs for the Resistance.

Chapters alternate between the first-person narrations of Laia and Elias. Elias is about to graduate from his Mask training. He is Blackcliff Academy's most brilliant and gifted student; but he hates what he is being trained to do and is plotting escape. But no one deserts the Academy. Deserters are always caught and always tortured, usually to death.

The emperor protects himself with elite guards but there is a power struggle going on among the elite in addition to attempts at sedition by the Resistance. Elias finds himself entangled in a three-way competition to become the new emperor. He crosses paths with Laia and their fates become entwined.

Why do fantasy books always seem to be narrated by British narrators? Hardingham and West's performances were pitch-perfect. It turns out Hardingham is not new to me. She narrated another favorite audiobook of mine, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Hardingham's musical voice conveys Laia's fear well. West's growly snarl is my newest voice crush. (I mentioned this in a FB post and someone posted his picture to my timeline - he's not hard on the eyes either!)

A Torch against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. Unabridged audiobook on 13 compact discs. 15 hours. Read by Fiona Hardingham, Steve West, and Katharine McEwan. Listening Library 2016. (Review from purchased finished copy)

The only good thing about being late to the party around a smash hit it that there is less time to wait to read the sequel. I did need to buy my copy though because none of the libraries in my library cooperative had acquired the audiobook yet. 

A third narrator was added to A Torch against the Night. Helene's POV alternates with Laia's and Elias' POV and it's quite effective. Not wanting to unintentionally spoil either book one or two, I will say that A Torch against the Night was such a satisfying sequel. It hits the ground running and the suspense remains high for most of the book. I did not skip a day of reading with my ears and had to double up for the final discs. My heart was in my throat for most of the books. There were so many twists and turns and I loved the addition of the Bloodshrike's point of view. There were tears when a favorite character dies and shrieks at a fairly big and surprising reveal.  The violence quotient remains high. There was lots of brutality. I cannot wait for the next book and hear that two more are planned. 

The performances were first-rate. I highly recommend this series.

Waiting on Wednesday: Posted by John David Anderson

WoW is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles we can't wait to release.

Posted by John David Anderson. Walden Pond Press/ HarperCollins Publishers, May 2, 2017. 9780062338204.

I learned of this by following a link from FB last weekend and am so-o excited. Click here to read the summary. I hope there will be arcs at Midwinter. It's the first on my list of requests for the conference. I so loved Ms. Bixby's Last Day.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

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:

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan. 296 p. Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin, January 31, 2017. 9780399186219.

Publisher synopsis: In this heartwarming and funny middle-grade novel by the New York Times bestselling author of Counting by 7s, Julia grows into herself while playing a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz
Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive—one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins—and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background—and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!
Bubbling over with humor and tenderness, this is an irresistible story of self-discovery and of the role models who forever change us.


Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbit. Unabridged audiobook on 1 MP3 CD. 7 hours, 54 minutes. Read by Will Ropp. Candlewick on Brilliance Audio, October, 2016. 9781522656104.

Publisher synopsis: Slip behind the Iron Curtain into a world of smoke, secrets, and lies in this stunning novel where someone is always listening and nothing is as it seems.

Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. And he can’t even ask them why—not because of his Astonishing Stutter, but because asking questions is against the newly instated rules. (Rule Number Two: Don’t talk about serious things indoors, because Rule Number One: They will always be listening). As Noah—now “Jonah Brown”—and his parents head behind the Iron Curtain into East Berlin, the rules and secrets begin to pile up so quickly that he can hardly keep track of the questions bubbling up inside him: Who, exactly, is listening—and why? When did his mother become fluent in so many languages? And what really happened to the parents of his only friend, Cloud-Claudia, the lonely girl who lives downstairs? In an intricately plotted novel full of espionage and intrigue, friendship and family, Anne Nesbet cracks history wide open and gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that’s impossible to understand.

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

Saturday, October 8, 2016

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:

Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron. 170 p. Philomel Books/ Penguin Young Readers Group, February 7, 2017. 9780399546983.

Publisher synopsis: In the tradition of Edward Eager and E.L. Konigsburg, a novel about the excitement—and the dangers—of wishing.

Tess and her brother, Max, are sent for the summer to their aunt’s sleepy village in the English countryside, where excitement is as rare as a good wifi signal. So when Tess stumbles upon an old brass key that unlocks an ornately carved gate, attached to a strangely invisible wall, she jumps at the chance for adventure. And the world beyond the gate doesn’t disappoint. She finds rose gardens, a maze made of hedges, and a boy named William who is just as lonely as she is.
But at William’s castle, strange things begin to happen. Carnival games are paid for in wishes, dreams seem to come alive, and then there's William's eerie warning: Beware of the hawthorn trees. A warning that chills Tess to the bone.
In a magical, fantasy world that blurs the line between reality and imagination, readers are left to wonder exactly what they’d wish for if wishes could come true. Perfect for fans of Half Magicand The Secret Garden—and for anyone who's ever wondered if magic is real.

Ms. Ephron is making her children's debut with this. 


Sharks! by Lori Stein. Animal Planet Chapter Books. 9781618934321.

Dinosaurs! by Laurie Stein. Animal Planet Chapter Books. Both are 112 p. Liberty Street/ Time Inc., October 18, 2016. 9781618931863.
Publisher synopsis: Animal Planet introduces information-packed nonfiction chapter books that are just right for pleasure reading and schoolwork.

Purchased: Went a little wild this week.

Best Man by Richard Peck. Unabridged audiobook on 4 compact discs. 4.5 hours. Read by Michael Crouch. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, September, 2016. 9781735288867.

Publisher synopsis: Archer Magill has spent a lively five years of grade school with one eye out in search of grown-up role models. Three of the best are his grandpa, the great architect; his dad, the great vintage car customizer,; and his uncle Paul, who is just plain great. These are the three he wants to be. Along the way he finds a fourth—Mr. McLeod, a teacher. In fact, the first male teacher in the history of the school.

But now here comes middle school and puberty. Change. Archer wonders how much change has to happen before his voice does. He doesn't see too far ahead, so every day or so a startling revelation breaks over him. Then a really big one when he's the best man at the wedding of two of his role models. But that gets ahead of the story.

In pages that ripple with laughter, there's a teardrop here and there. And more than a few insights about the bewildering world of adults, made by a boy on his way to being the best man he can be.

Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork. Unabridged audiobook on 8 compact discs. 9 hours, 19 minutes. Read by Frankie Corzo. Scholastic Audiobooks, January, 2016. 9780545910934.

Publisher synopsis: When Vicky Cruz wakes up in the Lakeview Hospital Mental Disorders ward, she knows one thing: She can't even commit suicide right. But there she meets Mona, the live wire; Gabriel, the saint; E.M., always angry; and Dr. Desai, a quiet force. With stories and honesty, kindness and hard work, they push her to reconsider her life before Lakeview, and offer her an acceptance she's never had.

But Vicky's newfound peace is as fragile as the roses that grow around the hospital. And when a crisis forces the group to split up, sending Vick back to the life that drove her to suicide, she must try to find her own courage  and strength. She may not have them. She doesn't know.

Inspired in part by the author's own experience with depression, The Memory of Light is the rare young adult novel that focuses not on the events leading up to a suicide attempt, but the recovery from one -- about living when life doesn't seem worth it, and how we go on anyway.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston. Unabridged audiobook on 6 compact discs. 6.5 hours. Read by Jorjeana Marie. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, March, 2016. 9780399566028.

Publisher synopsis: Veronica Mars meets William Shakespeare in a brave and unforgettable YA heroine whose story will inspire and provoke.
Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don't cheer for the sports teams; theyare the sports team—the pride and joy of a small town. The team's summer training camp is Hermione's last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.
In every class, there's a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They're never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she's always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The rape wasn't the beginning of Hermione Winter's story and she's not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

I actually splurged and spent more than I am usually willing, on this one because of the words, "Veronica Mars meets."

The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein. 368 p. W.W.Norton & Company, Inc., September, 2016. 9780393292244.

Publisher synopsis: This master class in writing children’s and young adult novels will teach you everything you need to know to write and publish a great book.
The best children’s and young adult novels take readers on wonderful outward adventures and stirring inward journeys. In The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein guides writers on an enjoyable and practical-minded voyage of their own, from developing a saleable premise for a novel to finding a dream agent. She delves deep into the major elements of fiction—intention, character, plot, and voice—while addressing important topics like diversity, world-building, and the differences between middle-grade and YA novels. In addition, the book’s exercises, questions, and straightforward rules of thumb help writers apply these insights to their own creative works. With its generous tone and useful tools for story analysis and revision, The Magic Words is an essential handbook for writers of children’s and young adult fiction.

Scrooge #worstgiftever by Charles Dickens and Brett Wright. OMG Classics series. 90 p. Random House, September, 2016. 9780399550645.
Publisher synopsis: A Christmas Carol, one of the holiday’s greatest traditions told . . . in texts?!
Imagine: What if Scrooge, Marley, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and the whole Cratchit family had smartphones? A classic is reborn in this clever adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
One grouchy old man who can’t stop asking “How did you get this number?!”
Three ghosts who communicate in the most modern ways, including one who ONLY uses emojis!
And a status update with the most “likes” ever: God bless us, everyone!
This retelling will cure even the worst bout of Bah hummingbird! #darnyouautocorrect 
A glossary and cast of characters are included for those who need it. 

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to (Not) Growing Up by Tommy Greenwald. Charlie Joe Jackson series #6. Unabridged audiobook on 1 MP3 CD. 3 hours, 15  minutes. Read by MacLeod Andrews. Brilliance Audio, August, 2016. 9781531846628.
Publisher synopsis: As graduation day approaches, Charlie Joe is starting to realize being a kid isn't so bad after all, in this hilarious, final installment of the Charlie Joe Jackson series.
Yes! Graduation day is finally here! Charlie Joe has been waiting for this moment his entire middle school career. This might even be the best day of his life. No more teachers! No more books! Just make it through the ceremony and he's free. But suddenly things around him are starting to change. Words like responsibility and college prep keep popping out of his friend's mouths. What happened to words like fun and pool party? And come to think of it, doesn't high school bring more teachers and more books? Maybe this whole growing up thing isn't such a good idea after all. Actually, being a kid is pretty darn fun! Surely Charlie Joe can figure out a way to put the brakes on growing up—and fast!

The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the three magical children and their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz. Unabridged audiobook on 8 compact discs. 10 hours. Read by a the author and a full cast. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing, September, 2016. 9780735287365.
Publisher synopsis: The bestselling author of A Tale Dark and Grimm takes on medieval times in an exciting and hilarious new adventure about history, religion . . . and farting dragons.
1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne's loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead.
As the narrator collects their tales, the story of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.
Their adventures take them on a chase through France to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned. They’re taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. And as their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.
Beloved bestselling author Adam Gidwitz makes his long awaited return with his first new world since his hilarious and critically acclaimed Grimm series. Filled with Adam’s trademark style and humor, The Inquisitor's Tale is bold storytelling that’s richly researched and adventure-packed.
Read by Vikas Adam, Mark Bramhall, Jonathan Cowley, Kimberly Farr, Adam Gidwitz, Ann Marie Lee, Bruce Mann, John H. Mayer, and Arthur Morey
Features medieval music performed by Benjamin Bagby of Sequentia.

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sorry about That

I'm sorry about that crazy multiple posting of my "Waiting on Wednesday" post. I thought I pulled it down to edit but Blogger seemed to clone the post. I tried three times before I approached the problem differently. My bad. Have a great Humpday!

Waiting on Wednesday: Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

WoW is a weekly meme (or, was, since there hasn't been a post since late August) hosted by Breaking the Spine in which we share the titles we can't wait to release.

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan. 304 p. Penguin Young Readers Group, January 31, 2017. 9780399186219.

Publisher synopsis: In this heartwarming and funny middle-grade novel by the New York Times bestselling author ofCounting by 7s, Julia grows into herself while playing a Munchkin in The Wizard of Oz
Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive—one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins—and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background—and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!
Bubbling over with humor and tenderness, this is an irresistible story of self-discovery and of the role models who forever change us.

I absolutely adored Ms. Goldberg Sloan's Counting by 7s and cannot wait for this.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Audiobook Review: Historical Fiction Double-header

Sigh. There was a time when I reviewed everything I read. Then, I reviewed only what I really liked. Lately, I realized that I am not even doing that! I never reviewed two audiobooks that totally blew me away this summer. So here's a double review of two historical fictions not to be missed.

Both of these feature totally fictional characters set during a notable historical event, neither of which, I am embarrassed to admit, I had ever heard. But then, I always learn the most interesting things by reading literature for young people.

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez. Unabridged audiobook on 10 compact discs, 12 hrs., 50 mins. Read by Benita Robledo and Lincoln Hoppe. Listening Library, 2016. 9780735289475. (Purchased)

Set in New London, Texas in 1937, where a deadly explosion  at a school killed scores of children, Out of Darkness tells the story of Naomi and Wash. Fifteen-year-old Naomi is Mexican and her five-year-old half-siblings are bi-racial. They've recently been summoned by Naomi's white stepfather to live as a family in New London. Her half-siblings mix easily but Naomi is immediately confronted with racial hatred aimed at Mexicans. All the boys in her high school make assumptions and all the girls hate her because of those assumptions compounded by her beauty and apparent disinterest. She does, reluctantly at first, become interested in Wash, an ambitious African American boy with college prospects. She and Henry, her step-father, share a terrible secret. Henry has supposedly repented and become a Christian, but with each passing day, his resolve waivers and Naomi finds herself the object of his advances. 

This just shredded my heart to bits. Nothing like listening to a book and knowing from disc one that lots of terrible things are going to happen. Evocative and layered, this elicited so many emotions-like falling in love with the characters and wanting to keep them safe; like the fury of unrelenting wrongs and injustice. This was one tough but powerful read. The audio performance was first-rate. The narration by new-to-me narrator, Benita Robledo was commanding. I will definitely be interested in listening to more of her performances. Lincoln Hoppe served as the voice of the "Greek Chorus." Highly recommended!

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Unabridged audiobook on 7 compact discs (8 hrs., 48 min.) Read by Jorjeana Marie, Cassandra Morris, Will Damron and Michael Crouch. Listening Library, 2016. 9780147525451. (Purchased)

Salt to the Sea is told from the points of view of four young people as the losing German army retreats from Russian forces across East Prussia. Joana is a Lithuanian nurse shepherding a group of refugees to Gotenhofan to attempt to gain passage on the ship, Wilhelm Gustloff. She encounters Emelia, a young Polish girl and Florian, a deserting German soldier. There's also the POV of Alfred, a delusional German Navy seaman who finds multiple ways of shirking his responsibility. Each hides secrets both tragic and dangerous. The chapters are short as the point of view shifts quickly from person to person. Be patient with the set-up for as the pieces of this puzzle begin to fit together, the suspense will prevent you from putting the book down (or, in my case, stop listening). So will the love you may be surprised to have for some of the characters. Even the secondary characters are so vividly drawn that I wept over some. 

I was unaware that the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustlaff was the worst maritime disaster in history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Ms. Sepetys brings a little known segment of World War II to vivid life. While all the characters are completely fictional, what happened to them in the book, really happened to refugees. 

The four performers did a wonderful job. Three of the four were new-to-me narrators. Cassandra Morris' performance as Emelia was particularly affecting. I'm not sure who voiced Alfred, but his portrayal was creepily smarmy as fitting Alfred. Great job. 

Both books will require a sophisticated reader for both structure and content with Out of Darkness being more appropriate to a high school reader. Out of Darkness won a Printz Honor in January and Salt to the Sea is getting some award buzz for the 2017 season.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Non-fiction-ish Review: Lift Your Light a Little Higher by Heather Henson.

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: the story of Stephen Bishop: slave explorer by Heather Henson. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. unpgd. Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, September, 2016. 978148181420952. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher)

When I first read this back in July, my first impulse was to feature it in Non-Fiction Monday post until I realized that it is a fictionalized biography since it is written in the first person. I never did get around to writing a review. The book got buried on the bottom of the "to review" pile. Last month, Bookends Blog featured it along with James Madison Hemings in an article entitled Fictionalization in Non-fiction. I recently uncovered and reread the book while reorganizing the mess that is my desk. My review is followed by a couple of thoughts on the trend of fictionalizing Non-fiction.

Stephen Bishop was born in Kentucky around 1821. As a teenager, his master decided he would work as a guide in Mammoth Cave. He learned the cave, over 400 miles of mapped trails. He was not the only slave guide but he became the most famous because he was intelligent and well-spoken. He made many discoveries but did not receive credit for them because he was a slave. He quietly taught himself to read by helping tourists candle-write their names on the cave ceilings. His death is a mystery. The author writes in her author note that because of the dearth of information about his life, she chose to imagine him telling his story.

The illustrator, Bryan Collier, a large man who doesn't like small spaces, visited the caves for research and saw Stephen's candle-written signature. His dark hued collages invoke wonder and claustrophobia in equal measures. Each one invites the reader to pause and pore. Each one is more powerful than the last. The double-page spread where the author writes, "Because I am bought and sold, same as an ox or a mule; bought and sold along with the land I work," depicts an imposing ox with dark silhouettes superimposed on his body. Powerful stuff made especially jarring because with the page turn, the illustration depicts white tourists apparently having the time of their lives. 

Share this picture book widely. It's a powerful conversation starter. Don't forget to share the back-matter. I can't wait to begin some interesting conversations with my students.

I remember reading Jacqueline Woodson's Newbery Honor-winning Show Way aloud to most of my students (from grades 2 to 8) the day after the award was announced in 2007. I was impressed not only by the beauty and design of the book, but also by the fact though, Show Way was a family story, Woodson had it classified as a work of fiction since all of the elements could not be verified. She did the same thing with her luminous memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming. Invariably, students in class after class asked, "Is this true?" I asked them what they thought and after listening to their answers shared the answer. They proceeded to ponder big T and little t-truth. 

Only eight libraries in my cooperative own Lift Your Light a Little Higher so far. Seven of them have catalogued the book as biography. Technically, it's not though I'm tempted to put it there in my library myself. Thoughts?