Saturday, July 31, 2021

What's New?

"Stacking the Shelves" is was a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It seems the blog is gone though, for the link no longer takes you to it. So, I will just continue to post a "What's New? post whenever I receive new books. 

For Review: I had the opportunity to choose from new publisher, Red Comet's debut list recently. The books came in a lovely package:

I can't wait. 

Cat & Dog: a Tale of Opposites by Tullio Corda. Translated by Taylor Barrett Gaines. 36 p. Red Comet Press, September 7, 2021. 9781636550022.

Publisher synopsis: Cat and Dog are not the same, in fact they are very different and the perfect subjects for a tale of opposites.

From the start of their day to the inevitable tussle, for these two best friends, everything is opposite. Enjoy their adventures as they fight and play, chase and hide, in an escapade that includes some special storytelling in the illustrations of this deceptively simple book. Tullio Corda depicts a relationship that is familiar to us all and provides a clever surprise ending.

Before We Sleep by Giorgio Volpe & Paolo Proietti. Translated by Angus Yuen-Killick. 26 p. Red Comet Press, September 7, 2021. 9781636550046.

Publisher synopsis: Soon, the dormouse must hibernate, and the friends will part. As the time for sleep nears, the fox tries to keep the dormouse awake. Sleep indeed must come, but not before the two friends have shared one last story, knowing they will be together again in the spring.

This gentle friendship story is the perfect allegory for the bedtime ritual. And the reassuring message is clear: “I will be there for you when you wake.”

Each book has a link to activity pages on their web page.

Purchased: Nothing!

What was in your mailbox this week?

Thursday, July 29, 2021

#tbt: Once by Morris Gleitzman

Once by Morris Gleitzman. 192 p. Square Fish/ Macmillan, 2005. (Own)

#tbt features Once by Morris Gleitzman. This is the first book of the Felix and Zelda series and was published in 2005. Yesterday, in "Waiting on Wednesday," I featured Always, which will be the final book in the seven-book series. What makes Once special is the voice. Felix is a naive narrator, which makes his story all the more heartbreaking. Also, each chapter begins with the word, "Once." 

Felix believes he is staying with nuns in a convent high up in the mountains because his book store-owning parents are away at a convention, though he has been there for over three years. He decides to go and look for them and leaves the convent just as the Nazis are raiding it, for the nuns have been hiding Jewish children. Soon after, he finds an unconscious young girl named Zelda in a burning building and rescues her. The two become friends and traveling companions. 

The story is a work of fiction loosely based on the story of Janusz Korczak. You can read more about Mr. Gleitzman's inspiration on his website. The publication of Then followed in 2009, followed by Now in 2010. Now takes place in contemporary Australia and is about Felix and his granddaughter. After, Soon and Maybe were published in 2012, 2015, and 2017. I had to order the last three books and most likely, After, directly from an independent bookstore in Australia. 

I have had great success book talking this title. Most students give it a try and return asking for the next book. I've had quite a few students read the entire series. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: Always by Morris Gleitzman


Always by Morris Gleitzman. 240 p. Puffin/ Penguin Books, October 26, 2021. 9780241380482.

Waiting on Wednesday features Always by Morris Gleitzman. For the last fifteen years, one of my go-to novels about the Holocaust has been Once. Invariably, students devoured it and asked for more and luckily, there were five more books to offer. On October 26, fans will get to read the final chapter of Felix's long life. Here's the publisher synopsis: 

It's 15 years since readers were first introduced to Felix in Once and, across six celebrated books, our brave young hero has survived many unforgettable and emotional journeys. 2021 sees the publication of the seventh and final part of Felix's story, bringing to a powerful climax a series that countless young readers around the world will remember - Always.

Late in life, Felix finds himself back where he started, living in an aged-care home that reminds him of his childhood orphanage. He's not happy. His body might be old, but his spirit is still youthful. When he learns that a young child friend is in terrible danger, Felix doesn't hesitate. He makes his second orphanage escape, goes back to Eastern Europe and throws himself into a daring and dangerous journey with a new young friend. Felix knows it might be the end of him, but he hopes it will allow him to do something first. Make a gift to the children of the world that will help them always.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo

 Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo. Unabridged audiobook, ~191 minutes. Read by the author. Listening Library/ Make Me a World/ Random House Children's Books, March, 2021. 9780593343708. (Review of e-audio borrowed from public library.)

Teen Tuesday features another verse novel about the Muslim immigrant experience. In Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, fourteen-year-old Nima despairs of ever fitting in and grieves for a father she never knew. Her father died in a car accident back in Sudan (presumably, it is never named) before she was born. Her mother and her best friend, both pregnant, immigrated to the U.S., where Nima and Haitham were born. They live in the same apartment building and Haitham is like a brother to Nima. He does his best to protect her from bullies, but she's constantly picked on for her religion, her skin color, and her poverty. Nima wishes her mother had stayed in Sudan and named her Yasmeen. She's convinced her life would've been different.

In fact, she believes that she glimpses Yasmeen from time to time and this is where the novel veers into magical realism. After a series of crises, Nima gets to travel the road not taken.

This was an immersive read. I'm glad I read with my ears. First, I adore listening poets read their own work. Secondly, as mentioned in Monday's post, I love hearing the foreign language words and names pronounced correctly. 

Home is Not a Country should appeal to teens who enjoy verse novels, stories of the immigrant experience and stories about finding one's place/ belonging. 

Middle Grade Monday and Audiobook Review: Unsettled by Reem Faruqi

Unsettled by Reem Faruqi. Unabridged e-Audiobook, ~2.5 hours. HarperAudio/ HarperCollins Publishers, May, 2021. 9780063044739. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Happy Monday! I am roughly halfway through summer break and it seems to be a good time to stop and reflect. Am I having fun? Am I getting exercise? Am I getting outdoors in between all the rain we've been having? Am I reading? This has been an eventful summer for me filled with a fair amount of stress, but I am trying to get some exercise and get out of doors each day. I've been averaging seven miles a day of walking and I walk briskly enough to get my heart rate up. 

The stress has definitely impacted my reading. I'm finding it difficult to maintain concentration and even though I've read roughly a book a day this summer, I went into the break 28 books behind my GR goal and was hoping to catch up. That won't happen and that is okay.

Middle Grade Monday features Unsettled by Reem Faruqi. This blank verse novel is loosely based on the author's childhood. Nurah has a perfect life in Karachi, Pakistan. She has a best friend, lives with her beloved grandmother and gets to swim in the ocean with her brother often. One perfect day at the beach turns into Nurah's worst day when her father announced plans to move to Peachtree City, Georgia for a new job. Suddenly, Nurah's life is unsettled as she realizes that everything about her from her accented English through her clothing and brown skin makes her stick out when all she wants to do is blend in. Joining the swim team helps, but she becomes jealous of her brother's ability and seeming ease at fitting in.

This moving novel is told in verse in nine sections. Issues of racism, Islamophobia, racial profiling and friendship are explored. Back matter includes a glossary of Arabic and Urdu terms that are woven into the text, an author's note and a recipe.

The audio was well-paced. The narrator's voice sounded youthful and I appreciated her fluency with Arabic. When I read foreign language words with my eyes, I tend to butcher the pronunciation or skim right by. I know I should stop and look the words up, but I often sacrifice that in favor of staying in the flow of the book. 

Unsettled should appeal to a wide range of middle grade readers. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Picture Book Review: Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf by Sam Wedelich

Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf by Sam Wedelich. unpaged. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., March, 2021. 9781338359008. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Chicken Little is back and she is absolutely not afraid of any big bad wolf. Sporting her signature red specs and red cowboy boots, this little gem of a story begins on the title page with Chicken Little stating, "I am so NOT scared of any wolf!"

On the next spread, she reiterates that she is not afraid. Then, wham! She collides with none other than the Big Bad Wolf, who wants to know if she's okay. She's not and runs away in a panic, then tells another chicken that she thinks she just saw the Big Bad Wolf. That chicken runs to tell the rest of the flock, who break into factions - Team Flight and Team Fight. Meanwhile, Chicken Little is second-guessing her reaction.

This is a read aloud that begs you to get your ham out. It's told mostly in dialogue and it's very punny, making it a great book to adapt into a Reader's Theater. Line drawings convey emotion, energy and lots of sight gags. The lesson is delivered effectively with lots of fun. 

I often tell my students not to skip the title page and end pages and this is a good example why not. The story starts on the title page and ends on the copyright/ publisher info page. The end pages are simply adorable. 

Welcome back Chicken Little! Hope to see you again soon!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

What's New?

"Stacking the Shelves" is was a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It seems the blog is gone though, for the link no longer takes you to it. So, I will just continue to post a "What's New? post whenever I receive new books. 

For Review: I went into school the other day to drop off a box of books I'm donating to the collection and found two packages in my work mailbox!

Marshmallow Pie the Cat Superstar by Clara Vulliamy. Marshmallow Pie the Cat Superstar, Book 1. 128 p. HarperCollins Children's Books, May, 2021. 9780008355852.

Publisher synopsis: A hilarious new series from Clara Vulliamy, the author-illustrator of Dotty Detective, about grumpy cat Marshmallow Pie and his reluctant pursuit of stardom. Perfect for fans of Toto the Ninja Cat or The Secret Life of Pets.

Marshmallow Marmaduke Vanilla-Bean Sugar-Pie Fluffington-Fitz-Noodle is a big, fluffy (and grumpy) cat. He LOVES the easy life: lazing in the sunshine, eating Shrimp Crunchies and annoying Buster, the dog downstairs.

His new owner, Amelia Lime, has grand plans to turn Pie into a STAR… But Pie thinks he’s a star already, to be honest!

Told in the hilarious voice of Marshmallow Pie himself, his mischievous antics are illustrated throughout in black and white.

River Stories by Timothy Knapman. unpaged. Egmont/ Farshore/ HarperCollins Publishers, June, 2021. 9781405292542.

Publisher synopsis: Sail along five mighty rivers around the world and open up the giant fold-out pages to reveal incredible stories from history, mythology and modern times.

This gorgeous gift book will take you on a world adventure via the world's greatest rivers. The Yangtze tells of dragons and dolphins, while the Rhine whispers about castles and Frankenstein. Explore pyramids, tombs and temples by the Nile, and search for lost cities and gold alongside the Amazon. And follow the Mississippi to hear of historic battles and dinosaurs.

Gorgeously illustrated pages fold out to reveal the full length of each river. Make an epic journey from source to sea and soak up the rivers' amazing stories.

Purchased: Nothing!

What was in your mailbox this week?

Friday, July 23, 2021

Fact Friday: Chunky by Yehudi Mercado

Chunky by Yehudi Mercado.  208 p. Katherine Tegan Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, June, 2021. 9780062972790. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)

Happy Friday! Fact Friday features Chunky by Yehudi Mercado. This graphic novel memoir draws on the author's youth, his health struggles and desire to fit in. Readers meet Hudi in his imaginary world where he stars in a variety of sports. IRL, Hudi is at the doctor's office being weighed and told that he needs to lose weight. He deflects with humor, which cracks his doctor up, but annoys his mother. Hudi's not paying attention though. Something has caught his eye and that something is following their car home.

Hudi is surprised to see his dad home and his mom wants him to talk to Hudi. His sisters don't want to play with him, so he goes to his room to sulk and he discovers Chunky. Chunky isn't just an imaginary friend, he's an imaginary mascot and it's Chunky's mission to cheer Hudi on. He will need it, because his parents insist he try a sports team to get Chunky out and active. And so, he tries a series of sports.

Hudi has a bit of a hard time fitting in. He's the only half-Mexican, half-Jewish kid he knows. He lost a lung to an infection and is overweight. His stress increases when his dad loses his job. Chunky and Hudi's talent for cracking jokes at his own expense help him through tough times.

Hudi is a charmer. The art is vibrant and energetic. Back matter includes a touching author's note and photos. Chunky  should be a hit with fans of graphic novel memoirs and artists like Raina Telgemeier. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

#tbt: Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. 224 p. Yearling/ Random House Children's Books, December, 2011. 9780375836909. (Own.)

#tbt features Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. In case you missed the Middle Grade Monday post, which synopsized the graphic novel adaptation, let me re-summarize the plot.

Eleven-year-old Turtle heads to Key West, Florida to stay with an aunt she's never met because her single mother just got a live-in housekeeping job with a woman who doesn't like children. It's the Great Depression and jobs are hard to come by, so Turtle's mom packs her off. Only, her letter explaining the situation to Turtle's Aunt Minerva is misdelivered, so Aunt Minnie is caught by surprise and none too please. Neither is her cousin Bean, since he has to give up his room and bunk with his two younger brothers. 

The three boys run a club called The Diaper Gang and it's a "no girls allowed" kind of club. Still, Turtle finds herself fitting in on Key West. 

There's a lot of humor here and many compelling characters. If you like historical fiction, be sure to check out Turtle in Paradise. The cover featured above is not the original. That appears below:

While I really adore the original cover, I really love the paperback cover. 

Turtle in Paradise was named a Newbery Honor and was Ms. Holmes' third Newbery Honor, her first being Our Only May Amelia in 2000 and her second, Penny from Heaven in 2007.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: Pony by R.J. Palacio

Pony by R. J. Palacio. 304 p. Knopf Books for Young Readers/ Random House Children's Books, September 28, 2021. 9780553508116.

Publisher synopsis: Twelve-year-old Silas is awoken in the dead of night by three horsemen, who arrive unannounced to take his father away. Silas is left shaken, scared, and alone, except for the presence of his companion, Mittenwool . . . who happens to be a ghost. But when a pony shows up at his door, Silas knows what he has to do. He will set out on a perilous journey across a vast American landscape to find his father—a journey that will ultimately connect him with his past and future, and the unfathomable mysteries of the world around him.

R. J. Palacio spins a harrowing yet distinctly beautiful tale about the power of love and the ties that bind us across distance and time. For readers who love the poignant depth of War Horse and the singular voice of True Grit, this is one of those rare books for readers of all ages with the makings of a modern classic.

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

Teen Tuesday features Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee. Ms. Lee is author of The Downstairs Girl, which I LOVED and featured in a Teen Tuesday post last year. Here, she uses the fact that there were eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic as inspiration for this layered, deeply moving narrative.

Seventeen-year-old Valora Luck has a first class ticket on board the maiden voyage of the Titanic, only she cannot board without her employer, as Valora works as a lady's maid. The problem? Her employer died after purchasing the ticket. Val wants to use her ticket to board, reconnect with her twin brother, Jamie and find a way to audition for Ringling Brothers' circus. 

Val and Jamie's Chinese father taught them juggling and acrobatics, skills the twins used when money was tight and their dad was drinking too much. Val has a couple of other problems as well. She doesn't have a passport and even if she had one, the racist Chinese Exclusion Act would make it all but impossible for Val and Jamie to enter in the U.S. Still, Val is determined to board. She spies an opportunity to put her acrobatic skills to good use and stows away. One eagle-eyed passenger witnesses this.

April Hart is intrigued. She's an American designer of haute couture clothing and doesn't fit society's expectations for women of the time. She has a plan and wants Val's help. Can Val trust April? How will Val find Jamie in Third Class? Will Jamie agree with Val's pie-in-the-sky plans? And, what will happen to Jamie's good friends if he does decide to join Val?

Ms. Lee's tale unfolds from Val's POV and it's engaging from the start. Val is plucky and blunt. She's a survivor and totally devoted to her brother. The setting is vivid and suspense is high as Val shuttles between the cabins in First and Third class. She dons disguises and switches accents as she searches for a way to make her plan work. Characters are richly developed and some are endearing, which makes the author's warning at the beginning of the book, eight Chinese passengers boarded, six survived, all the more ominous.

 I read this one with my ears and loved how the narrator effortlessly switched accents and languages! For me, listening to a book read by a narrator fluent in both languages heightens my appreciation. I tend to skim over foreign words and phrases, but listening draws my attention. There were times when plot conveniences threatened to take me out of the story, but Val's voice brought me right back in.

Fans of Ms. Lee's earlier books as well as fans of historical fiction will love Luck of the Titanic. Warning: there will be tears. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Turtle in Paradise: the Graphic Novel by Jennifer L. Holm

Turtle in Paradise: the Graphic Novel by Jennifer L. Holm and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau. 256 p. RH Graphic/ Random House Children's Books, June, 2021. 9780593126318. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)

Middle Grade Monday features Turtle in Paradise: the Graphic Novel by Jennifer L. Holm and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau. I had no idea this adaptation was even in the works, let alone out. Thanks to the children's librarian at my local library for displaying it! Sometimes, I can't keep up!

This graphic novel is adapted from Ms. Holm's 2010 Newbery Honor-winning novel of the same name. More on that in this Thursday's #tbt. It's June of 1935 and the country is in the middle of The Great Depression. Eleven-year-old Turtle has to travel to Key West, Florida to stay with an aunt and cousins she has never met because her mother got a job as a live-in housekeeper to a woman who "can't abide children." It seems Turtle arrived before her mother's letter and Aunt Minerva is none too pleased. Neither are her boy cousins, especially Beans, who has to give up his room for Turtle. Beans heads "The Diaper Gang" and no girls are allowed. They allow Turtle to tag along though and Turtle slowly comes out of her shell.

The art captures the Depression-Era Key West beautifully from the architecture through the clothing. The palette is decidedly beachy as well. Turtle in Paradise: the Graphic Novel should appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jamison, as well as fans of historical fiction and anyone who wants to fall in love with a girl with grit.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Fact Friday: Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer

Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition) by Anton Treuer. 386 p. Levine Querido, April, 2021. 9781646140459. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher and audiobook borrowed from the public library.)

Happy Friday! Fact Friday features Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians But Were Afraid to Ask (Young Readers Edition) by Anton Treuer. Using a question and answer format, Dr. Treuer poses and answers around two hundred questions one might have about terminology, history, cultural practices, politics and activism regarding Native Americans. Dr. Treuer is an Ojibwe author and professor. The tone is thoughtful and seeks to educate the curious. There are plenty of well-captioned photos to illustrate the text, giving readers extra insight. 

Dr. Treuer speaks some painful truths about how Native Americans were/ are treated by the U.S. Government and its citizens. The book is a remarkable starting point for any reader seeking to unlearn American history. Back matter includes suggestions for further reading, source notes and an index.

The audiobook was narrated by the author in a dispassionate, reasoned tone allowing the facts to speak for themselves. I was glad I had the arc handy to see the photos and read the back matter. And, I absolutely love the cover! This is a book that belongs in all school and public libraries serving young adults. Highly recommended!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Friday Memes: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt

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

Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Eric Rohmann. 326 p. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book/ Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster, September 7, 2021. 9781534406438. (Review of arc courtesy of Blue Slip Media.)

Publisher synopsis: Perfect for fans of The One and Only Ivan, this exquisite middle grade novel from Newbery Honoree and National Book Award finalist Kathi Appelt follows an old camel out to save two baby kestrel chicks during a massive storm in the Texas desert— filled with over a dozen illustrations by Caldecott winner Eric Rohmann.

Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion.

But those stories were from before. Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.

First Line(s): "Incoming!"

     Even in her sleep, Zada recognized that voice.

     The old camel raised one eyelid. It was still dark. There was at least an hour left before dawn. She did not recall setting an early alarm bird.

Page 56: "We'll be the fastest ever!" announced Zada.

     Asiye agreed. "We'll fly right past those other camels."

     But in the meantime, Teodor brushed them until their fur was as soft as silk., "Güzel develer," he told them. Beautiful camels. Afterward, he gave them each a handful of fat, juicy figs.

I actually finished this gorgeous novel last week and am scheduled to participate in a blog tour around the book's release date. I just wanted to get this out there on the radar. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

#tbt: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Image: Scholastic Inc.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. 544 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., January, 2007. 9780439813785. (Own.)

#tbt features The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. I love to hand this 500+ page brick to reluctant readers and watch their eyes fly open. More than half of it is told in illustrations and they are glorious. Sometimes, when reading an illustrated novel, one can skip over the pictures. Not so here. Readers will miss significant chunks of story if the illustrations aren't given careful consideration. Mr. Selznick won the 2008 Caldecott Medal for this work. Caldecott Medals are awarded for the art in what is usually a picture book. This was the first novel to ever win a Caldecott Medal!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is the story of Hugo, an orphan who lives in the walls of a Paris train station. He had been living with an abusive, alcoholic uncle who trained him to tend to the clocks throughout the station. When his uncle doesn't return home, Hugo continues the job and tries to keep out of sight. He's caught stealing from a cranky toy shop owner though and he confiscates Hugo's tools and his beloved father's notebook. His father worked in a museum restoring pieces and had been working on restoring an automaton at the time of his death in a fire. Hugo wants to repair the machine. 

The story was adapted for film by Martin Scorsese and released in 2011. Mr. Selznick had a cameo appearance in the party scene at the end of the movie. 

Waiting on Wednesday: Sunny Makes a Splash by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Makes a Splash by Jennifer L. Holm. Illustrated by Matthew Holm. 224 p. Graphix/ Scholastic, September 21, 2021. 9781338233179.

Publisher synopsis: Sunny has a political awakening after watching the news coverage of the infamous Love Canal environmental disaster. She is especially disturbed that poisonous chemicals were seeping into people’s basements “That’s where kids always hang out!” (It’s where SHE and her friends hang out.)

She and her friend Dev decide they want to start an after-school debate club to debate political issues. At first, they can’t find a teacher to sponsor their club because they are at a big football school. Finally, their quirky English teacher, Mr. C, sponsors the club and they start debating. Eventually, these two public school kids go on to win second in the state championship, debating Main Line private school kids. Along the way, she learns how to debate both sides of the issue and most importantly how to speak up. Incidentally, what they end up debating about in the “big debate” is delightfully boring — “cogeneration” or turning garbage into energy. (This is based on Jenni’s real-life experience.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: The Way Back by Gavriel Savit

The Way Back by Gavriel Savit. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~10 hours, 54 minutes. Read by Allan Corduner. Listening Library/ Random House Children's Books/ Penguin Random House, September, 2020. 9780593286128. (Review of e-audio borrowed from public library.)

Happy Thursday! I hope that you are enjoying your summer break and that books and reading are a part of that enjoyment. I wish the weather would improve.

Teen Tuesday features The Way Back by Gavriel Savit. This historical fantasy feels like a dark and ominous folk tale. Yehuda Leib and Bluma are young teens who live in the tiny shtetl of Tupik in eastern Europe in the 1800s. Bluma lives in comfort over the bakery her parents run. Her grandmother, whom we meet as a girl in the beginning of the book, resides on the top floor. Yehuda Leib lives with his mother and his life is less secure. He's scrappy and an accomplished thief. He longs to learn more of his father. The entire town whispers of him, but no one will share.

Each separately have an encounter with the Messinger of Death one fateful evening and they end up in the Far Country, a parallel universe just past the graveyard where the walls between the worlds are thin. The Far Country is filled with demons, Lilith and her followers and a grotesque army of the dead. At the center of it all is the House of Death, which is both Yehuda Leib and Bluma's destination. Though each are on separate paths, they cross from time to time. There is constant danger and trickery as a variety of demons attempt to ensnare/ enslave them to do evil things.

The setting is vivid and atmospheric. Some characters are nefarious; others are harmless. All are fascinating. Danger lurks everywhere, but there are many moments of humor to lighten the load. Be patient, as the story unfolds slowly and is richly layered and filled with Yiddish sayings and proverbs. Teen readers who enjoy complex storytelling will love The Way Back.

The Way Back is available at Closter Public Library and also in e-book and e-audio formats through eBCCLS. I read this one with my ears. It was narrated by Allan Corduner, a favorite, who, in addition to narrating Mr. Savit's earlier story, Anna and the Swallow Man, also narrated The Book Thief. The Way Back was a National Book Award Finalist last fall.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Miles Morales Shock Waves by Justin A. Reynolds. Illustrated by Pablo Leon.

Miles Morales: Shock Waves (Original Spider-man graphic novel) by Justin A. Reynolds. Illustrated by Pablo Leon. 128 p. Graphix/ Scholastic Inc., June, 2021. 9781338648034. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Middle Grade Monday features Miles Morales: Shock Waves by Justin A. Reynolds. Miles Morales is just trying to get by in Brooklyn. He attends New Visions Academy boarding school by day and swings through the city streets stopping crime by night as Spider Man. When does this kid sleep? When a hurricane hits his mother's native Puerto Rico, she starts raising funds and Miles pitches in to help. Kyle, a new student, suggests that her  father might help. He gets his new employer to donate and then he goes missing. Two unusual interns also work at the company and were involved in a theft that Spider Man thwarted days earlier. Is there a connection between the girls, the rock they left behind, Kyle's father's disappearance AND the earthquake in Puerto Rico?

My knowledge of the Marvel Superhero Universe is paltry at best. That said, I enjoyed this graphic novel. Miles is a winning narrator, just trying to survive boarding school and figuring out what his art project will be. The art is energetic and vibrant and one of the final panels reveals a twist, which is presumably the basis for a future installment. I can't wait to see what my students think and I'm looking forward to reading the next one.

Picture Book Review: Wishes by Mượn Thị Văn

Wishes by Mượn Thị Văn. Illustrated by Victo Ngai. unpgd. Orchard Books/ Scholastic Inc., May, 2021. 9781338305890. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

A young girl is awake in the middle of the night observing the adults in her life make preparations to leave. Each double-page spread contains a line with a single, spare wish. According to the illustrator, there are just 75 words of text. The text is achingly beautiful and matched perfectly be equally arresting illustrations. The palette is muted, somber and each spread begs lingering. They are sad though. The little girl fiercely hugs her dog in one spread and tearfully bids her grandfather goodbye in another. There's hardship at sea as well as homesickness. Thankfully, the final spreads end on a hopeful note and notes from both the author and illustrator provide context. 

While the story is based on the author's experience leaving Vietnam in 1980, she and the illustrator consciously chose to universalize the refugee experience in both the text and especially on the book cover, which is different than the jacket illustration, thereby leading to another "Book Cover Dilemma." I'm choosing not to tape mine down. 

The sixth grade read Inside Out and Back Again by Thannhá Lai this year and I believe this books as well as The Paper Boat: a refugee story by Thao Lam would me amazing additions to the fabulous unit the two teachers developed. Wishes belongs in all libraries and should be shared widely with young people. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

What's New?

"Stacking the Shelves" is was a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It seems the blog is gone though, for the link no longer takes you to it. So, I will just continue to post a "What's New? post whenever I receive new books. 

For Review: A box sat on the edge of the top step of my front porch in the pelting rain yesterday and I gasped. We've had some pretty severe thunderstorms this week and the gutters have been totally useless. The box was pretty soaked, but thankfully, the arcs inside were not! Thank you Levine Querido!

Mighty Inside by Sundee T. Frazier. 248 p. Levine Querido, September 14, 2021. 9781646140916.

Publisher synopsis: Melvin Robinson wants a strong, smooth, He-Man voice that lets him say what he wants, when he wants—especially to his crush Millie Takazawa, and Gary Ratliff, who constantly puts him down. But the thought of starting high school is only making his stutter worse.

And Melvin’s growing awareness that racism is everywhere—not just in the South where a boy his age has been brutally killed by two white men, but also in his own hometown of Spokane—is making him realize that he can’t mutely stand by.

His new friend Lenny, a fast-talking, sax-playing Jewish boy, who lives above the town’s infamous (and segregated) Harlem Club, encourages Melvin to take some risks—to invite Millie to Homecoming and even audition for a local TV variety show. When they play music together, Melvin almost feels like he’s talking, no words required. But there are times when one needs to speak up.

When his moment comes, can Melvin be as mighty on the outside as he actually is on the inside?

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera. 336 p. Levine Querido, August 17, 2021. 9781646140893.

Publisher synopsis: Había una vez . . .

There lived a girl named Petra Peña, who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller, like her abuelita.

But Petra’s world is ending. Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children — among them Petra and her family — have been chosen to journey to a new planet. They are the ones who must carry on the human race.

Hundreds of years later, Petra wakes to this new planet — and the discovery that she is the only person who remembers Earth. A sinister Collective has taken over the ship during its journey, bent on erasing the sins of humanity’s past. They have systematically purged the memories of all aboard — or purged them altogether.

Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again?

Pura Belpré Honor-winning author Donna Barba Higuera presents us with a brilliant journey through the stars, to the very heart of what makes us human.

I'll Keep You Close by Jesk Verstegen. 176 p. Levine Querido, October 5, 2021. 9781646141111.

Publisher synopsis: Jeska doesn’t know why her mother keeps the curtains drawn so tightly every day. And what exactly is she trying to drown out when she floods the house with Mozart? What are they hiding from?

When Jeska’s grandmother accidentally calls her by a stranger’s name, she seizes her first clue to uncovering her family’s past, and hopefully to all that’s gone unsaid. With the help of an old family photo album, her father’s encyclopedia collection, and the unquestioning friendship of a stray cat, the silence begins to melt into frightening clarity: Jeska’s family survived a terror that they’ve worked hard to keep secret all her life. And somehow, it has both nothing and everything to do with her, all at once.

A true story of navigating generational trauma as a child, I’ll Keep You Close is about what comes after disaster: how survivors move forward, what they bring with them when they do, and the promise of beginning again while always keeping the past close.

Never Forgotten by Alejandra Algorta. Illustrated by Ivan Rickenmann. Translated by Aida Salazar. 288 p. Levine Querido, August 31, 2021. 9781646140947.

Publisher synopsis: Fabio flies through the streets of Bogotá on his bicycle, the children of his neighborhood trailing behind him. It is there that life feels right—where the world of adults, and their lies, fades away. But then one day, he simply forgets. Forgets how to ride his bicycle. And Fabio will never be the same again.

From Colombia comes a special debut talent, Alejandra Algorta, and a first novel of discovery and heartbreak. Algorta’s distinct and poetic prose has been translated by award-winning author Aida Salazar, and presented in English and Spanish.

Purchased: Nothing!

What was in your mailbox this week?

Picture Book Review: The Little Blue Bridge by Brenda Maier

The Little Blue Bridge by Brenda Maier. Illustrated by Sonia Sanchez. unpgd. Scholastic Press, June, 2021. 9781338538014. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Ruby, the kick-butt STEM hero from The Little Red Fort is back. This time she spies blueberries ripe for the picking. Her brothers head off with pails intent on excluding her. They contend with a bully who guards a log bridge over the stream. Each passes the buck to the sibling following until the bully has to deal with Ruby. This retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff charms. There's comforting repetition that makes for a good read aloud. The illustrations are textured, colorful and often humorous. Fans of The Little Red Fort will cheer for imperturbable Ruby!

This is a terrific addition to any library collection.

Fact Friday: Sky Gazing: a Guide to the Moon, Sun, Planets, Stars, Eclipses and Constellations by Meg Thacher

Sky Gazing: a Guide to the Moon, Sun, Planets, Stars, Eclipses and Constellations by Meg Thacher. 132 p. Storey Books, October, 2020. 9781635860962. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)

Fact Friday features Sky Gazing: a Guide to the Moon, Sun, Planets, Stars, Eclipses and Constellations by Meg Thacher. If you've ever contemplated the night sky and wondered about what you are seeing, this is the book for you! Slightly oversized and attractively designed, young readers will find it appealing and inviting. It's well-organized and the text is conversational, chunked and accessible. There's science, there's folklore from diverse cultures and an amusing little guy named Star Dude who pops in from time to time to define things and add clarity. 

This first-purchase will be a brilliant addition to any library collection. It will be useful for young astronomy researchers and a browsable bonanza for tween fact hounds. I put it in my book order and can't wait to share this when I get back to school in September!

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Picture Book Review: Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards by Meghan P. Browne

Indelible Ann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Governor Ann Richards by Meghan P. Browne. Illustrated by Carlynn Whitt. unpgd. Random House Studio/ Random House Children's Books, June, 2021. 9780593173275. (Review of finished copy courtesy of Blue Slip Media.)

Using a folksy conversational tone and effective repetition of the phrase, "Just wait, you'll see," author Meghan P. Browne paints the life of Dorothy Ann Willis as a tall tale. She was the only child of humble parents who worked hard. Ann had chores to do, but also loved to fish and run. She biked five miles each way to her piano lessons. When the second World War broke out, her father shipped out to California and it wasn't long before Dorothy Ann's mother packed up the car to join him.

In San Diego, she became part of a more diverse community than her small Texas hometown. She was also inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt. She did well in school and when the war was over she moved to Waco, Texas, where she attended high school, dropped Dorothy to become just Ann, and became active in speech and debate. Her talent earned her a trip to Washington D.C.

After college, she married and settled down to raise a family, but became involved in local politics, eventually becoming county commissioner. Her marriage did not survive her political rise. She remained committed to building a more just and equitable Texas government, first at its treasurer, then as its governor. Along the way, she reached national prominence when she delivered a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1988. 

There's a good deal of political history packed into this accessible story. Bold, busy illustrations depict Ann at various ages always ambitious with clear, blue eyes flashing. Both the writing and art work well to bring this dynamo to vivid life. Back matter includes more information about Ann Richards, black and white photos and selected sources.

Indelible Ann will leave an indelible impression on young readers. I'm happy to be adding it to my sixth grade picture book biography unit. 

#tbt: Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to (Not) Reading by Tommy Greenwald

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to (Not) Reading by Tommy Greenwald. Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to... #1. 224 p. Roaring Brook Press/ Macmillan Publishers, July, 2011. 9781596436916. (Own.)

If authors ever wonder about whether the grind of keeping a social media presence is worth it, let me assure you that it is. Earlier this week, I scanned my "Daily Book Talk" spreadsheet and realized that I hadn't chosen a book for this week's #tbt. Sometimes, I have #tbt and "Waiting on Wednesday" titles scheduled for weeks or even months and other times, I'm furiously searching that morning for inspiration. So, thank you, Tommy Greenwald for posting about the ten-year anniversary of a book that continues to be my go-to.

Charlie Joe Jackson made it to sixth grade without ever reading a book from beginning to end and he's ready to share his secrets with the world. He does so in short chapters featuring practical advice.

Mr. Greenwald made a splash with his debut, which also happened to be a series starter. The combo of winning, unreliable narrator, realistic middle school drama and hilarious illustrations hits the tween reader sweet spot.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: The Graveyard Riddle by Lisa Thompson

Happy Wednesday! Today is puppy Boo Radley's second birthday! He was born about six weeks before we had to euthanize Friday, the dog of my heart. Hubbins drove out to Ohio and back (in one day!) to pick puppy Boo up in early September and he has been velcro dog ever since. 

The Graveyard Riddle by Lisa Thompson. 320 p. Scholastic Inc., August 3, 2021. 9781338679083.

Waiting on Wednesday features The Graveyard Riddle by Lisa Thompson. In 2017, Ms. Thompson made quite a splash with her debut mystery, The Goldfish Boy. The Graveyard Riddle is a companion novel. Here's the publisher synopsis: Melody Bird has discovered an old, abandoned building on the edge of town…

It's a dark, creepy place, but she can't resist its pull. When she goes to explore, she finds a boy hiding out there. Hal tells Melody that he is a spy-in-training, using the house as a base for his undercover surveillance of a nearby suspected criminal. He's very secretive about the details, but Melody trusts him and starts bringing him blankets and sneaking him food. She confides in her friends Matthew and Jake about Hal — they immediately question the likelihood of a twelve-year-old spy and decide to turn the tables and spy on him, to work out what he's really up to…

This extraordinary companion to The Goldfish Boy is a page-turning mystery with a sensitive story about mental health at its core. The Graveyard Riddle releases on August 3.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson

Image: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson. 208 p. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April, 2021. 9780358334859. (Review of finished copy courtesy of Blue Slip Media.)

Happy July 4 Monday TMS Readers! What are you reading right now? I'm reading an arc of Kathi Appelt's next book, Once Upon a Camel. Fans of Ms. Appelt know they are in for a treat whenever a new book of hers releases. This one is gorgeously illustrated by Eric Rohmann. 

I am also reading the arc of a debut fantasy called Beasts of Prey by Ayana Grey. And finally, I'm reading a book with my ears called, The Way Back by Gavriel Savit. This was a National Book Award finalist last fall and I really enjoyed Mr. Savit's Anna and the Swallow Man. Both books were narrated by Allan Corduner, who also was totally entrancing as Death narrating The Book Thief. 

Middle Grade Monday features Rescue at Lake Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson. This animal adventure story features twelve-year-old Madi Lewis and her best friends, Aaron and Jack and Jack's dog, Lid. Madi is a citizen scientist and aspiring animal rehabilitator just like her recently deceased grandmother. Her parents issued a cease and desist order - no more animal rescue - or her planned trip to Vermont to meed her hero, Jane Goodall is off. Her plans to make good on that promise are jeopardized when the three friends discover the bodies of two adult beavers who had been killed near their lodge. It was breeding time and Madi believes there maybe kits needing rescue in the lodge! She and her friends have studied beavers and have a reasonable understanding about where to find the kits, only it involved swimming underwater to find the opening of the lodge! And there are leeches in the water! Yikes!

Then, once the kits are in hand, the question remains, what to do with them? More importantly, how to keep her parents from finding out about them. For Jack, he's intent on finding the poacher who shot the beavers. The three friends live on a lake with unfettered access to a clubhouse, canoes and an ATV. Readers will learn a lot about wildlife rehabilitation in general and beavers in particular in engaging story. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, a terrific friendship triad that works well, and an intriguing mystery to solve. There's a wonderful author's note at the end that also includes tips about wild animal rescue.

Rescue at Lake Wild is available to borrow at our amazing public library, Closter Public Library. There is a wait list on eBCCLS for the e-book version. I've included a link below to the publisher's website for the book. There is a two minute video of the author talking about the book. Happy reading!

Web Link:

Rescue at Wild Lake is just the book if you love animals, friendship stories and local adventure. It's a wonderful addition to any library.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

What's New?

"Stacking the Shelves" is was a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It seems the blog is gone though, for the link no longer takes you to it. So, I will just continue to post a "What's New? post whenever I receive new books. 

For Review: Exciting goodies from Candlewick Press!

Polo Cowboy by G. Neri. Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. 280 p. Candlewick Press, October 12, 2021. 9781536207118.

Publisher synopsis:When Cole moves in with his dad, Harp, he thinks life will be sweet—just him and his horse, Boo, hanging out with Philadelphia’s urban cowboys. But when Harp says he has to get a job, Cole winds up as a stable hand for the polo team at George Washington Military Academy, where the players are rich, white, and stuck-up—all except Ruthie, the team’s first and only girl, who’s determined to show the others she can beat them at their own game. As Cole and Ruthie become friends—and maybe more—he starts imagining his future, maybe even at the academy. But between long workdays, arrogant polo players, and a cousin trying to pull Cole into his dangerous business, that future seems remote. Will Cole find the courage to stand and be seen in a world determined to keep him out? With striking illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson, celebrated author G. Neri’s novel weaves themes of tenacity and community into a rousing sports story inspired by Philadelphia’s real-life urban cowboys and polo players.

How does a Black kid from North Philly wind up playing polo? The much-anticipated sequel to Ghetto Cowboy, now a major motion picture starring Idris Elba and Stranger Things’s Caleb McLaughlin.

The Beatryce Prophesy by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. 254 p. Candlewick Press, September 28, 2021. 9781536213614.

Publisher synopsis: We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all—for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories—powerful tales-within-the-tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves—ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her—a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone—will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

From two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and two-time Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall comes a fantastical meditation on fate, love, and the power of words to spell the world.

The Robber Girl by Franny Billingsley. 416 p. Candlewick Press, September 14, 2021. 9780763669560.

Publisher synopsis: A brilliant puzzle of a book from the author of Chime and The Folk Keeper plunges us into the vulnerable psyche of one of the most memorable unreliable narrators to grace the page in decades. The Robber Girl has a good dagger. Its voice in her head is as sharp as its two edges that taper down to a point. Today, the Robber Girl and her dagger will ride with Gentleman Jack into the Indigo Heart to claim the gold that’s rightfully his. But instead of gold, the Robber Girl finds a dollhouse cottage with doorknobs the size of apple seeds. She finds two dolls who give her three tasks, even though she knows that three is too many tasks. The right number of tasks is two, like Grandmother gave to Gentleman Jack: Fetch unto me the mountain’s gold, to build our city fair. Fetch unto me the wingless bird, and I shall make you my heir. The Robber Girl finds what might be a home, but to fight is easier than to trust when you’re a mystery even to yourself and you’re torn between loyalty and love. The Robber Girl is at once achingly real—wise to the nuances of trauma—and loaded with magic, action, and intrigue. Every sentence shines, sharp as a blade, in a beautifully crafted novel about memory, identity, and the power of language to heal and reconstruct our lives.

Part literary mystery, part magical tour de force—an incantatory novel of fierce beauty, lyricism, and originality from a National Book Award Finalist.

Scribbles, Sorrows and Russet Leather Boots by Liz Rosenberg. 432 p. Candlewick Press, October 5, 2021. 9780763694357.

Publisher synopsis: Moody and restless, teenage Louisa longed for freedom. Faced with the expectations of her loving but hapless family, the Alcotts, and of nineteenth-century New England society, Louisa struggled to find her place. On long meandering runs through the woods behind Orchard House, she thought about a future where she could write and think and dream. Undaunted by periods of abject poverty and enriched by friendships with some of the greatest minds of her time and place, she was determined to have this future, no matter the cost.

Drawing on the surviving journals and letters of Louisa and her family and friends, author and poet Liz Rosenberg reunites Louisa May Alcott with her most ardent readers. In this warm and sometimes heartbreaking biography, Rosenberg delves deep into the oftentimes secretive life of a woman who was ahead of her time, imbued with social conscience, and always moving toward her future with a determination that would bring her fame, tragedy, and the realization of her biggest dreams.

Insightful, exciting, and deeply moving, Liz Rosenberg’s distinctive portrait of the author of Little Women reveals some of her life’s more complex and daring aspects.

Purchased: Nothing!

What was in your mailbox this week?

Friday, July 2, 2021

Fact Friday: The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan. Adapted for young people by Hilary Beard

The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan. Adapted for young people by Hilary Beard. 302 p. Henry Holt and Company/ Macmillan Publishers, May, 2021. 9781250787699. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)

Happy Friday TMS Readers! As we head into the Independence Day weekend, take some time to read and reflect on the history of the U.S. and the democracy that the colonists fought to achieve. Read deeply, past the mythology and understand that "We the people" need to work toward a more perfect union every day by becoming informed participants.

Fact Friday features The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan. Adapted for young people by Hilary Beard. Back in the beginning of April, Fact Friday featured Unspeakable by Carole Boston Weatherford. This picture book was a gentle introduction to a tragedy that history book writers tended to ignore at best and misrepresent at worst. Teen readers who want to learn more about the Greenwood community and how it thrived during the Jim Crow era will receive cogent and comprehensive information gleaned from a variety of primary sources. Peppered throughout the narrative are personal stories of a variety of residents.

This book was adapted from a book written for adults. Just as Jason Reynolds did when he adapted Dr. Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning work for adults, Stamped from the Beginning, Ms. Beard gently but honestly guides teen readers through the complex factors surrounding this tragedy. Make no mistake though, there will be pain. Segregation is painful and dehumanizing. Lynching was a fairly common form of vigilante justice and the violence that rained down on the community of Greenwood was swift and devastating. Back matter includes copious chapter notes, followed by several pages of books and websites for readers/ researchers wanting to read more.

The Burning is an important addition to any library serving young readers.