Friday, July 30, 2010

Edge of Chair Edgar Finalist

The book jacket of this YA spy-in-training mystery promises that the reader will be guessing until the last page. True!

THE MORGUE AND ME by John C. Ford, Viking, 2009.

How nice to read a novel that concentrates on the mystery and doesn’t focus on the gore and grime of crime. OK, there is a body almost from the beginning, but the focus remains on why he was killed and who did it.

Christopher, the main character, just graduated from high school and has a love of photography–just like the author. He doesn’t make dumb mistakes the reader could see coming for a mile. Circumstances trip him up, but not his own feet. He isn’t arrogant and doesn’t get a comeuppance.

Considering all the CSI shows and spin-offs, a high school student taking a job as a morgue assistant doesn’t seem like a strange choice of summer jobs. If a guy plans to be a spy, what better place to start?

It must have been a challenge to keep Christopher’s ten year old brother from stealing the whole show. Maybe author Ford will center a book on Daniel someday.

For kids who love summer because it gives them time to read for pleasure, this book could be one last treat before having to tackle reading assignments for school.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is There a Fair in Your Future?

Popcorn, cotton candy, and hotdogs, sideshow barkers, lights, rides, games–-it's more than enough for an entire alphabet.

A FABULOUS FAIR ALPHABET by Debra Frasier, Beach Lane Books, 2010

Wow! I got dizzy the first time through this book. A second trip helped me remember the fairs I’ve enjoyed and realize that the sights, sounds, and smells of a real fair are, in fact, dizzying. The author/illustrator captures all the reasons we go to fairs in bright colors and vivid scenes.

Young readers will want to look at each picture on each page. Your own memories of the fair will keep you recalling family stories or childhood memories.

I liked the full spread of C (cotton candy) and the full spread of L (large lemonade); R (roller coaster) races across another double spread. Lest you think I just enjoyed the double spreads, wait until you get to W (win). You’ll have to pick up a copy of the book to find out what the illustrator chose for D.

Read this to your young listener a number of times before you go to a fair. He or she will be eager to go. And so will you.

To “meet” the creative artist and find fun activities see

Friday, July 23, 2010

Making Sense of the News–maybe

We hear about Afghanistan on network news every night. Putting a face to the news might help us understand why we are committing ourselves to sacrifices beyond imagining.

NASREEN’S SECRET SCHOOL: A True Story From Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter, Beach Lane Books, 2009

Nasreen’s parents disappear. In sorrow and great distress, this young girl becomes mute. Her grandmother watches her suffer until she feels driven to take action. She risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. In this place of warmth and friendship, healing begins. The books Nasreen learns to read and love open windows on the world.

How this secret school changes Nasreen’s life also gives the reader a glimpse–but only a glimpse--into how girls and women are treated in Afghanistan and why the Taliban is such a dreaded foe. The award winning author has written and illustrated many books for young readers based on true-life stories. She writes with sensitivity.

The risk Nasreen’s grandmother takes for her will stay with the reader. The young reader will know that when she hears about the war in Afghanistan, a little girl named Nasreen, about her age, is going to a secret school and enjoying books the same way she is. Maybe they are even reading the same books.

Children’s books are always a good way to make sense out of the world. Even better, they bring hope at the end.

May it always be so.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sleepy or Creepy?

The choice is this: go to sleep at a decent hour and finish the book tomorrow, or keep turning pages until the villain is uncovered or caught or the mystery is solved or the things that go bump are explained. Usually, in my arguments with myself, creepy wins. I have to know how it ends. NOW.

SHADOWED SUMMER by Saundra Mitchell, Delacorte Press, 2009

Here is the summary from the book jacket: In the small town of Ondine, LA, 14 year old Iris uncovers family secrets when she conjures up the ghost of a boy missing for decades and decides to solve the mystery of his disappearance.

Yes, there is conjuring and not everyone is comfortable with the effects of dabbling in the dark arts. So be advised. However, the voices of the main character and her best friend are authentic and their boredom in the small town, which they vow to leave as soon as they get their drivers’ licenses, will resonate with a teen reader.

The author is a screenwriter, and it shows. Imagine what ghostly antics can do for a muggy summer in a town of 349 people that’s not more than a supper stop between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. This was a finalist for the Edgar for Young Adult novels. It’s easy to see why.

It’s likely that girls rather than guys will opt to lose sleep over this one.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Different Underwater Picture

Oil in the Gulf of Mexico, sharks at the Jersey Shore, our beautiful beaches and wetlands under threat...let’s visit better times.

Do you remember that lovely book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From the Sea? My daughter, Carolyn, gave me a copy when she graduated from college with this inscription: “Mom, I hope you love this author." I did. Still do.

Here’s another gift linking us to the sea, and this one can be loved by your young readers, a picture book biography of Jacques Cousteau. When he was young, Jacques Cousteau was given a pair of goggles so he could see underwater. This gift changed his life forever.

The Fantastic Undersea Life of JACQUES COUSTEAU, by Dan Yaccarino, Alfred A.Knopf, 2009.

Writer/illustrator Yaccarino heard Cousteau’s words, “The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.” He stirs words and art together in a magical mix, pulling the reader deeper and deeper under the sea with Cousteau.

Cousteau’s tv series, The Undersea World of Jacques Costeau, brought sea creatures like whales and dolphins right into people’s living rooms. Yaccarino has accomplished the same feeling for the reader, as if he is standing in an aquarium, but instead of the reader moving from exhibit to exhibit, the exhibits move to him. The placement of double spreads, the vibrant art with blocks of text on one page and circles of quotes from Cousteau on the opposite page, all move together.

Cousteau, who produced 50 books, two encyclopedias, and dozens of documentary films, shot The Silent World, the first full-length, full-color underwater film ever made, in the Mediterranean Sea. His dream was to live and work underwater in labs and actually colonize the ocean. His diving Saucer could descend 350 meters to the Sea Flea which could take scientists another 500 meters. However, the problem, yet to be solved, is this: since people need sunlight to live, how could they actually live underwater?

Your young readers will be transfixed–and maybe take Cousteau’s work to the next level. Or should I say depth?

Be sure to see the trailer:

Enjoy the sea breeze!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Nothing Quiet About Sojourner

Some people seem destined for greatness, from the very first sound they make when they arrive in the world. That was Sojourner Truth.

SOJOURNER TRUTH’S STEP-STOMP STRIDE by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Disney Jump at the Sun Books, 2009.

I can hear a group of youngsters step-stomping around the room in imitation of the famous person they’ll meet via this lively picture book. Some books are meant to be read before a nap. Not this one. After you finish sharing this brief burst of history, get the children up and moving.

Both author and illustrator have won numerous awards. They’ve combined talents to breathe life into a period of history when injustice threatened nearly everyone and overwhelmed the good intentions of most.

Larger than life, Sojourner Truth step-stomped her size twelve feet through a swamp of trouble until at long last she tasted the sweetness of freedom. Did she use her freedom to help others? Of course she did.

That was Sojourner Truth.

Your young readers won’t forget her.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Even Dust Bunnies Have Heart

If your kids are bored with summer and you’re bored with hearing how bored they are, help is at hand.

HERE COMES THE BIG, MEAN, DUST BUNNY! By Jan Thomas, Beach Lane Books, 2009

Ed, Ted, Ned, and Bob say they rhyme all the time. (Bob?) Enter the monstrous dust bunny and a game is on. Knowing that sat and splat rhyme might make you wonder how this one will turn out. Not to worry. Even on the run, a pun is fun.

A mom might wonder if it’s her kitchen pantry or laundry room where Jan Thomas hides to do her writing. I wondered. Will you?

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Different Kind of Sixties Summer

Dalphine is used to doing things that are hard–-like being a mother to her little sisters. She’s peacemaker, caretaker, and chief worrier. Her story will pull at your heartstrings.

ONE CRAZY SUMMER by Rita Williams-Garcia, Amistad, 2010.

Delphine wants to understand three things:
Why did her mother leave? (Delphine was four.)
Why did she stay away? (Delphine's little sisters don't remember her at all.)
Why didn’t she want her little girls? (All three girls wonder about this.)

Finally, in the summer of 1968, Delphine, now eleven, gets her chance to ask. Her father and his mother, who have raised Delphine and her younger sisters, send all three girls from Brooklyn to visit their mother in Oakland, CA. They soon discover that their mother has no idea what a mother should be, and she certainly can’t be the mother they want her to be, nor does this perfect stranger have any interest in being that mother.

A revolutionary poet, their mother sends the children to a Black Panthers’ summer camp, the only place that will feed them breakfast and lunch. She keeps saying, hurtfully, in words or actions, “Didn’t ask no one to send you here, no way.”

The girls are not allowed in the kitchen at their mother’s house, but Delphine realizes her sisters need a home cooked meal, something like their grandmother would feed them at home. Delphine goes to the grocery, buys food, and then stands up to her mother and gets admitted to the kitchen–which doubles as a work area for printing protest materials. She cooks and cleans up after supper.

This brings on a comment from her distant biological mother. “We’re trying to break yokes. You’re trying to make one for yourself. If you knew what I know, seen what I’ve seen, you wouldn’t be so quick to pull the plow.”

This is a clue to her mother’s life, but it isn’t understood until much later. You might want to read this book a second time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. If your ten or eleven year old reads this middle grade novel, you’ll get questions. Better be prepared.

The author has won numerous awards including the Coretta Scott King Honor for Like Sisters on the Homefront. Her website is She is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults Program. Her own two daughters are grown.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Congratulations, Hester Bass!

And the winner of the



drum roll, please...

THE SECRET WORLD OF WALTER ANDERSON by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis, Candlewick, 2009

Reviewed here on March 9.

Hurrah for Hester!

Don’t Call it a Weed!

Weeds, I’ve been told, are plants in places you don’t want them to be. If you like the weeds where they are, does that make them non-weeds?

One summer a much loved aunt of mine who was ill and unable to leave her bed, wrote a full page of her letter to me about the lovely mimosa tree she could see from her window. Imagine my shock to hear someone refer to this tree as a weed. When I discovered a little girl who loved the “stubborn and wild” mimosa as much as my aunt, I hugged this little girl to my reader’s heart immediately.

A TREE FOR EMMY by Mary Ann Rodman, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss, Peachtree, 2009

Emmy loved all the parts of the mimosa tree growing in her gramma’s pasture: the fuzzy pink blossoms in summer, the seed pods in the fall. Her proud gramma said the tree was a lot like Emmy, “Stubborn and strong and a little bit wild.”

When her parents asked what she wanted for her birthday, of course, Emmy wanted a mimosa. It would be perfect under her bedroom window where she could enjoy it every day, all year.

Her parents set out to buy a mimosa tree. Not so easy. The plant and garden stores don’t sell mimosas just like they don’t sell dandelions.

What’s a mimosa lover to do?

If you have any wild and stubborn young readers at your house, here’s a summer time book to delight. Best read close to a mimosa, sitting on a quilt, with a picnic lunch close at hand. Another glass of lemonade, please.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Uncle Augustus, Where Were You?

Mosquitoes ring the dinner bell when I step into our backyard. Then I read about a man who suddenly developed an appetite for bugs, so much so, that he raced in, around, and under bushes, hid behind trees, and leapt amazing heights just to scarf up flying insects. Instead of thinking him weird, I wanted to invite him to our 4th of July picnic.

The Entomological Tales of Augustus T. Percival: PETRONELLA SAVES NEARLY EVERYONE by Dene Low, illustrations by Jen Corace, Houghton Mifflin, 2009

Obviously, one woman’s glass of iced tea is another’s dreaded discovery. Petronella is about to be presented at her 16th birthday party when she discovers to her horror that her guardian and beloved Uncle Augustus has suddenly developed a predilection for eating bugs. Yes, bugs!

Set in Victorian London, this is a book for middle grade girls who want to while away hot summer hours on a back porch or in an out of the way spot in the garden. Or not. The reader is swallowed whole by the main character’s adventures (while Uncle is swallowing bugs), so the reader’s setting really doesn’t matter. As long as there are no interruptions.

Kidnaping, bugs for clues, making sure Uncle doesn’t eat those clues, and oh, yes, one’s best friend’s brother, a titled Lord with the Home Office, is simply to be swooned over. Or is that for? The pace is frantic.

Fond of terms of endearment like “old egg” or “old prune”, the trio, Petronella, her best friend and the young man known as one of England’s most eligible bachelors, travel from one crisis to the next. While they unravel clues, they barely escape a pursuing pack of outrageously proper relatives who could (and would!) alter Petronella’s life drastically if they find out about Uncle and his joy of eating bugs.

This will be a fun book for the readers at your house, but sadly, Uncle was a no-show at my holiday picnic.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

An Unsolved Mystery!

Fibonacci numbers appear in nature and nobody knows why. An aspiring detective needs a definition as well as a reason to care. Kids who are “in” on the pattern and how it works love to show you. Add one to one and you get two. Add two and one, and you get three. Add three and two and you get five. Or 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, and what comes next? Aha! Before you know it, you are hooked.

GROWING PATTERNS: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell, photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell, Boyds Mills Press, 2010

The author and her husband make this mathematical enigma accessible to readers of all ages. Author Campbell shares enough history to ground the subject, not overwhelm the reader. A one page glossary will probably encourage readers who don’t read the last pages first to go back and start over, or hunt for those pages they want to ponder again. Lavish photographs by both Campbells and easy to follow diagrams support the brief but clear text so even the most math resistant reader will be drawn in, totally unaware of how much he or she is learning.

The challenge to find this pattern in the flower bed, the field, at the beach, on animals, or any other place not yet reported, will inspire a summer of sleuthing.

Imagine that first report of the school year:
How I spent My Summer: Stalking Fibonacci Numbers.

My summer summaries were never that intriguing. Were yours?

Hillview School Library