Monday, October 16, 2017

BLOG TOUR w/ GUEST POST: Viva, Rose! by Susan Krawitz


When fourteen-year-old Rose Solomon's brother, Abe, left El Paso, he told the family he was heading to Brooklyn. But Rose discovers the truth the day she picks up the newspaper at Pickens General Store and spies a group photograph captioned The Southwestern Scourge of 1915! There stands Abe alongside none other than Pancho Villa and his army!

Rose is furious about Abe's lie; fearful for his safety; and worried about her traditional parents who, despite their strict and observant ways, do not deserve to have an outlaw for a son. Rose knows the only way to set things right is to get Abe home, but her clandestine plan to contact him goes awry when she is kidnapped by Villa's revolutionaries and taken to his hideaway.

Deep in the desert, amidst a richly rendered assortment of freedom-seekers that includes an impassioned young reporter, two sharp-shooting sisters with a secret past, and Dorotea, Villa's tyrannical young charge, Rose sees no sign of Abe and has no hope of release. But as she learns to lie, hide, and ride like a bandit, Rose discovers the real meaning of freedom and what she's willing to risk to get hers back.


I have not yet finished this book unfortunately, having just received it.  But I have really enjoyed what I've read so far.  

Rose is an appealing, spunky character, who is frustrated with her mother's nagging (and efforts to push her toward preparation for marriage even though she's only thirteen), and upset when she learns her adored older brother lied to her.  Her parents think Abraham is back east working with his brother, Eli.  Rose believes Abraham is out west working as a cowboy.  When she sees his picture with Pancho Villa, the outlaw, she's horrified and tries to hide the information from her parents.  When she decides to write to Abraham and let him know of her displeasure she has no idea the trouble it will get her into.  

I've enjoyed the imagery that Krawitz has used in her writing as well as her depictions of the formerly Russian Jewish family as they live their life in El Paso, Texas.


Viva, Rose!
by Susan Krawitz

Writing Historical Fiction: Start with an Intriguing Story

For years, I had a recurring dream. I was walking through an abandoned house I knew was my grandfather’s, and though the roof was leaky and the floors were wobbly, the rooms were filled with incredible furnishings.

I see that dream now as a not-so-subtle nudge from my subconscious to write a novel I’d been spinning about a unique piece of my family’s history. My grandfather’s first cousins were Russian Jewish immigrants who’d settled in San Antonio, Texas. Redheaded Rose was said to have been an incredible singer, and Abraham, her brother, had ridden with Pancho Villa’s gang of banditos during the Mexican Revolution. The idea of a Jewish cowboy bandit stirred my imagination, but creating my middle grade novel Viva, Rose! would require far more information than a handful of family stories.

Balancing historical fact with historical fiction can be tricky. Situations and characters might spur the story’s start, but research has to fuel the rest of the ride. To begin, all I had were two intriguing characters and an exciting handful of whys and what-ifs. Why would cousin Abe leave his family to ride with Villa? What would it be like to travel with the Villa gang? And what if Abe’s little sister got somehow stuck in the middle of it all?

So I devoured books and pored over websites about the Mexican Revolution and the history of Jews in the West. I read archived newspaper articles. I visited Texas.

As the story evolved, I realized I’d need to change real-life elements in order to serve fictional ones. Rose and Abe’s home needed to be moved to the Mexican border town of El Paso so Rose could be involved. And though I added the real-life characters who made up Villa’s gang, they were not actually in his army at the same time.

Though the line between fact and fiction blurred, I tried to keep one thing constant: to maintain a radiant sense of the energy of the real places, the real issues, and the real people who inspired the story.

To me, this is the best purpose of historical fiction—to combine real and imagined elements to help present-day readers walk a long-ago path. And hopefully, ideally, the end result honors both what “really” happened and the bigger, more universal story created from it.

I’m not sure what my grandfather would have thought about this book. But I’ve stopped having the dream about his house.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Chicken/Three-Legged Hero/My Indy/Ghost Ship


A chicken pecks the ground looking for food. It was once a tiny embryo inside an egg. So how did it develop? Beginning readers will discover how an embryo inside an egg grows into an adult chicken in this basic introduction to animal development. Each 24-page book features controlled text with age-appropriate vocabulary and simple sentence construction. The clear text, fresh design, and colorful, eye-catching photos are sure to capture the interest of emergent readers.


I always find it interesting when I pick up a book for children, especially young children, and learn something from it.  Now it's not like I didn't know basic information about chickens, but I did learn a few things.  For example, I did not know that baby chicks can peep inside their egg.  And I had no idea there were 350 different types of chickens.  With detailed photographs and straightforward information about the development and hatching of an egg, this book gives young readers a clear glimpse into the main characteristics of chickens and how they get that way.  The text is large with a nice font that makes it easy to read.  In addition the photographs show clearly everything being described.  This book makes for a nice addition to a library for those readers who love books about animals.


Ten-year-old Cali watched her new dog-walking client hop around the neighborhood. Thunder was a retired military dog--a real-life hero who had saved several lives in Afghanistan. The German shepherd only had three legs, but he moved around almost as quickly as any other dog. What did Thunder do in the Marines, and would he once again prove himself a hero? Cali was about to find out.


I was a bit surprised to discover this is a fictionalized story about a former military war dog.  And while the illustrations and story are adequate, they didn't impress me all that much.  The story revolves around a young girl who is starting a dog walking business.  She meets up with a neighbor one day when the dogs she's walking cause her some trouble.  This neighbor is a former soldier with a three-legged dog who was injured saving her life.  The dog proves himself to still be a hero after Cali takes him for a walk one day.  The illustrations are cute but nothing that really stands out.  But young readers who love dog stories will probably like it.


Jamey's father walked into the kitchen, holding a surprise. It was an adorable black lab puppy. "A puppy? For me?" Jamey shouted. "Not just any puppy. With your help, he'll grow up to use his sight and other senses to help a person who can't see," said her dad. Little did Jamey know that an incredible bond would soon grow between her and Indy, the tiny puppy destined to become a guide dog.


In this cute book about love and pet responsibility, Jamey receives a puppy for July 4th.  But this puppy isn't for her to keep.  Instead, she is responsible to raise the puppy with good manners so he can go on to become a guide dog.  With careful training and a great deal of love, Jamey prepares the puppy she names Indy (for Independent) for his future life.  But is she prepared for the day she'll have to say goodbye?  This is a cute story about a girl and her dog.  I especially enjoyed the details about Indy's preparation for guide dog school.


In the 1950s, a 4,000-year-old giant wooden ship was discovered buried in the Egyptian desert. In this book, readers will explore one of the most fascinating archaeological discoveries of the past century. They will also learn how ships and the Nile River were closely connected to the ancient Egyptians' belief in death and the afterlife.


I thoroughly enjoyed this account of the discovery of a ship buried at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza.  I learned a lot about the time and place.  To read about what is currently the world's oldest still existing boat gave me insight into what life was like in Ancient Egypt.  The sharp design of the book adds to it's appeal with a nice combination of text and photographs/illustrations.  Like many of their other nonfiction titles, Bearport has done a great job in creating a book that young readers interested in the subject are bound to pick up.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

HALLOWEEN PICTURE BOOKS: I Want to be in a Scary Story/The Scariest Book Ever


Monster may think he wants to be in a scary story, but then again . . . A hilarious return by the team that brought us Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise. 

Our author would like to write a funny story, but his main character Monster has a different idea. He wants to be the star of a chilling, petrifying, utterly terrifying SCARY story. But scary stories . . . well, they can be very scary especially for their characters! Particularly when they involve dark forests and creepy witches and spooky houses . . . Oh yikes and crikes, this is definitely not the scary story Monster had in mind! Maybe he wants to be in a funny story after all!"


In this delightful story, Little Monster wants to be in a story.  Preferably, a scary story and not a funny story.  But when he sees the scary setting with the dark, haunted house and creepy woods, he's not so sure.  As the story continues, Little Monster keeps having the narrator adjust the story because he's scared.  Finally, he decides that maybe a funny story would be best after all.  But his version of what's funny and the narrator's don't exactly match up, leading to a surprising conclusion. I enjoy stories like this one, where the main character and the narrator interact, but only when it's well done.  Enough of these stories have already been done that it needs a fresh approach to make the book stand out. Focusing this story on scary versus funny helps provide that freshness, as does a couple of the twists and turns the story takes.  This is a fun book that is bound to be both a little scary and a little funny, a perfect read-aloud for Halloween.


Reader beware! This is the scariest book ever! Or so claims its melodramatic ghost narrator. You can go ahead and turn the page, but don't expect him to come with you. Anything might pop out of that black hole in the middle of the forest. What do you mean it's just a bunny? Well, it's probably a bunny with big fangs. Watch out, it's--picking pumpkins with its friends, you say? Actually, despite the ghost's scare-mongering, none of the animal characters in the illustrations seem scary at all. . . . What's up with that? Many delights, such as surprises after the page turn, an alarmist narrator, and punch lines to anticipate make this book a scream for both kids and parents.


Bob Shea seems to have a gift for writing picture books that children can relate to easily.  In this one, the ghost is trying not to be scared of the dark woods, but doesn't quite manage it.  And of course, he can't go exploring after spilling orange juice on his nice white sheet, so he makes the reader do it.  As the story continues it becomes clear to the reader (but not the ghost) that the woods really aren't that scary and do in fact house ghost's friends.  There are clues scattered throughout the illustrations that indicate what is coming, but of course the ghost is clueless.  Eventually though the ghost starts to figure out that maybe he's overreacting and the forest isn't so scary.  But there is one final surprise in store. This cute book makes for a fun read aloud as the narrator (reader) has to reassure the ghost over and over again.  A scary book that isn't quite so scary as it pretends to be (which makes it appropriate for younger readers).

Monday, October 9, 2017

CYBILS REVIEW/Junior Nonfiction: Undefeated by Steve Sheinkin


Jim Thorpe: super athlete, Olympic gold medalist, Native American.

Pop Warner: indomitable coach, football mastermind, Ivy League grad.

Before these men became legends, they met in 1907 at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where they forged one of the winningest teams in the history of America’s favorite sport. Called “the team that invented football,” Carlisle’s innovative squad challenged the greatest, most elite teams—Harvard, Yale, Army—audaciously vowing to take their place among the nation’s football powers.

This is an astonishing underdog sports story—and more. It’s an unflinching look at the U.S. government’s violent persecution of Native Americans and the school that was designed to erase Indian cultures. It’s the story of a group of young men who came together at that school, the overwhelming obstacles they faced both on and off the field, and their absolute refusal to accept defeat.


I always know when I pick up a Steve Sheinkin book that I'm going to get a good story. Undefeated was no different.  And being a football fan I found the book a fascinating look back at the early years of the game.  But as with Sheinkin's other titles, he's picked a topic I knew very little about and turned it into a great read.  

While the book focuses on football and the impact that the Carlisle Indian School's football team made on the sport, there are other themes in the book.  It was hard to read about the school itself and it's goal of 'civilizing' the Indian children put into their care.  I felt horrible as I read about how the students' names were changed, hair was cut, and clothes provided, all with the intention of making these Native children more white and supposedly more civilized.  The long hours of study as well as work left the students with very little free time.  No wonder so many students ran away.  Even worse is that once they graduated (for those few who did), they had few options available to them.  Except for a few who found success, most of them were either rejected by whites for employment or returned home having lost much of their language and culture.

For some of the students, football provided a bit of a relief.  In fact, in a narrative that sounds all too familiar, these athletes (once the program took off) received rather preferential treatment (at least compared to the other Native students).  What's especially remarkable is that from the outside, the Native students didn't seem like they would be competitive in a game that emphasized size and power. None of the students who played for Carlisle were huge and powerful and at first it was a major disadvantage.  Then along came Coach Pop Warner, who recognized that what these young men lacked in size and power, they made up for in speed, agility, and sheer determination.  Combining Warner's innovative approach to the game and willingness to try new things with the indomitable will of his players led to some remarkable results.

And things really took off when Jim Thorpe joined the team.  I knew the name before I picked up the book, but it was interesting to find out more about this remarkable athlete.  His story is both remarkable and somewhat sad at the same time.  His athletic achievements are legendary, even today.  The way he dominated in both track and football would be hard to replicate in this day of specialization.  And reading about the sheer amount of time he and his teammates spent on the field playing both offense and defense just made me tired.

In addition to facing teams who didn't see their smaller team as much of a threat, the Carlisle students also faced a great deal of prejudice from both opponents and the media.  It was painful to read about the way they were treated.  And yet in the end, the Carlisle football team left a lasting mark on the game as they helped develop innovations such as the forward pass, deception in play calling, and new plays that no one had ever seen before.  

While those who lived out those years didn't all have happy endings, there is no doubt they left their mark both on and off the football field.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Feathers and Hair: What Animals Wear/How to Be an Elephant


Some animals wear feathers.
Some animals wear hair.
Some animals wear prickly spines
and roam without a care!

At first glance, a wild animal’s appearance may seem simple. But there is fascinating science behind every part of an animal’s physique—from its nose to its toes! Author Jennifer Ward explores different kinds of fur, feathers, skin, and scales in this nonfiction picture book.


In this absolutely gorgeous book, the reader learns about different coverings that animals wear.  The book starts with a beautiful feathered bird (I wish they mentioned what kind it was) and travels through hair, spines, armor, shell, horns, slippery skin, scales, thick, wrinkly skin, and fur.  The book also points out the use of colored versus plain coverings.  The additional information at the end explains more about the different types of animals and their coverings.  It would have been nice to know the specific kind of bird and monkey were depicted.  The words are great and read out loud very well, but what shines through the most for me are the beautiful illustrations. This would be a fine book to use to introduce animals and their various coverings to young children.


The savanna is not an easy place to live, even for African elephants, the largest land animals on earth. If it's a challenge for these 7,000-pound giants, what's it like for their newborn babies?

An infant elephant has precious little time to learn the incredible array of skills that are necessary to keep up, from projecting her voice across a 10-octave range to using the 100,000 muscles in her trunk to stay hydrated. But this giant-to-be has the perfect classroom--a family herd made up of her mother, sisters, cousins, and aunts. With their help and protection, she'll learn how to survive, how to thrive, and how to be an elephant. 

Award-winning author-illustrator Katherine Roy's How to Be an Elephant delves into the intricate family dynamics at play in a typical African herd. Drawing upon the latest scientific research and Roy's own expedition to Kenya, and brimming with lush watercolor illustrations and detailed diagrams, this book vividly portrays the life and development of an elephant from an uncertain newborn into a majestic adult. As informative as it is beautiful, Roy's unique portrait of an elephant's life will captivate young explorers and animal lovers alike.


Just like in Neighborhood Shark, Katherine Roy has created another informative, gorgeous book.  I've become a serious fan of hers.  It's clear that tremendous effort goes into creating a book like this.  Not only are the illustrations amazing, they are also accurate.  And the information included matches the title exactly, which I appreciate.  The author walks the reader through the things that a baby elephant needs to learn from her herd before she becomes an adult.  Topics include the importance of family, learning to walk, developing a memory for smells, learning how to use her trunk, and the power of sound in communication.  The book also contains information on how elephants eat and digest, and survive in their harsh habitats.  The author also show though the joy that elephants sometimes experience with each other.  My favorite illustrations shows the calf's herd playing in the water, they almost seem to be smiling.  Katherine Roy has created another winner with this book.

Friday, September 29, 2017

BLOG TOUR: It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk


Jack is not fond of the bossy narrator of his fairy tale! When Jack is told to trade his beloved cow Bessie for some magic beans, throw the beans out the window, climb the ENORMOUS beanstalk that sprouts overnight, and steal from a GIANT, he decides this fairy tale is getting out of control. In fact, he doesn’t want to follow the story line at all. Who says Jack needs to enter a life of daring, thievery, and giant trickery? He takes his story into his own hands—and you’ll never guess what happens next!

With laugh-out-loud dialogue and bold, playful art (including hidden fairy tale creatures for kids to find), this Jack and the Beanstalk retelling will have children rolling with laughter till Bessie the cow comes home.


Like Jack, Josh Funk loves telling his own stories. He is the author of the popular picture books Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its sequel, The Case of the Stinky Stench, illustrated by Brendan Kearney; Dear Dragon, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo; and the upcoming How to Code a Sandcastle illustrated by Sara Palacios in partnership with Girls Who Code. Josh lives in New England with his wife and children. Learn more about him at, and follow him on Twitter @joshfunkbooks.

Edwardian Taylor currently works as a visual development artist and character designer for TV and animation feature film. His work can also be seen in mobile games, films, and commercials. He is the illustrator of the picture book Race!, written by Sue Fliess. Edwardian lives in Texas with his partner, their three dogs, and seven chickens. Learn more about him at, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @edwardiantaylor.

Check out a book trailer, collector’s cards, and more at
Poor narrator.  He tries so hard to tell the traditional Jack and the Beanstalk story, but Jack just won't cooperate, and he complains the whole way, first about selling his cow, then about climbing the beanstalk, and finally refusing to rob the giant.  And then to top it all off, he gives away the ending of the story.  In frustration, the narrator tries to end the story, but naturally Jack doesn't let him have his way.  Funk and Taylor have created a thoroughly amusing fractured telling of Jack and the Beanstalk.  And they've thrown in Cinderella to boot.  This is another fun retelling for me to add to my growing collection.  It's fun to compare original fairy tales with fractured ones.  And when the illustrations complement the humor as well as these do, well that is icing on the cake.


Two Lions is offering one copy of IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK to one lucky winner (U.S. addresses).
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, September 28, 2017

YA REVIEW: The Border by Steve Schafer

One moment changed their lives forever.

A band plays, glasses clink, and four teens sneak into the Mexican desert, the hum of celebration receding behind them. 

Crack. Crack. Crack.

Not fireworks--gunshots. The music stops. And Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys are powerless as the lives they once knew are taken from them.

Then they are seen by the gunmen. They run. Except they have nowhere to go. The narcos responsible for their families' murders have put out a reward for the teens' capture. Staying in Mexico is certain death, but attempting to cross the border through an unforgiving desert may be as deadly as the secrets they are trying to escape...


I'll admit that this book hit me pretty hard.  I knew when I agreed to read it that it was going to be emotionally-charged, but knowing and feeling aren't the same thing. The opening chapters where the families of the four main characters, Pato (the narrator), Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys, are murdered packs a punch.  I appreciated the fact that Pato doesn't behave like a brave hero, he behaves like most people would, he freezes up and soils himself.  When Arbo is seen by the gunmen, crying over his father's body, Marcos steps in and shots Arbo's assailant.  The problem is that that assailant's brother sees them do it and swears to get revenge.  And while the teens manage to escape, they have very little going for them.  They have no supplies and no family they dare approach for help.

Seeking shelter at the house of an elderly acquaintance of Pato and Arbo, they have to decide what they are going to do, especially when they learn there is a price on their heads, a big one.  Their options are few and they decide crossing the border into the United States is their only hope of survival.  But things continue to go wrong and soon the four teenagers are left wondering if it's even worth the effort.

Goodness it was hard reading about the loss these kids suffer and knowing that it isn't uncommon south of the border.  Even harder is reading about their struggle to survive in the desert, a beautiful, but brutal place that they are utterly unprepared to face.  When further tragedy strikes, I literally had tears running down my face.  And yet I had to admire their persistence in the face of almost impossible odds.

Frankly, a book like this is needed.  With all the contention over immigration law and building walls, it's easy to forget that their are real people involved, many who are truly desperate to make a better life for themselves.  This book really made me think about those who are caught in the middle coming her illegally.  I believe I now have more empathy for them.

One note on content:  there is some profanity, mild sexual activity and references, and quite a bit of violence, some of it down right heart-breaking.  Please keep these things in mind when sharing this book. Not all teens will be able to read this.
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