Tuesday, October 13, 2015

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Poet the Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton


In the nineteenth century, North Carolina slave George Moses Horton taught himself to read and earned money to purchase his time though not his freedom. Horton became the first African American to be published in the South, protesting slavery in the form of verse.


Don Tate has created a beautiful book here about a fascinating person.  These kinds of stories are the kind of stories that I love to share with people because they are about people who didn't let their limiting circumstances limit them in following their dreams.  George Moses Horton longed to be able to read from the time he was a young child.  Thanks to his persistence and his observation skills he eventually taught himself to read (no small accomplishment in and of itself).  Even after being separated from his family and having to spend most of his time working for his master, he found time to spend reading.  George loved the sound of words and even before he learned to write he was making up poems in his head.  His poems were so beautiful that when George started to sell farm produce at the local university and he recited some for students giving him a hard time, they started coming to him for poems to use with their sweethearts.  Rather remarkable for a supposedly illiterate slave.  George started making enough money to buy time from his master to spend doing what he loved.  But he still wasn't free.  Many of his poems dealt with his desires for freedom, at least until things changed in North Carolina and teaching slaves to read became a crime.  It wasn't until George turned 66 and the Civil War ended that George finally became free.

This story is not only an important one but an inspiring one.  A story about a man who found a way to develop his talents despite society's attempts to keep him down.  Tate has told the story in beautiful prose with amazingly gorgeous illustrations that highlight George's spirit will not overlooking the horrible nature of slavery (the scene where George is separated from his family forever is heartbreaking).  This is definitely one of my favorite picture books of the year.

Monday, October 12, 2015

MMGM: Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee


Firefly. Cricket. Vole. Peter. Can four creatures from four very different Nations help one another find their ways in the world that can feel oh-so-big? Delve into this lush, unforgettable tale in the tradition of Charlotte’s Web and The Rats of NIMH, from the author of the New York Times bestselling Someday.

Firefly doesn’t merely want to fly, she wants to touch the moon. Cricket doesn’t merely want to sing about baseball, he wants to catch. When these two little creatures with big dreams wander out of Firefly Hollow, refusing to listen to their elders, they find themselves face-to-face with the one creature they were always told to stay away from…a giant.

But Peter is a Miniature Giant. They’ve always been told that a Miniature Giant is nothing but a Future Giant, but this one just isn’t quite as big or as scary as the other Giants. Peter has a dream of his own, as well as memories to escape. He is overwhelmed with sadness, and a summer with his new unlikely friends Firefly and Cricket might be just what he needs. Can these friends’ dreams help them overcome the past?

Firefly Hollow is nothing short of enchanting, reminding us all that the very best friend is the one who wants you to achieve your dreams. Full-color tip-in illustrations and dozens of black-and-white drawing provide added glow.


In lyrical prose, McGhee tells a sweet story about a young cricket and firefly who dream of something more than avoiding giants (people), and being typical bugs.  Cricket wants to learn how to catch like Yogi Berra. Firefly wants to fly to the moon.  And Vole, the sole remaining vole in the area is preparing to sail off down the river the way his ancestors once did.  And young Peter (a miniature giant) desperately misses his friend Charlie and refuses to go back to school.  These four come together to encourage each other.

The illustrations by Christopher Denise are beautiful and provide the perfect touch for the smooth prose.  I couldn't help but sympathize with Firefly and Cricket in their efforts to pursue their dreams while coming to grips with the way the world is, sadness and difficulties and all.  I loved how all the different pieces came together like the four main characters creating a wonderful tapestry of friendship and dreaming.  Like Charlotte's Web, this is a beautiful ode to power of friendship to help one to chase a dream and face reality at the same time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Roar! by Julie Bayless


A moonlit tale of friendship and play.

It is nighttime in the savanna, which means that it is time to play for one rambunctious lion cub! The cub tries to make new friends with the hippos and the giraffes, but roaring at them only chases them away. The young lion is about to give up, but when a rabbit accidentally mistakes the cub's tail for a carrot, the lion realizes she might have met her match, in all the right ways.


A young lion cub sets out to find a playmate when her family prefers to sleep.  First, she tries the hippos but they run away when she roars as do the giraffes.  But when she inadvertently meets up with a rabbit who is as loud as she is they run off to play together.  Bayless presents a cute story here that preschoolers are bound to have a really fun time with, especially if the reader lets them roar along with the lion cub.  The bright yellow cub stands out against the dark blue background allowing the reader to clearly see the cub's antics.  This is a fun story about finding just the right playmate and having a good time together.

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Drowned City by Don Brown


On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina's monstrous winds and surging water overwhelmed the protective levees around low-lying New Orleans, Louisiana. Eighty percent of the city flooded, in some places under twenty feet of water. Property damages across the Gulf Coast topped $100 billion. One thousand eight hundred and thirty-three people lost their lives. The riveting tale of this historic storm and the drowning of an American city is one of selflessness, heroism, and courage—and also of incompetence, racism, and criminality.
        Don Brown’s kinetic art and as-it-happens narrative capture both the tragedy and triumph of one of the worst natural disasters in American history. A portion of the proceeds from this book has been donated to Habitat for Humanity New Orleans.


One of the things that amazes me about Don Brown's work is the way he manages to include so much information in relatively few words.  The text in this graphic book is relatively sparse, a few sentences per page, yet combined with the illustrations they create a powerful picture of an important event in US history.  I remember when it happened, I realized that many things had been badly mishandled, but I didn't realize to what extent.  This is an important story that I'm glad Brown has chosen to tell.  If we don't remember these things then such mistakes are bound to be repeated.  This is a heart-wrenching story that Brown still manages to instill with hope.  Despite all the mistakes that were made and the bad things that people did there were plenty of examples of sacrifice and people trying to help.  This is an important book and one that I highly recommend that most libraries add to their collections.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

GRAPHIC NOVEL: Little Robot by Ben Hatke


When a little girl finds an adorable robot in the woods, she presses a button and accidentally activates him for the first time. Now, she finally has a friend. But the big, bad robots are coming to collect the little guy for nefarious purposes, and it's all up to a five-year-old armed only with a wrench and a fierce loyalty to her mechanical friend to save the day!

#1 New York Times Bestselling author Ben Hatke brings his signature sweetness to a simple, moving story about friendship and overcoming fears that will appeal to readers of all ages.


Hatke has created another winner here with his adorable little robot and the little girl that befriends him.  The little girl likes to hang out in the junkyard close to her mobile home.  With her special mechanical talents, she tries to help her friend, but when he tries to leave, she tries to find a way to get him to stay.  Unfortunately, the little robot's owner wants him back and sends a big villain robot to get him back.  The girl is forced to use all her skills to save both her friend and herself, although she does have a little unexpected help.  The nearly wordless story is told beautifully through the bright colorful illustrations.  The intricate story winds its way through the meeting of the two main characters and their personal desires, the girl for a friend, the robot for others like himself.  The little girl gets so desperate to hang on to her friend that she locks him up while she tries to build some robots, but things don't exactly work out.  I have to admire the variety of different robots that appear in the story (especially the robot hand that helps the girl).  I highly recommend this graphic story for young readers and even older ones are bound to enjoy it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Sister Solution by Trudi Trueit


What's worse than your little sister being smarter than you? Her being more popular, too. But sibling rivalry might just become sibling camaraderie when cliques get out of control in this fresh and fun M!X novel.

Sammi Tremayne's life isn't perfect, but she's got it on an even keel. She isn't ultra-popular, but she isn't at the bottom of the middle school social ladder, either. However, when it's decided that her brilliant little sister, Jorgianna, should skip not one, but two grades and join Sammi in eighth grade, Sammi's world is turned upside down. For someone who has always felt in the shadow of her little sister, this is Sammi's ultimate nightmare.

To make matters even worse, Jorgianna is taken in by the most popular clique in school almost the minute she arrives, a clique that Sammi has been trying desperately to join. Everything, it seems, is going right for Jorgianna and wrong for Sammi.

But there's more to each sister's story than the other realizes. And when the popular girls start to show their true colors to Jorgianna, can these siblings finally put aside their differences and show the queen bees who's boss?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham


Percival Priggs seems to be the perfect child. His parents are perfect, his grandparents are perfect, and even his pets are perfect. Percy’s shelf is packed with gleaming trophies. But with all the practice and preparation needed for his competitions, Percy never has a free moment.

Percy worries that his parents will not love him if he does not smile his prize-winning smile and perform perfectly in every competition. But after his rocket experiment turns into an imperfect mess, Mr. and Mrs. Priggs reveal their own funny imperfections and show Percy they are proud of him exactly as he is.

The message of reassurance and acceptance in THE PERFECT PERCIVAL PRIGGS is timely in our age of helicopter parenting, overscheduling, and increased testing standards for young children. But it is debut author Julie-Anne Graham’s fresh art style that truly sets the book apart. A former fashion designer with a love of textiles, Graham has built on each page a collage of textured patterns and drawn characters, adding humor and a world of detail to the Priggs’ home and story.


In this era of busyness and running from one activity or responsibility to another, The Perfect Percival Priggs is a very timely story.  I found that I could relate to Percival very well in his stretch for perfection.  And while he has won many awards for many things, he admits to himself and finally his parents that he doesn't particularly like doing any of those things (science, playing instruments, etc.).  But he feels the need to follow in his parents footsteps and keep winning.  But when one such attempt goes dramatically (and humorously) wrong, he reveals his insecurities to his parents.  What I really loved about the book was the parents reaction to Percy's mess.  Instead of scolding or criticizing him, they show him some of their failures and let him go his own way after he confesses that he doesn't enjoy the things he has spent so much of his time perfecting.  It's fun to see Percy at the end doing things he enjoys and clearly much happier than he was before.  While the illustrations don't particularly grab me, in fact the Priggs look kind of odd to be honest, but the expressions are revealing and the use of paper covered with words for the character's heads seemed to symbolize the power of our thoughts to lead us down different roads.  A thought-provoking and enjoyable book bound to lead to great discussions of strengths and weaknesses and the power of persistence as well as the importance of focusing our energies on the things that are of most importance to us. 

Monday, September 28, 2015


2015 Jabberwocky Time Warp Tour

Great writers bring history to life for young readers. Whether it’s a daring story of heroism during the American Revolution, a tale of the timeless and transcendent power of art set in WWI era Hollywood, or the general ability to present events in history though different lenses and perspectives, educators and parents rely on these writers to connect kids to the past. Historical middle-grade authors Eric Pierpoint, J.B. Cheaney, and Stephanie Bearce are helping us turn back the clock by answering the questions: If you could spend a day anywhere and anytime in the past, where and when would you go? What would you do on your excursion?

Eric Pierpoint (The Secret Mission of William Tuck):

This is a tough question! Would I like to land on the moon? Be present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Could I have the knowledge to change history? I could perhaps prevent the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy or Martin Luther King. Well, that’s a heroic super power daydream. I think I would saddle up a horse and take my dog Joey on a journey through the Wild West. Like my pioneer ancestors in the 1800s, I love the grand scale of the western landscape. We’d ride along deep gorges, flowing rivers and great mountains. I would want to experience our beautiful country in its most pure and natural state before all the freeways, malls, and billboards popped up. I’d love to see the herds of buffalo and soaring eagles. Perhaps I would meet folks along the way and we could swap stories, learn about each other, and appreciate our similarities and differences. It sounds pretty ideal. Then again I’d have to keep an eye out for danger, for you never know what’s lurking out there, man or beast!

J.B. Cheaney (I Don’t Know How The Story Ends):

You didn’t limit me to one place, so I’ll take a grand tour!  First stop, a trip on the Erie Canal, ca. 1840.  I’ve always admired this triumph of early-American can-do enterprise, and was enchanted by Peter Spier’s picture book of the song.  I’ll be sure and duck when I hear “Low bridge! Everybody down!”

Next I would dash over to the west coast in January 1848 and arrange to be nearby when James Marshall spies some shiny flakes in the American River.  “Looks like gold to me,” I’d remark.  I have a soft spot for California, given that it’s the setting of my new novel.  How cool to attend the birth of the golden state: San Francisco, Southern Pacific, Jack London, John Steinbeck, and eventually, Hollywood.

For a dramatic finish I would return to my home state, to a flat field south of Beaumont, Texas on Jan. 10, 1901.  It’s no beauty spot; the only thing to catch the eye is an oil derrick and a few prospectors operating a steam drill, hoping the next hundred feet will pay off before their money runs out.  I feel a rumble underfoot.  Could be anything; maybe cattle stampeding.  But it gets louder.  And louder and louder, as the quivering earth gives way to roaring ground, and—“She’s gonna blow!”  Lethal steel rods shoot from the derrick like bullets—“Watch out!”  And then a fountain of tarry, greasy, beautiful black gold.  If Sutter’s Mill is the birthplace of California, Spindletop is where Texas became Texas.

Stephanie Bearce (Top Secret Files):

If could take a trip in a time machine I would program in the date May 8, 1945 and step out into the singing and shouting crowds gathered at Trafalgar  Square to celebrate the end of World War II. I’d squeeze past soldiers cheerfully sweating in wool uniforms and past the shop girls and women factory workers who filled the streets. I’d stare at all the red, white, and blue bunting that was hung everywhere to celebrate – even on the carcasses of bombed out buildings.  I’d listen as Winston Churchill’s voice rang out over the loud speakers announcing the end of fighting and cheer with the crowds when the King and Queen appeared on the balcony of Buckingham palace.  Then I would join in the conga line of soldiers and girls who danced down the streets at Piccadilly.

But most of all I would keep my eyes for the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret who put on their khaki service uniforms and went out into the streets with the rest of London.  The King and Queen had agreed that their royal daughters should be allowed to celebrate with the rest of the world and the princesses enjoyed a night out with the celebrating crowds.  I would love to see them walking through the streets singing Roll Out the Barrel.


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Friday, September 25, 2015

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Fires of Invention by J. Scott Savage


Trenton Colman is exceptionally creative with a knack for all things mechanical. But his talents are viewed with suspicion in Cove, a steam-powered city built inside a mountain. In Cove, creativity is a crime and "invention" is a curse word.

Kallista Babbage is a repair technician and daughter of the notorious Leo Babbage, who died in an explosion—an event the leaders of Cove point to as an example of the danger of creativity.

Working together, Trenton and Kallista learn that Leo Babbage was developing a secret project before he perished. Following clues he left behind, they begin to assemble a strange machine that is unlike anything they've ever seen before. They soon discover that what they are building may threaten every truth their city is founded on—and quite possibly their very lives.


J Scott Savage is the author of the Farworld middle grade fantasy series and the Case File 13 middle grade monster series. He has been writing and publishing books for over ten years. He has visited over 400 elementary schools, dozens of writers conferences, and taught many writing classes. He has four children and lives with his wife Jennifer and their Border Collie, Pepper in a windy valley of the Rocky Mountains.


Savage has started this new series off with a bang, literally.  Trenton is a thirteen-year-old boy with a special knack with mechanical things, even though he avoids calling what he does inventing because the society he lives in frowns on it.  But when he gets in trouble for that very thing and is blackmailed into helping do something risky it starts him on a remarkable journey.  When he meets Kallista the daughter of a famous 'wrong-doer' in the eyes of the city he starts learning things that shock him, but also intrigue him, and in the end may help them save their home.  The twist that Savage throws in near the end is a doozy and I loved it, it added a great new feel to the story and emphasizes the fact that assumptions are dangerous even when they are long held beliefs.  I really enjoyed this book and I think a lot of young fantasy lovers will as well, especially with that mechanical dragon on the cover.

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