Monday, February 29, 2016

NONFICTION MONDAY: Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin


From Steve Sheinkin, the award-winning author of The Port Chicago 50 and Bomb comes a tense, exciting exploration of what the Times deemed "the greatest story of the century": how Daniel Ellsberg transformed from obscure government analyst into "the most dangerous man in America," and risked everything to expose the government's deceit. On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these documents had been comissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Chronicling every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War, they revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicans claiming to represent their interests. A provocative book that interrogates the meanings of patriotism, freedom, and integrity, Most Dangerous further establishes Steve Sheinkin as a leader in children's nonfiction.


Sheinkin has written another compelling work of narrative nonfiction.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about events that I was not overly familiar with before reading this book.  It's books like this that remind me and young readers that history can be as compelling as any novel when told well.  The story here of not only Daniel Ellsberg but the Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers was fascinating, and annoying as I read about people who continued the war for the sake of pride, despite knowing the only way to win would be to fully commit, something no president was ever willing to do.  Sheinkin presents both sides of the Vietnam War through the eyes of not only Daniel Ellsberg but through others involved, including soldiers, protesters, and decision makers.  It was interesting to read about Ellsberg's transformation from a loyal supporter of the war against communism to a war protester.  I sympathized with his efforts to get someone to listen to what he has seen and heard during his two years in Vietnam with no success.  One wonders if things might have turned out differently if someone is a position to do something had listened and responded.  It was also eye-opening to read about Nixon's actions and to realize just how unethical they tended to be at times. This is a book that I highly, highly recommend to those who enjoy compelling historical narratives.


Friday, February 26, 2016

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Darkmouth, the legend begins by Shane Hegarty


Darkmouth: The Legends Begin is the first book in a spirited tween fantasy series that Kirkus Reviews called “Ghostbusters meets Percy Jackson as written by Terry Pratchett.”

For generations, Finn’s family has protected Darkmouth from the fierce magical creatures known as Legends. Now the Legends are plotting a major attack, and it’s Finn’s turn to defend his hometown. So it’s too bad he’s the worst Legend Hunter in history.

The world’s unlikeliest hero is also its only hope in this middle grade series full of madcap adventure and mythological creatures—perfect for fans of How to Train Your Dragon and The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom.


In training to become Darkmouth's next Legend hunter, Finn fails over and over again.  He doesn't even want to be a Legend hunter, he wants to be a vet.  But the continued arrival of legends from the Infested Side guarantees that his wants are secondary to his father and trainer, Hugo the Great.  And when the townspeople get riled over the destruction that Finn inadvertently causes and a betrayer appears in their midst, Finn's challenges get bigger than ever.  I found Finn to be a very appealing character.  Somehow it's refreshing to read about a character that isn't naturally good at being a hero, who doesn't want to be a hero, and wants to help creatures not hurt them.  But like life in the real world, things don't always work out the way one would desire and Finn finds himself battling not only legends but a prophecy that doesn't bode well for himself, as well as his own lack of self-confidence.  The twists and turns with Finn's new friend, Emmie as well as his own parents add some nice depth to the story.  While the book is longer, the action moves along at a brisk enough pace to keep middle grader fantasy lovers reading and the illustrations are just plain awesome, especially the monster ones.  A fun new series for fantasy lovers that are intrigued by monster hunting and searching for the hero inside oneself.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Edible Science by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen and Carol Tennant


Grab a beaker, pick up your whisk, and get ready to cook up some solid science. Using food as our tools (or ingredients!) curious kids become saucy scientists that measure, weigh, combine, and craft their way through the kitchen. Discover dozens of thoroughly-tested, fun, edible experiments, sprinkled with helpful photos, diagrams, scientific facts, sub-experiments, and more. And the best news is when all the mad-science is done, you're invited to grab a spoon and take a bite -- and share your results with friends and family.


If you know young readers who enjoy experimenting and food this is a great book for them.  The book is beautifully organized and easy to use.  The experiments all involve food and so most of results can be eaten afterwords.  Explanations are given for what is happening in each experiment.  The book is divided up into the following sections: mixing and unmixing; solids, liquids, and yum; It's a Gas!; Actions and Reactions; and Biology in Your Kitchen.  The reader is told which experiments they will probably want to have an adult around for and what is needed to complete the activity.  This is a great book for students who love to cook as well as students who like to experiment. I learned a lot reading this book and children will as well.  This would also be a fun book for families to share together.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

BLOG TOUR w/ INTERVIEWS: The Knowing Book by Rebecca Kai Dotlich


Inspiring and wise, this story begins and ends with the sky that is always above you. In between, a young rabbit travels through the wide world, experiencing joy and sorrow and all the wonder that the world has to offer. Along the way he chooses a path, explores the unknown, and ventures along trails on and off the map. And at the end of the journey, braver and more confident, he returns home, the place he can always count on and will always know. This beautiful celebration of life is the perfect gift to mark any milestone in a child’s life from birth to graduation.


The young rabbit who is the main character of this story explores the world around him and then returns safely home to the loving parents who are waiting for him.  The symbolism and message her shine through with a sweetness that was just right.  The book reminded me of the wonder of learning about the beautiful things of the world as well as the hard things, the dreams as well as the journey itself.  This book is about not only the value of stepping out and enjoying life's journey and the wonder of it, but also the inestimable value of having a home to come back to with those who love you waiting.  Cordell's illustrations do an excellent job of highlighting different aspects of the text.  Since the text is a bit abstract in it's discussion of life's journey, it helps immeasurably to see the little rabbit's experiences in the illustrations. Overall, a delightful read that will encourage readers both young and old to take the time to 'smell the roses' so to speak and enjoy life's journey and having supporting, loving family around you.



*Could you share a bit about your illustration process for the book? How was this book different than others you have done?

Pretty much all of my books--The Knowing Book included--are a combination of drawing in pen and ink and painting with watercolors on paper. A free and spontaneous line in my drawing has always been important to me. And looseness in the painting too. I branched out with the drawing on this book by playing some more with colored inks (I typically only draw in black ink) and creating different areas of focus and texture by using some cross-hatching accents here and there. I'm really pleased with how it turned out and can't wait to incorporate more of this in books to come!

*What do you enjoy the most about illustrating books? Dislike the most?

Man... There's SO much I love about my job. I love getting paid to draw every day. I love collaborating with kind and generous and creative people. I love making art that is affordable and goes into children's hands. I love making BOOKS. I love telling stories with words and pictures. I love book design. I love being my own boss (more or less) and working from home and being around my kids at home while they're so young. What do I dislike about it?... Total copout answer, but I really can't think of a thing! Seriously, I love being able to do what I do. I feel so lucky and blessed.

*What are you currently working on?

I'm juggling a number of projects at the moment. I'm just finishing art for a picture book I wrote and illustrated called WOLF IN THE SNOW (Feiwel and Friends, 2017). I'm working on final artwork for THE ONLY FISH IN THE SEA, a picture book written by Philip Stead (a sequel to last year's SPECIAL DELIVERY). I'm in sketches for GONE CAMPING, a novel in verse by Tamera Will Wissinger (a sequel to 2013's GONE FISHING). And I'm writing and sketching DREAM, a picture book companion to last year's WISH. So excited about all of this stuff!


*What is the "story behind the story" or what inspired you to write this book?

During a particularly rough patch in my life, I went outside one night to be alone and just think. Feeling confused and sad, I had this overwhelming feeling of disappointment with people and life circumstances. As I was thinking, I looked up to the dark sky. Wow. Amazing; the stars, the universe. Now there’s something inspiring and constant; something that no one can ever take away. Don’t ever forget that, I told myself. And I went from feeling empty to feeling comforted. I went inside and jotted down my emotions at that moment.

*What do you enjoy doing that has helped you 'stop and smell the roses' so to speak?

Reading, sitting on my back deck with a glass of iced tea and a notebook scribbling notes, ideas and memories. I enjoy wandering around used bookshops. Collecting (and reading) old post cards. Watching movies, and more than anything, watching my grandchildren play office or pretend cook, dig in mud, make tents.

*What is your writing process like?

It’s always a little different. But it either starts by doodling in a notebook, or on the computer. Usually I don’t start a word document for a new idea until I’ve brainstormed quite a bit. I like to write in the mornings best. But there are many nights I work past midnight. Usually an idea comes from something small and quite normal that I overhear or see or think about. Thinking about things I did or felt as a child. Something my grandchildren say might be the seed of an idea. Then I just let my brain play and I make word lists and then I begin to construct the beginning of something word by word, line by line. I move lines around and generally find my way by just exploring ideas on the page. I cut and paste a lot. I tape many drafts up above me when I’m on my computer so I can “see” where I’ve been and where I’m going. I’m a very visual learner.

Monday, February 22, 2016

CYBILS MG Spec Fiction WINNER! The Fog Diver by Joel Ross

 I've really enjoyed serving as a second round judge in the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category this year.  Here are my thoughts on the book we chose as this year's winner.  Be sure to check out the rest of the winners here because they are all great choices! I was especially excited to see one of my nominations win (Easy Reader category)--Yeah for Ling and Ting!


A deadly white mist has cloaked the earth for hundreds of years. Humanity clings to the highest mountain peaks, where the wealthy Five Families rule over the teeming lower slopes and rambling junkyards. As the ruthless Lord Kodoc patrols the skies to enforce order, thirteen-year-old Chess and his crew scavenge in the Fog-shrouded ruins for anything they can sell to survive.

Hazel is the captain of their salvage raft: bold and daring. Swedish is the pilot: suspicious and strong. Bea is the mechanic: cheerful and brilliant. And Chess is the tetherboy: quiet and quick…and tougher than he looks. But Chess has a secret, one he’s kept hidden his whole life. One that Lord Kodoc is desperate to exploit for his own evil plans. And even as Chess unearths the crew’s biggest treasure ever, they are running out of time...


The Fog Diver starts with a bang and doesn't let up until the very last page.  That's how I know that a lot of young fantasy readers will love this one.  The action is almost nonstop, which makes for a surprisingly fast read, a book that is hard to put down. So this book is a winner in terms of kid appeal.  And yet despite the large degree of action I still found myself learning enough about the setting (the sky and the tops of mountains, and the fog-shrouded world below) to be intrigued.  And the characters grow and develop through the challenges they face, except maybe Bea who is as enthusiastic and cheerful at the end as she was at the beginning and everyone loves her to pieces (including me!), and that doesn't even count her incredible mechanical skills.  Each of the characters faces his/her own challenges, but it all centers around Chess's and his friends' need to escape the slums in which they live, not only for Chess's sake (Chess was born in the fog due to Lord Kodoc's manipulation which gives him the ability to function in the fog better than anyone else), but for their mentor Mrs. E who is fogsick and needs help that can only come from Port Oro the center for a group of people that revolted against Lord Kodoc's control.

There were a couple of things that I found especially interesting about the book.  First, Chess isn't the leader of the group, Hazel is, and she is a great leader and a great diverse character.  Second, Chess dives into the fog without hesitation, but is absolutely terrified of Lord Kodoc, he doesn't start the story naturally brave.  And yet his loyalty to his adopted family outweighs everything else, even his fears.

Despite all the tension in the story, the author adds some humorous moments through the use of the children discussing things from the past.  These comments and the assumptions the children make about things such as a twisted version of Robin Hood (Robbing Hood and his hoodie who lived in the Hood with a robot called Made Marian and a monkey named Fryer Tuck) and other amusing guesses about the world before the fog came (a world they know little about and what little they know comes from a scrapbook that Chess's father kept).  All in all, I loved this book and it's great characters, humor, and intensity.  And I'm very much looking forward to reading the sequel.



When Jack meets his new foster brother, he already knows three things about him:

Joseph almost killed a teacher.

He was incarcerated at a place called Stone Mountain.

He has a daughter. Her name is Jupiter. And he has never seen her.

What Jack doesn’t know, at first, is how desperate Joseph is to find his baby girl.

Or how urgently he, Jack, will want to help.

But the past can’t be shaken off. Even as new bonds form, old wounds reopen. The search for Jupiter demands more from Jack than he can imagine.

This tender, heartbreaking novel is Gary D. Schmidt at his best.


Gary Schmidt is one of those authors whose books I feel compelled to read because they open doors to worlds I've never seen or experienced before. I knew going in that this one was a tearjerker and sure enough it was. Nevertheless, I'm grateful I took the time to read it. I was a bit surprised at how short the book is considering how powerful the story is, the sign of a good writer.  Schmidt has always been able to bring me into his characters lives and care about what they've experienced and what they are going through.  This book was no different.  

Interestingly Joseph's story is told through the eyes of his twelve-year-old foster brother, Jack, who has clearly had no experiences even remotely close to Joseph's.  And yet it seems to be Jack's innocence and naivety that allows him to accept Joseph despite his past.  I cheered for Jack and his parents all the way as they do everything in their power to help Joseph feel welcome, giving him his space while including him in tending the cows.  Jack's willingness to walk to school with Joseph after an unpleasant encounter with the bus driver regardless of the snow and cold.  As Joseph slowly opens up to Jack and his parents, I shed tears for Joseph's pain and lost innocence, at the hands of his own father no less.  Joseph does make some poor choices along the way, but it's understandable for a thirteen-year-old whose abused and unloved.  Joseph's longing to connect to his daughter, Jupiter, despite everything was heart-breaking.  But thanks to Jack and his parents and some caring teachers (yeah!, I get so tired of obnoxious teachers), Joseph's life starts to look up.  But once again his father intrudes and tragedy results.

The only issue I had with the book is the Christmas Eve church scene where the paster tells the story of Jesus birth, but tells a version a bit different than that told in the Bible, implying that Joseph got Mary pregnant.  Which relates to Joseph's experience but in the Bible Joseph isn't Jesus's father, God is.  A rather different set of circumstances.  I found this a bit irritating, but as I think about it, maybe the author intends to convey the way that Jack and Joseph perceive the story.  This is a book that is all about perceptions and the different ways that people see the world.

This book has made me think about the lives of the children I know and their hurts and hopes.  This book has inspired me to look at them with more compassion, hoping I can be like the teachers in this book, offering help and hope rather than doubt and disgust (Mr. Canton, the vice principal).  This is one of those books that once you read it, it will stay with you for a long time.

Friday, February 19, 2016

CYBILS MG Spec FICTION FINALIST: Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall


From bestselling UK author Sophia McDougall comes one fresh and funny adventure-filled tween debut about a group of kids evacuated to Mars! Perfect for fans of Artemis Fowl, this laugh-out-loud series is packed with nonstop fun.

When Earth comes under attack by aliens, hilarious heroine Alice Dare and a select group of kids are sent to Mars. But things get very strange when the adults disappear into thin air, the kids face down an alien named Thsaaa, and Alice and her friends must save the galaxy!

For when plucky twelve-year-old Alice Dare learns she's being taken out of the Muckling Abbott School for Girls and sent to another planet, no one knows what to expect. This is one wild ride that will have kids chuckling the whole way through.


Science fiction is a genre that isn't as common for middle graders as it is for adults, so I'm always interested when I see one for this age group.  And Mars Evacuees is a great example of science fiction.  The story focuses on a group of children that are sent to Mars to get away from the aliens that are trying to turn earth into an ice cube.  The children are to be trained as warriors to help fight for Earth's survival.  But things change abruptly when all the adults disappear and the station descends into chaos.  Alice is an interesting narrator for several reasons, one she gutsy, but more of a peacemaker than a fighter, despite her's mother's status as one of the best fighter pilots Earth has.  Plus the ongoing conflict between Alice and the other kids she teams up with feels very real as each has their own opinions about the best way to do things.  Alice is kinda the leader by virtue of the fact that she manages to hold the group together (barely).  But the adventures that the group has crossing Mars to another station to find help are fun to read about and the addition of a young alien from the Morrors that Alice's mother is fighting against complicates things mightily.

The only things I didn't like about the book were the inclusion of swearing and profanity, which were not at all necessary, especially in a middle grade book, and the discussion about Morror reproduction.  Other than those two things though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Alice's adventures and look forward to reading the sequel, Space Hostages.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

CYBILS MG Spec Fiction FINALIST: Moon Rising by Tui T. Sutherland


The New York Times-bestselling series soars to even greater heights with a new prophecy and five new dragonets ready to claim their destiny!

Peace has come to Pyrrhia . . . for now.

The war between the tribes is finally over, and now the dragonets of the prophecy have a plan for lasting peace: Jade Mountain Academy, a school that will gather dragonets from all the tribes and teach them to live together, perhaps even as friends.

Moonwatcher isn’t sure how she feels about school, however. Hidden in the rainforest for most of her life, the young NightWing has an awful secret. She can read minds, and even see the future. Living in a cave with dozens of other dragons is noisy, exhausting--and dangerous.

In just a few days, Moon finds herself overwhelmed by her secret powers and bombarded by strange thoughts, including those of a mysterious dragon who might be a terrible enemy. And when someone starts attacking dragons within the academy, Moon has a choice to make: Stay hidden and safe? Or risk everything to save her new friends?


I really, thoroughly enjoyed this one and I think a lot of young dragon-loving readers will as well.  The action packed story carried me from beginning to end.  Moonwatcher is a young dragon who hasn't yet found a place where she feels like she belongs.  When her mother drops her off at Jade Mountain Academy she is really nervous, not only about being in a new place with all sorts of different kinds of dragons, but because of the talents she possesses for mind reading and seeing the future.  She has been taught to hide and fear her talents and being unable to control her abilities doesn't help.  But as she adjusts to the new place and begins to make friends, she discovers that there is someone else in the area who can read minds and talk to her, but she isn't at all sure she can trust him.  When a tragedy occurs, tensions and betrayal are brought to the surface that force Moonwatcher to face her fears and decide what is most important to her.  Moonwatcher is a great character and one that I look forward to reading more about in the future.  But for now I need to go back and read the other books in the series with great enjoyment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

CYBILS MG Spec Fiction FINALIST: The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson


The Dungeoneers is an action-packed, funny, and heartbreaking middle grade fantasy-adventure from the author of the acclaimed Sidekicked and Minion, John David Anderson.

The world is not a fair place, and Colm Candorly knows it. While his parents and eight sisters seem content living on a lowly cobbler's earnings, Colm can't help but feel that everyone has the right to a more comfortable life. It's just a question of how far you're willing to go to get it.

In an effort to help make ends meet, Colm uses his natural gift for pickpocketing to pilfer a pile of gold from the richer residents of town, but his actions place him at the mercy of a mysterious man named Finn Argos, a gilded-toothed, smooth-tongued rogue who gives Colm a choice: he can be punished for his thievery, or he can become a member of Thwodin's Legions, a guild of dungeoneers who take what they want and live as they will. Colm soon finds himself part of a family of warriors, mages, and hunters, learning to work together in a quest to survive and, perhaps, to find a bit of treasure along the way.


Colm leaves home after pickpocketing coins to help support his large family.  He figures it's better than losing his hand.  And the man who takes him away promises him a future of adventure and treasure.  But once Colm faces tests that give him a taste of what his new life will be like, he's not so sure.  But his talents for picking locks and his new friends as well as wanting desperately to help his family carry him through the challenges he faces, although large scorpions, and spiked ceilings aren't his idea of a good time.  And he quickly realizes that survival in this new environment he finds himself in will require everything he has to give, especially when someone he trusts betrays him and everything he thought he was working for and he has to make a choice about where his priorities really lie.

I enjoyed many aspects of this book such as the friends Colm makes along the way and the training he undergoes.  And of course, the adventuring was fun, if dangerous.  The setting was fascinating, especially Thwodin's castle with it's ins and outs.  And Finn Argos and the other masters who did the teaching were mysterious enough to leave lots of questions.  The plot twists and turns were great.  I was sad when Colm was betrayed by someone he trusted, but it works with the story.  I wasn't such a fan of the fact that Colm and his friends are being trained to steal and think it's okay, even if it's from orcs and goblins who stole it in the first place. And frankly, for the age range it's aimed at it a bit long (over four hundred pages) and descriptive.  I didn't mind it because I like that in a book, especially a fantasy book, but some young readers might get a bit bogged down.  Overall, though I enjoyed the book and can heartily recommend it to young fantasy readers who like a healthy dose of adventuring with their fantasy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

CYBILS FINALIST MG Spec FICTION: Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes


If only Maddy sees the mermaid, can it be real?

It's Maddy's turn to have a bayou summer. At first she misses life back home in the city, but soon she grows to love everything about her new surroundings -- the glimmering fireflies, the glorious landscape, and something else, deep within the water, that only Maddy sees. Could it be a mermaid? As her grandmother shares wisdom about sayings and signs, Maddy realizes she may be only the sibling to carry on her family's magical legacy. And when a disastrous oil leak threatens the bayou, she knows she may also be the only one who can help. Does she have what it takes to be a hero?

A coming-of-age tale rich with folk magic, set in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, Bayou Magic celebrates hope, friendship, and family, and captures the wonder of life in the Deep South.


Books written in present tense with short sentences isn't normally my favorite format.  I like longer descriptive sentences when I read, a taste I've acquired as I've gotten older.  But I found that I quite enjoyed this book by Jewell Rhodes, mostly because of the setting.  Despite the shortness of the book, Rhodes manages to create an incredibly evocative setting that I was eager to immerse myself in.  It was clear how much the author loves the bayou throughout the book.  I also loved Maddy and her grandmother as characters, I enjoyed watching them bond despite their differences.  And watching Maddy and Bear become friends through exploring the bayou made me smile.  There were also some hard things in the book, the poverty of the area, Bear's home life difficulties, and of course the oil spill.  The only thing I had a hard time buying into was the mermaids.  Maybe it's because mermaids have never been my thing, but to me it kind of pulled me out of the setting.  Maddy's connection to the mermaids is an important part of the story, but I would have almost preferred the book without it.  I enjoy good folklore, but would have preferred a more realistic story here.  Despite that, Rhodes has created a delightful book about family and friends and taking care of the environment around us.

CYBILS FINALIST REVIEW: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge


When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry, her sister seems scared of her, and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth she must travel into the terrifying underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family-before it's too late . . .

Set in England after World War I, this is a brilliantly creepy but ultimately loving story of the relationship between two sisters who have to band together against a world where nothing is as it seems.


Hardinge is an author that I've heard a lot about over the years but the one time I tried one of her books, I didn't like it and never finished it.  So I was curious to see if I'd like this one when I sat down to read it.  And I have to say that I was impressed.  Hardinge tells her story amazingly well.  That's the first thing I noticed was the great writing with all it's unusual details and metaphors.  This is the kind of writing that makes me sit up and take notice and helps the reader really visualize the setting and characters.  With speculative fiction, it's especially important to make setting as believable as possible, otherwise the reader gets lost.  Hardinge creates a vivid picture of the town of Ellchester with it's unusual bridges built by Triss's father, Piers Crescent.  As Triss moves through the story, the town becomes very much a part of the story.  One gets the distinct feeling that this story really couldn't have happened anywhere else.

As far as characters go, Triss is intriguing from the get go with her missing memories and strong sense that something is really wrong.  The strange relationships she has with her overbearing but well-meaning parents to a sister who hates her to an insatiable hunger that goes way beyond food all lead Triss down a path that she can never return from, even if she wanted to.  And unfortunately for Triss, she discovers that nothing is what it seems, not even herself.

The plot twists and turns and throws unique circumstances at the reader as we follow Triss through a maze of difficulties.  The underlying theme about having to live with the consequences of the choices we make, even the impulsive ones shines through loud and clear but never overpowers the story.  Hardinge also does a great job creating an incredibly creepy atmosphere that hangs over the story from page one. I have to say that this is one of the most unique fantasy books I've ever read, I can't think of another quite like it.  However, I would recommend this more for more skilled readers because of the intricacies of the plot and the detailed writing.  But for those that stick with it, they will find it more than worth the effort.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


I don't normally post things like this on my blog.  But I thought I would try it.

I am working on raising money to purchase some STEAM/STEM kits to use with my students.  See further information below.

Fairy Tales and STEM

My students need two STEM/STEAM Kits.

My Students

A typical day in a school library involves reading a poem or completing a library review sheet. A mini-lesson introduces or reinforces library curriculum such as story elements, book awards, informational and digital literacy.
I see 540 students a week made up of a wide variety of personalities and abilities.
Some of them love to read, some of them avoid it like the plague. I always cheer when I can find a book for a reluctant reader that turns them on to reading. Like most children, they love to talk and I'm always thrilled when I get thoughtful responses that show they've been truly involved in an activity. Their enthusiasm for a good read-aloud is truly the best part of working with children.

My Project

The Fairy Tales STEM/STEAM Kits I'm requesting will be used to help students look beyond the Disney versions of fairy tales to see the elements that have allowed these stories to be around for so long. At the same time, principles related to science and technology and problem solving will aid the children in developing critical thinking skills and looking beyond the words that they read. Interactive activities including building, problem solving, and puppets encourage the students to use their minds to reconstruct the stories and find alternate solutions for the fairy tale characters.
I see each class only once a week.
Because of that I have to have lessons that immediately engage the children, otherwise they don't remember what I've taught them from week to week. These materials will help me to plan lessons that combine curriculum needs with active engagement making for a more effective classroom environment.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

PICTURE BOOK NONFICTION: Aaron and Alexander by Don Brown/How Kate Warne Saved President Lincoln by Elizabeth Van Steenwyk


In 1856, when Kate Warne went to see Allan Pinkerton, only men were detectives. But Kate convinced Allan to hire her for his detective agency. She explained that she could worm out secrets where men could not go--in disguise as a society lady! Join Kate on her most important mission--to thwart a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on the way to his inauguration.


 Picture book nonfiction is a rather unique genre in that it tries to tell rather complicated stories in as simplified a form as possible.  And while I've read some great picture book nonfiction, there are occasion problems with text conveying things that aren't quite accurate. And there is a bit of that here.  The author is focused on Kate Warne and the remarkable things she did as a female detective for Allan Pinkerton's detective agency. So it makes sense that the other people who helped ferret out the plans to kill Lincoln aren't really mentioned, but it would have been more accurate if they were.  Warne wasn't the only undercover detective Pinkerton sent to Baltimore to find out what was going on. See Lincoln's Spymaster by Samantha Seiple for more details.

And at one point in the story the author states that: "Abraham Lincoln was elected president on November 6, 1860, but many people in the southern states were opposed to his intention to abolish slavery." Now this is technically correct, but Lincoln said in his speeches over and over that he did NOT intend to abolish slavery where it currently existed, just oppose the spread of it into new territories and states.  So the implication is a bit misleading, although many at the time interpreted his statements to mean that he intended to abolish slavery altogether.

Despite this slight errors in the text, I did enjoy reading about Kate's exploits and her daring in rooting out criminals at great risk to herself.  She's one of those women who helped pave the way for where women are today. 

The illustrations are delightfully bright and attractive, sure to appeal to young readers. In fact, the illustrations were my favorite part, especially the different outfits that Kate wears, and Lincoln in disguise.  Overall, a nice addition to collections.


The most famous duel in American history dramatized by leading nonfiction picture book illustrator, Don Brown.

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were both fierce patriots during the Revolutionary War, but the politics of the young United States of America put them in constant conflict. Their extraordinary story of bitter fighting and resentment culminates in their famous duel. For young patriots who may not yet know the shocking and tragic story, Aaron and Alexander captures the spirit of these two great men who so valiantly served their country and ultimately allowed their pride and ego to cause their demise.


The story of the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton is both fascinating and complex.  So I was interested to see how Brown presented it.  I appreciated how Brown compared the backgrounds and talents of the two men, both their similarities and differences as he guided the reader to the fateful day.  Of course, there simply isn't room in the story to convey the complexities of the relationship between the two men, but I'd say that Brown does a superb job of it, even quoting both men on occasion.  Since neither man was known for tact, it seems inevitable that the two would have a major clash at some point, but it's also tragic that neither could reign in their pride enough to avoid the duel that followed.  As with previous illustrations, Brown does a wonderful job here conveying the drama and tension that grew between the two men and how it exploded during the duel.  This is one of those stories that helps young readers understand that history isn't as boring as they often mistakenly think it is.  However, I would recommend using this with slightly older students (8-12) rather than the normal picture book crowd (4-8) just because of the duel.  The illustrations aren't overly graphic, but someone does die and young readers aren't likely to understand why these two brilliant, but prideful men couldn't find another way to solve their problems. Come to think of it, I don't think I understand it either.

Monday, February 1, 2016

BLOG TOUR: Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre


Debut novelist Lisa Lewis Tyre vibrantly brings a small town and its outspoken characters to life, as she explores race and other community issues from both the Civil War and the present day.

Lou might be only twelve, but she’s never been one to take things sitting down. So when her Civil War-era house is about to be condemned, she’s determined to save it—either by getting it deemed a historic landmark or by finding the stash of gold rumored to be hidden nearby during the war. As Lou digs into the past, her eyes are opened when she finds that her ancestors ran the gamut of slave owners, renegades, thieves and abolitionists. Meanwhile, some incidents in her town show her that many Civil War era prejudices still survive and that the past can keep repeating itself if we let it. Digging into her past shows Lou that it’s never too late to fight injustice, and she starts to see the real value of understanding and exploring her roots.


I grew up in a small town in Tennessee surrounded by my crazy family and neighbors. I learned early on that not every child had a pet skunk, a dad that ran a bar in the front yard, or a neighbor that was so large his house had to be torn down to get him out. What else could I do but write?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I think this is because I come from a long line of storytellers. I loved listening to my dad tell me about the escapades of his youth, like how he “accidentally” pushed his brother out of a two-story window, and “accidentally” shot his aunt’s chicken with a bow and arrow. Apparently he was accident-prone.

One of the stories they told me involved the name of our piece of the country. I lived in a tiny spot that the locals called Zollicoffer. When I asked why it had such a strange name, they said it was named after General Felix Zollicoffer who had camped nearby during the Civil War. One day I happened to ask my mom where exactly the camp had been. That’s when she pointed down the road and said, “Probably over there. That’s where some kids in the 50’s found GOLD.” And just like that, LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS was born.

“Accomplished debut. . . . Strong secondary characters, including Lou’s thrice-divorced flirtatious grandmother, help build the strong sense of small-town community. Tyre masterfully weaves historical details into Lou’s discoveries in ways that never feel facile, while deftly and satisfyingly resolving past and present puzzles.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
“Louise Duncan Mayhew’s perspective in the 1860s is an intriguing contrast to Lou’s modern narration at the turn of the 21st century. . . . The story addresses injustice in plain language that is accessible to young readers who enjoy whodunits.”—Kirkus Reviews 
“Tyre’s debut features characters that are believable in their naïveté and sense of invincibility. . . . Louise’s account of their summer adventures, with chapters headed by entries from a Civil War diary, should please middle-grade readers looking for a solid story with an intriguing historical connection.”—Booklist
“The characters are true to life. . . . In the midst of solving a Civil War–era mystery, Lou and her friends confront racism in their own time. Lou feels deeply and is single-minded in her pursuit of justice. A solid debut novel for middle graders who enjoy a blend of history and mystery.”—School Library Journal
BEA Middle Grade Buzz Pick
Amazon Editors Pick (October, 9-12 yr olds.)
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Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble


Lou loves the old house that she lives in with her parents and grandmother.  Despite the fact that it's seen better days and been added onto more times than she can count, she loves the place, the secret room next to the parlor where she likes to eavesdrop, the old oak tree outside her bedroom window, and even the kitchen.  When she overhears her parents talking about the county knocking the house down, she is not only shocked but angry.  With the help of her friends, she is determined to save her home.  As she and her friends investigate the history of the house hoping to save it by getting it designated a historical site, she discovers things about her ancestors that she rather wishes she didn't know.  But things aren't always what they seem and as Lou searches for the gold her ancestor supposedly stole, she starts to learn that there is a lot more to family than just a house.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about spunky Lou and her delightful friends.  The plot that revolved around the ongoing existence of racism as well as a bit about the history of slavery in Lou's family added a lot of depth to the story that I enjoyed.  Lou's antics as well as her grandmother's were amusing as well.  A fun combination of mystery and adventure and discovering the value of family made this a winner in my book.

Lisa Lewis Tyre’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 1st: Geo Librarian
Tuesday, February 2nd: Randomly Reading
Wednesday, February 3rd: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Thursday, February 4th: Life is Story
Monday, February 8th: Just Commonly
Wednesday, February 10th: Shooting Stars Mag
Thursday, February 11th: Musings by Maureen
Monday, February 15th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, February 16th: You Can Read Me Anything
Wednesday, February 17th: WV Stitcher
Thursday, February 18th: Tina Says…
Monday, February 22nd: The Things You Can Read
Wednesday, February 24th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 25th: Just One More Chapter
Monday, February 29th: Laura’s Reviews
Wednesday, March 2nd: Absurd Book Nerd
Thursday, March 3rd: FictionZeal
Monday, March 7th: View from the Birdhouse
Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Story Time kit by Kristin Aagard