Wednesday, December 20, 2017

CHRISTMAS PICTURE BOOKS: The Legend of Old Befana/The Night Before Christmas/A Charlie Brown Christmas/The Little Reindeer


In this beloved classic picture book, Tomie dePaola retells and illustrates an Italian Christmas folk tale, breathing warmth and humanity into the character of the lonely Old Befana and her endless search for the Christ Child.

Every morning and every afternoon, Old Befana sweeps with her broom. “Cranky old lady,” the children say. “She is always sweeping!” Sweep, sweep, sweep.

But when a brilliant star glows in the eastern sky one night, and Old Befana encounters the glorious procession of three kings on their way to Bethlehem, her little world will never be the same.


Interestingly, I heard a different version of this story shortly before I picked up this picture book.  Naturally, the two versions differed a bit, but the theme remains the same: an older woman searching for the Christ child becomes a Santa Claus-like figure for children.  dePaola does a nice job here showing how Old Befana changes after hearing about the Christ child, and how after missing a chance to travel with the wise men, sets off on her own to find the child.  I think what I enjoyed most about the story is the way Old Befana's heart is touched by the words of a child.  After living a life of routine, mostly taking care of herself, she discovers the importance of giving and the joy of following the Christ child.  As always, dePaola's illustrations reflect a old-fashioned touch that works well for this folktale.


The original tale of The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore is now accompanied by enchanting illustrations from Antonio Caparo in this festive holiday picture book.

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

Since it was first published nearly 200 years ago “The Night Before Christmas” has enchanted readers young and old with the story of St. Nicholas landing on a snowy roof, climbing down the chimney, and filling all the stockings with gifts before riding off in his sleigh, wishing “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

This classic poem is now accompanied by stunning, richly detailed illustrations from Antonio Caparo, illustrator of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Rudolph Shines Again. This beautiful picture book is the perfect Christmas gift.


I am not the biggest fan of Moore's famous poem.  I've read it out loud a number of times and the rhythm just seems off in a few places.  Plus, as a student this week told me, there's not much story there.  A man watches Santa fly around delivering presents and that's it.  So, while I like the poem in a general sense, I'm not a huge fan, especially with Santa smoking a pipe.  What I am a fan of, however, is Caparo's illustrations.  They are gorgeous.  That Santa on the cover is one of the best I've ever seen.  I also liked the big size which makes this version of the poem especially suited for sharing.


Celebrate Christmas with Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang in this gorgeous deluxe storybook retelling of the beloved Christmas special!

Christmas is almost here, which means ice-skating, Christmas carols, and sparkly lights everywhere—even on Snoopy’s doghouse! Everyone is enjoying the holiday celebrations except Charlie Brown. Can the Peanuts gang help Charlie Brown discover the true meaning of Christmas?

Find out in this beautiful deluxe storybook with a cloth cover, lush foil stamping, and incredible illustrations! This makes the perfect holiday gift for fans of Peanuts and the classic Christmas special.


I liked this book for the most part and children who enjoy Charlie Brown will too.  As a Deluxe Edition the book is beautifully put together.  The large size of the book with the fabric red cover make the book a good choice for read alouds.  The music on the end papers is a nice touch as well.   The story of Charlie Brown searching for the spirit of Christmas is a nice one.  Commercialism is a really big problem at this time of year and the book shows that.  I think my favorite part though is where Charlie Brown picks the scrawniest Christmas tree in the lot.  Even though his friends laugh at him at first, Charlie Brown tries to decorate the tree.  Unfortunately, the tree is really too small to hold even a single tree bulb and Charlie Brown thinks he's ruined things again.  I did appreciate Charlie Brown's friends coming to his rescue, but it would have been better if they hadn't laughed at him in the first place.  In addition, the tree isn't the same, it looks like a totally different tree after it's been decorated, but that probably won't bother anyone except me.  Overall, a nice Christmas story about looking beyond the commercial aspects of the holiday.


An enchanting Christmas story about a magical yet unlikely friendship between a little girl and a lost reindeer, lovingly told and illustrated with red foil highlights and interactive die cuts.

When a jingling sound wakes her from her sleep, a little girl’s dreams come true when she meets a lost reindeer in the forest. They set off on a magical adventure and it becomes a Christmas never to forget. Nicola Killen’s evocative illustrations are sure to enchant in this beautiful book with die cut pages, foil, and flashes of festive red.


This is a cute story about a young girl who gets woken up by a jingling sound.  When she investigates, she discovers a reindeer who takes her for a flight before she heads back to bed.  Rather a simple, straight-forward premise, but one young children especially will love to go with her on.  I thought the title was clever, referring to the girl in her reindeer costume, but also related to the animal the girl befriends.  The cut outs on some pages are bound to be of interest, but also create the risk of torn pages.  I would have loved this in full color, but that is just a personal taste, the illustrations work well, highlighting the quiet world in which the girl and reindeer find themselves.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Alice Paul and the Fight for Women's Rights by Deborah Kops


Here is the story of leader Alice Paul, from the women's suffrage movement—the long struggle for votes for women—to the “second wave,” when women demanded full equality with men. Paul made a significant impact on both. She reignited the sleepy suffrage moment with dramatic demonstrations and provocative banners. After women won the right to vote in 1920, Paul wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would make all the laws that discriminated against women unconstitutional. Passage of the ERA became the rallying cry of a new movement of young women in the 1960s and ’70s. Paul saw another chance to advance women’s rights when the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 began moving through Congress. She set in motion the “sex amendment,” which remains a crucial legal tool for helping women fight discrimination in the workplace. Includes archival images, author’s note, bibliography, and source notes.


I thoroughly enjoyed this nonfiction account of Alice Paul's work on behalf of women's rights.  What a determined woman she was, and what a lot of good she did. Whether one agrees with her methods or not, one has to admit that Paul left her mark on the work.  She never gave up fighting for rights she believed women should have.  And while not always successful, her efforts shouldn't be forgotten.  I thought it was interesting how the author turned what was originally intended to be a biography into an historical account of the women's rights movement.  As she pointed out, it's hard to right a biography when the chosen individual has gone out of her way to avoid talking about her own thoughts and feelings.

Alice Paul was clearly a woman of great courage and conviction, but little is known about her personal life, other than what she shared in letters with loved ones and those are few and far between.  It's clear though that the author did her research.  This account is not only well-written, but thorough.  I learned a lot about the history of the women's rights movement, including many things I did not know.  And after all is said and done, that is the purpose for a narrative nonfiction book like this: to tell a story as accurately and interestingly as possible.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

CHRISTMAS PICTURE BOOKS: Santa Calls/The Steadfast Tin Soldier/The Christmas Fairy/Pick a Pine Tree


Art Atchinson Aimesworth -- inventor, crime fighter, and allaround whiz kid-journeys north with his sister, Esther, and his pal, Spaulding, by special invitation from Santa himself. But why did Santa call? Now available in a new hardcover edition, this truly Joyce-ian crusade features villains and swashbuckling adventure, concluding with a most spectacular and touching Christmas celebration.

A holiday extravaganza like no other, by the creator of Rolie Polie Olie, Snowie Rolie, Sleepy Time Olie, Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures wirh the Family Lazardo, and George Shrinks.


One thing I always enjoy about William Joyce's books is the creativity that shines through, especially in the illustrations.  Here is a Santa story, similar in tone to the beloved The Polar Express, and yet the North Pole is quite different in Joyce's imagination, and the reasons for Art's trip, while similar to the boy in The Polar Express, is also quite different in that it's about someone else's wish and not his own.  But Art, his friend Spauling, and his sister Esther are too busy fighting off the dark elves and their evil Queen too think about it more than occasionally.  And as Santa tells Art when he does ask about Santa's invitation, "some mysteries are best left unsolved."  Thankfully though, the reader is not left in the dark as two important letters are included at the end.  A fun book for those who want something a little different in their Christmas stories.


A retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen story, with new illustrations.The story of a one-legged tin soldier who loves a paper ballerina from afar is "beautifully set in a wintry [Copenhagen] of a hundred years ago. A handsomely designed book that respects the integrity of a favorite tale while giving it a fresh new interpretation." --K. "A terrific story, well told and beautifully illustrated." --BL. "The art illuminates the story in ways to which the simple language cannot aspire." --NYT. 1992 Books for Youth Editors' Choices


It's always interesting to read a fairy tale that doesn't have a happy ending, which this one certainly does not. And yet, in real life, many stories don't have a happy ending.  Still, despite what could be considered a tragic ending, there is still joy to be found in the tin soldier's steadfastness in the face of adversity and separation from the one he loves (a paper ballerina).  The longer text and plotline make this more appropriate for slightly older audiences.  The real winner here is the gorgeous illustrations that highlight so well the tin soldier's devotion to the ballerina even after he's lost.


Clara's dream is to become a Christmas fairy, whose job it is to stay still atop the tree. But when Christmas lesson time rolls around at fairy school, things don't go quite as planned. Clara's so excited that she can't possibly be still and quiet like a fairy should. Although she tries her best, at heart she's still a wriggly, giggly chatterbox who likes nothing more than making people smile. But when it's time for the big Christmas Show, it looks like that's exactly the kind of fairy Santa needs to help him save the day. At last, Clara can put her talents to good use, and it soon becomes clear that there's more than one way to be a Christmas fairy! This rhyming text from the pair behind The Fairiest Fairy is sure to have readers in a festive mood.


Clara wants very much to be a Christmas fairy, but she struggles to stay quiet and still.  She just can't stop humming and singing and making others laugh.  When her teacher tells her that her efforts aren't quite enough, she feels bad.  But things take a turn for the better when Santa shows up and needs her to use her talents to save the Christmas Show.  This adorable little fairy is sure to win the hearts of young girls everywhere.  The bright colors and cute illustrations are very appealing and the rhyming text works for the most part.  A fun addition to the Christmas season.


A festive read-aloud brimming with all the joy and excitement of Christmastime -- beginning, of course, with picking out a tree!
Part of the magic of the Christmas season stems from the traditions that families and friends take part in every year: hanging up stockings; putting lights in the windows; and, one of the most important of all, picking out and taking home the Christmas tree. With style and warmth, debut author Patricia Toht and Jarvis, the author-illustrator of Alan's Big, Scary Teeth, evoke all the rituals of decorating the tree -- digging out boxes jam-packed with ornaments and tree trimmings, stringing tinsel, and, at long last, turning on those twinkling lights. Joyously drawn and rhythmically written, this celebration of family, friends, and the holiday season is as merry as the tradition it depicts.


 In this old-fashioned feeling, enthusiastic look at the time-honored tradition of choosing and decorating the Christmas tree, Toht has created a fun read aloud.  The rhymes work well with a nice rhythm and cadence and the illustrations are bright and cheerful, indicative of the season.  For those just getting ready to celebrate this tradition this book is a fun precursor.  It's also a great introduction to a tradition that many may not be familiar with.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

CYBILS JUNIOR HIGH NONFICTION NOMINATION: The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found by Martin W. Sandler


The exciting true story of the captaincy, wreck, and discovery of the Whydah the only pirate ship ever found and the incredible mysteries it revealed.
The 1650s to the 1730s marked the golden age of piracy, when fearsome pirates like Blackbeard ruled the waves, seeking not only treasure but also large and fast ships to carry it. The Whydah was just such a ship, built to ply the Triangular Trade route, which it did until one of the greediest pirates of all, Black Sam Bellamy, commandeered it. Filling the ship to capacity with treasure, Bellamy hoped to retire with his bounty but in 1717 the ship sank in a storm off Cape Cod. For more than two hundred years, the wreck of the Whydah (and the riches that went down with it) eluded treasure seekers, until the ship was finally found in 1984 by marine archaeologists. The artifacts brought up from the ocean floor are priceless, both in value and in the picture they reveal of life in that much-mythologized era, changing much of what we know about pirates."


Pirates have been romanticized for a long, long time in movies, books, and other media.  This book goes a long way towards revealing the truth about so many of the myths that exist around pirates and how they lived.  I appreciated greatly how straight forward Sandler is about piracy and the reasons behind it and how those who really lived it actually lived.  This book does focus specifically on the experiences related to one specific ship, first as a slave ship and then as a pirate ship.  Details about the ship itself, what made it remarkable, and the people who sailed on her fascinated me.  Short segments about slaver, piracy and artifact conservation added greatly to my understanding of the rest of the narrative.  

I admired the way the author worked hard to make it clear the details about the ship and the people, especially Black Sam Bellamy, have been truthfully documented and which stories are still legend or rumor.  The clear, well-written narrative was easy to follow and the story told in a compelling way. The book is beautifully designed with the first part of the book focusing on the Whydah before it sank and the end of the book focusing on it's ongoing recovery.  I found the parts about the search for the Whydah's remains just as compelling as the parts about the pirates. 

The book demonstrates what is so powerful about narrative nonfiction while also including source notes, a bibliography, and an index.  A fabulous book for both leisure reading and teaching.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

CHRISTMAS PICTURE BOOKS: A Christmas for Bear/Red & Lulu/Elf in the House


Bear's minimalist holiday celebration has an eager Mouse feeling a bit anxious in this humorous and heartwarming story about the unlikely, lovable pair.

One frosty night, Bear hears a tap, tap, tapping on his front door. "Merry Christmas!" cries Mouse. Mouse is there for a Christmas party, and Bear has never had one before, but he's certain that pickles (preferably from France) must be an essential component, along with the reading of a long and difficult poem. The problem is, whenever Bear comes back from the kitchen with more treats, Mouse has vanished -- only to be found, small and gray and guilty-eyed, scurrying under the bed or rifling through the closet. Will there be even a tiny present involved? "Hogwash!" scolds Bear. Get ready for holiday anticipation and the best kind of surprises as the curmudgeonly Bear and a hopeful Mouse return in a warm, funny tale full of holiday cheer and true friendship.


Bear is his usually grumpy self as he and Mouse get ready to celebrate the Christmas season. But things take a sad turn as Mouse looks for a present and doesn't find one. Once again, Becker has told a story that children will be able to relate to as Mouse gets sadder and sadder when he can't find a present. But even grumpy Bear can offer a surprise which most children will eagerly predict.  Once again, Becker takes readers into a rather unusual friendship and leaves with a smile on their face.


Separation and miles cannot keep a determined cardinal from his loved one in an ode to serendipity and belief that is destined to be a new Christmas classic.
Red and Lulu make their nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree. It shades them in the hot months and keeps them cozy in the cold months, and once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. But one day, something unthinkable happens, and Red and Lulu are separated. It will take a miracle for them to find each another again. Luckily, it's just the season for miracles. . . . From Matt Tavares comes a heart-tugging story combining the cheer of Christmas, the magic of New York City, and the real meaning of the holiday season: how important it is to be surrounded by love.


Gorgeous illustrations and a unique perspective combine in this new book by Matt Tavares to create a book that I will read for many Christmases to come.  Red and Lulu are cardinals that live in a beautiful evergreen tree in the front yard of a friendly family.  Each year they enjoy listening to carolers sing about their tree.  But when Red returns from hunting for food to see his tree being hauled away and Lulu with it, he's desperate to see where it goes.  His best efforts, however, aren't enough to allow him to keep up with the truck and the tree.  He keeps hunting for Lulu and his tree throughout the city with no luck.  Just as he's ready to give up, he hears a sound that he recognizes.  When he follows the sound, he discovers just what miracles Christmas can bring.  Not only is this a sweet story of love and Christmas, but a tender story of miracles and overcoming the odds.  But my favorite part is the absolutely amazing illustrations that shine with light and joy which beautifully compliments the softly falling snow.  This book is a Christmas classic in the making.


The anticipatory excitement of Christmas Eve builds in a festive way in this follow-up to the much-loved Ghost in the House.
There's a girl in the house on this snowy Christmas Eve.
Creeping down, step by step, here she comes.
But what's going on?
Santa's snacks are gone,
And the only thing that's left is . . . CRUMBS!
Follow a child on a most magical night as she looks for the source of the sound that woke her up. In a lively, cumulative story full of page-turn reveals, all is not what it seems. While the little girl searches the house, she encounters some unexpected new friends. But the biggest surprise is sure to come last!


This simple story about a young girl discovering visitors in her house on Christmas Eve makes for a cute, cumulative story that builds until the final surprise (which isn't too surprising, but will undoubtedly make preschoolers squeal with joy). When the girl discovers the cookies left for Santa have been eaten, she follows the crumbs to see where and to whom they lead.  Each segment of the story leads to a page turn of a surprise which allows the story to build to its climax.  It would also be fun to stop along the way and see if young listeners can guess who or what will appear next.  A cute story time or lap read that will have young listeners eagerly awaiting the turn of the page.

Monday, December 4, 2017

MMGM: The World's Greatest Adventure Machine & The Afterlife Academy by Frank Cole

My school was lucky enough to have Frank Cole come speak to us a couple of weeks ago.  He turned out to be a very entertaining presenter.  His stories were hilarious and his advice about becoming an author, fabulous. So I am happy to be able to highlight a couple of his books.


An adventure novel about four lucky kids and a mysterious, but thrilling ride for fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Jurassic Park!

CastleCorp and the famous Castleton brothers are unveiling the World's Greatest Adventure Machine! The roller coaster is an experience like no other, and four lucky kids have won the chance to be the first to ride it.

There's Trevor, whose latest stunt got him in trouble at school again. There's Devin, whose father is pushing him to be the next Internet sensation. Nika's wealthy grandfather isn't too pleased about her participation. And Cameron, he'll be the first to tell you, is a certified genius. 

The whole world is watching. But as the kids set off on their journey, they begin to realize that there is perhaps more to their fellow contest winners than meets the eye. And the Adventure Machine? It might just have a mind of its own.

Join the contestants on their wild ride if you dare. Your adventure starts now!


In a book full of interesting twists and turns (literally and figuratively), the four main characters are in for the ride of their lives.  Each of the four kids, Trevor, Cameron, Devin, and Nika have been chosen in a contest to be the first to ride the World's Greatest Adventure Machine!  And all four are thrilled with the opportunity.  But were they really chosen randomly?  As they learn more about each other and the Castleton brothers, who are behind the ride, they start to wonder if there is more going on then they were told.  Each of the four kids also has something that makes him or her unique.  What are the odds that they would have been chosen for a ride that seems to have gone so horribly wrong?

I can safely say that I've never read a book like this one.  It's full of adventure, humor, and loads of fun.  And the Adventure Machine.  I really wished that it was real.  A ride like that would be awesome in the real world, as long as it didn't go horribly wrong of course ;)  I especially enjoyed the way the kids' strengths complimented each other in rather unusual ways.  This is not the typical story of friendship built through adversity, although that does come into the story. Truly this is a delightful story full of heart, humor, and imagination.


For fans of "Because of Mr. Terupt," "Mr. Terupt Falls Again," and "Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library," this funny, suspenseful adventure is about two very different twelve-year-old boys who must save the world from demons while dealing with parents, school, bullies, and girls.

Walter Prairie knows how to deal with bullies. He just has to beat them to the punch. But he doesn't see the biggest hit of his life coming when he is struck dead by a bolt of lightning. Before Walter even knows what's happened, he is sent to a Categorizing office, fast-tracked through the Afterlife Academy, and assigned as a Guardian Agent to protect a High-Level Target.

Walter's HLT, Charlie Dewdle, isn't exactly the most popular kid in school. He's what you might call paranormally obsessed. When Charlie finds an ancient book with spells that can be used to open the Gateway for demons to wreak havoc on earth, it's up to him and Walter to fight an eclectic horde of enemies and protect humankind at all costs.

But saving the world isn't so easy. Especially when your protector doesn't know the first thing about the Underworld, bullies like Mo Horvath are trying to hunt you down, pretty and popular Melissa Bittner is suddenly talking to you, and your parents think you're going crazy.


I'm not quite sure how to describe this book. Funny, yes.  Creepy, yes, there are demons after all.  Creative, yes.  Action-packed, yes.  These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think about this book.  I think the combination of humor and action are what make the book a winner in my mind.  Many middle grade readers love both of those things after all.  I also really appreciate the fact that the plot isn't like any plot I've ever read before.  Admittedly, while there are a lot of books available about guardian angels or some such idea, this book creates a guardian AGENT, and a completely untrained one at that.  Some other things that I enjoyed about the book include: demons using human games such as Jenga and Old Maid to torture each other, the back and forth dialogue between Walter and Charlie once Walter 'possesses' Charlie, and the involvement of Charlie's parents at the end of the story.

While I did figure out who the 'real' villain is in the story (other than the Underworld creatures), it didn't bother me too much because of the creativity exhibited in the rest of the story.  And the author does through in a red herring or two as well.  Both Walter and Charlie are fun, interesting characters that I had no trouble rooting for, but their differences were what made the book so entertaining.  This is a fun book, perfect for reluctant readers who like lots of action and who don't mind a monster or two.

Friday, December 1, 2017

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh


We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh returns with Spirit Hunters, a high-stakes middle grade mystery series about Harper Raine, the new seventh grader in town who must face down the dangerous ghosts haunting her younger brother. A riveting ghost story and captivating adventure, this tale will have you guessing at every turn!

Harper doesn’t trust her new home from the moment she steps inside, and the rumors are that the Raine family’s new house is haunted. Harper isn’t sure she believes those rumors, until her younger brother, Michael, starts acting strangely. The whole atmosphere gives Harper a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. She knows that the memories she’s blocking will help make sense of her brother’s behavior and the strange and threatening sensations she feels in this house, but will she be able to put the pieces together in time?


Ellen Oh has created a story of great creepiness, which is to say that young readers are bound to eat it up.  Not only is there the mystery of what happened to Harper that led to her stay in a mental hospital followed by a stay in a regular hospital, but there is the mystery of the new house.  Since Harper doesn't remember what happened leading up to and including her hospital stays, she feels a bit lost.  And when her brother starts talking about someone that no one else can see or hear, she's worried about him.  But unlike her mother and father and older sister, she senses something is very wrong with her brother.

When Dayo, a new friend from the neighborhood, starts telling her about the tragedies that have occurred at her house, and that most people believe the place to be haunted, it troubles Harper further. And after several attacks on herself, along with strange dreams that almost seem to be memories, Harper is desperate for some help.  As Michael (her brother) starts acting very strangely and even cruelly, Harper knows that something needs to be done before her brother is lost forever.

Oh has written a very compelling story with a huge dose of scariness.  I also enjoyed the Korean cultural references.  This is a nice stand alone novel for middle grade readers who want something scary.  There are some really scary parts in the story involving ghost possession which might be too much for some young readers.  It was refreshing though to read a scary ghost story with some unique aspects to it.

Monday, November 27, 2017

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana


This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.

Sandra was just ten years old when she found herself with a gun pointed at her head. She had watched as rebels gunned down her mother and six-year-old sister in a refugee camp. Remarkably, the rebel didn’t pull the trigger, and Sandra escaped.

Thus began a new life for her and her surviving family members. With no home and no money, they struggled to stay alive. Eventually, through a United Nations refugee program, they moved to America, only to face yet another ethnic disconnect. Sandra may have crossed an ocean, but there was now a much wider divide she had to overcome. And it started with middle school in New York.

In this memoir, Sandra tells the story of her survival, of finding her place in a new country, of her hope for the future, and how she found a way to give voice to her people.


I found this book both heart-wrenching and inspiring.  Sandra's story is an important one.  Unfortunately, there are far too many others who could tell similar stories of life as a refugee.  I was fascinated as Sandra starts by introducing the event that changed her life forever, the massacre at Gatumba Refugee Camp.  Then she shares what her life was like leading up to that pivotal event.  I enjoyed this part of the book as I read about a culture and way of life very different from my own.  When she returns to the shocking events that occurred when she was ten, that cost her her beloved little sister and left her suffering from delayed PTSD (it all comes back to haunt her in her late teens).  That part was hard to read.  It's hard to comprehend what leads people to do such evil things as massacre the innocent just because they are from a different culture/tradition.

The story of how Sandra and her family came to the United States, found a way to cope with the culture shock while simultaneously living with the difficulties caused by the massacre is a powerful one.  At least I found it so.  Life as a refugee is difficult, no matter the circumstances.  But adjusting to a new country, a new language, and a new culture is hard enough without the challenges of dealing with trauma on top of that.  Sandra's family's difficulties weren't over.  As she struggles to adjust to school, she runs into numerous challenges, but she finds a way to carry on.  But she never forgets her people and what happened to them.  She gets involved in telling not only her own story but the story of her people.  She has what I would call some rather remarkable experiences. 

All in all, I found this a remarkable story that reminds me of the importance of people telling their own stories and that the only way to overcome the prejudices that continue to plague society is to tell those stories and listen to the stories of others.

Friday, November 24, 2017

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Survivors Club by Michael Bornstein & Debbie Bornstein Holinstat


In 1945, in a now-famous piece of archival footage, four-year-old Michael Bornstein was filmed by Soviet soldiers as he was carried out of Auschwitz in his grandmother’s arms. Survivors Club tells the unforgettable story of how a father’s courageous wit, a mother’s fierce love, and one perfectly timed illness saved Michael’s life, and how others in his family from Zarki, Poland, dodged death at the hands of the Nazis time and again with incredible deftness. Working from his own recollections as well as extensive interviews with relatives and survivors who knew the family, Michael relates his inspirational story with the help of his daughter, Debbie Bornstein Holinstat. Shocking, heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting, this narrative nonfiction offers an indelible depiction of what happened to one Polish village in the wake of the German invasion in 1939.


This is a remarkable book.  Michael Bornstein and his daughter have clearly worked hard to tell the story of Michael's (and his extended family) experiences during the Holocaust.  While Michael himself was just a child when he ended up in Auschwitz and still a child when he was liberated, he's used the memories of numerous family members and friends as well as records and photographs from several Holocaust museums to round out the story.  And while as the author says, "the underlying events are entirely factual, there is some fiction here: conversations had to be imagined, thoughts and feelings projected, certain names changed and some minor details adjusted to put this into narrative form"; the underlying truth of the story is incredibly touching and powerful.

Reading about the courage of Michael's father, the horrible actions of the Nazi's, and the difficult circumstances that Michael's family and neighbors faced truly left me both horrified and in awe.  After the Germans invaded and the Jews were forced into unpaid labor and strict curfews, Michael's father, Isaac was made the head of the Judenrat--a group of Jewish men called to put the German's plans into effect.  And while Isaac hated this position, he used it to help his people as much as possible.  The way Isaac and his fellow Jews gathered money from those under their care and used it to bribe the Germans allowed numerous lives to be saved.  And even when Isaac had the chance to flee and save himself and his family, he stayed.  And when the camps could no longer be avoided, Michael and family, continued to hope that somehow they might survive it all.  And while not all of them did, a surprising number of Michael's family members did survive to carry on after the war.

This book beautifully demonstrates both the horrible things that people are capable of but also the resilience of the human soul.


Monday, November 20, 2017

EARLY CHAPTER BOOK SERIES: King & Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler


Kayla made peanut butter treats for Jillian's new puppy, Thor. But now the treats are missing. 

What does Kayla know? There are three treats missing. King was in the kitchen. King's breath doesn't smell like peanut butter. 

What does King know? There's an intruder in the house. 

How will they solve the mystery?


I'm always on the lookout for fun early chapter books.  These books need to be fast moving with short, easy to read sentences for children just learning to read.  But the stories and illustrations are important as well.  In this first of a new series, King wants to eat the peanut butter treats that Kayla has made.  And when some of the treats go missing, King is blamed at first.  At least until Kayla goes through and lists what they know, which includes the fact that King's breath proves he didn't do it.  King, with his powerful nose, realizes something that Kayla does not: THERE'S AN INTRUDER IN THE HOUSE!  Together, Kayla and King must solve the mystery in order to enjoy the rest of the treats. A fabulous, funny new mystery series perfect for young readers. 

Kayla and Mason both got mysterious letters, written in code. 

What does Kayla know? The same person left both letters. It's someone she and Mason both know. 

The two letters are the same, except for the second word. 

What does King know? Jillian left the letters. What do the letters say?


In this delightful early chapter book, King and his person, Kayla, must solve the puzzle of a coded message left on their porch.  But King, the dog, has a clue that Kayla does not, he knows, thanks to his talented nose, who dropped it off.  But Kayla and her friend, Mason are puzzled.  It's up to King to find the clues necessary to figure out the mystery.  The short text and cute illustrations make this a great series for readers who are ready to move up to short chapter books. 


A lovable dog helps his human girl solve a mystery. King and Kayla are playing fetch with their friends, Jillian and Thor. Jillian throws Kings favorite ball too hard, and now its gone missing! King and Kayla must put together the clues to figure out where it went and who has it.


In this third book in the series, King's ball goes missing and he is frantic to get it back.  It's just right for fetching after all.  After Kayla lists all the clues she has, King uses his additional information from a neighborhood cat to try to find his ball.  He's determined to succeed, even if it means leaping into the neighbor's yard.  This is a fun addition to the series with an amusing twist at the end.

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS: Bertha Takes a Drive/Nina/Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper


It's 1888 and Bertha Benz's husband, Karl, has invented the prototype Benz motorwagen. But the German government declares the vehicle illegal, and the church calls it the devil's work. Unbeknownst to her husband, Bertha steals away with her two sons and drives nearly one hundred miles to prove just how amazing the motorwagen is. Bertha's mechanical savvy gets the boys to Grandma's house safely, and the remarkable mother/son road trip reduces global concern about moving vehicles.


I'm a big fan of books that highlight the actions of brave, clever women.  Jan Adkins has done an admirable job of telling one story from the life of one such women.  I had to laugh at the determination of this woman, Bertha Benz, to prove to both the church and Emperor Wilhelm II that her husband's invention, the Benz motorwagen, has the potential to change lives for the better and isn't the threat they think it is.  She sneaks out with her two teenage sons and makes her way across bumpy, rough terrain 60 miles to her mother's house.  Naturally, the car broke down several times, but thanks to Bertha's ingenuity and knowledge of her husband's invention, the car was repaired and the trip continued.  

The inclusion of drawings of the motorwagen, including one of the engine were a great touch.  The timeline of significant events in automobile history was great as well.  I especially appreciated the author's note at the end where she explained the difficulty in getting the story right since not all the details of the time and place and conversations are known.  It's always reassuring to know however that the author does everything in her power to get it right.  A fascinating slice of history.

Ages 9-12


A stunning picture-book biography of the High Priestess of Soul and one of the greatest voices of the 20th century.

With evocative black-and-white illustrations and moving prose, readers are introduced to Nina Simone, jazz-music legend and civil-rights activist. Shared as a lullaby to her daughter, a soulful song recounts Simone's career, the trials she faced as an African American woman, and the stand she took during the Civil Rights Movement. This poignant picture book offers a melodic tale that is both a historic account of an iconic figure and an extraordinary look at how far we've come and how far we still need to go for social justice and equality. A timeless and timely message aptly appropriate for today's social and political climates.


This is a book filled with symbolism and imagery.  While that makes for a beautiful book, it also makes it confusing for younger readers, which is why I would recommend this book for older children.  It would even make a great addition to units on the Civil Rights movement, that continues today.  The book starts with Nina, a mother, singing a lullaby to her own child, and telling the story (very briefly) of some of her early experiences with music and racism.  The comparison of black and white lives to the keys on the keyboard (whites are whole and more numerous, blacks are 'half' and limited in number) is brilliant and thought-provoking, especially when the illustration on the next page shows whites and blacks sitting and standing in order like a piano keyboard.  The lyrical language makes references to taking wing and flying  which the illustrations also show as well as flying dandelions symbolizing Nina's and other civil rights activists dreams for a better life.  While additional information about Nina and her life and work would have been appreciated, the book makes for a powerful introduction to the issues involved in the civil rights movement as well as the experiences of one young girl.


Snappy rhymes invite young readers to watch workers dig, pour, pound, and bolt a skyscraper into existence. Simple yet satis-fying sidebars provide further information about each step in the construction process. Perfect for preschoolers and all those who dig diggers.

Quirky, colorful art enhance the appeal of a construction site with all the equipment and sounds of building.


This is a great book for young building enthusiasts.  Not only is there great information about the building of a skyscraper (I learned a lot!), but the combination of rhyming text and expository text make the book appropriate for young listeners and older readers.  In fact, I quite enjoyed reading the rhymes out loud, to me that's the best gauge for judging rhymes. I also loved the illustrations which do an excellent job of showing the steps in the construction process.  The illustrator also included labels for the different materials and equipment used in the building process. This is a fabulously put together book.
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