Monday, November 25, 2019

MMGM: The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman


Life is tough on the teeming streets of Chennai, India, as runaway sisters Viji and Rukku quickly discover. For cautious-minded Viji, this is not a surprise - but she hadn't realized just how vulnerable she and her sister would actually feel in this uncaring, dangerous world.

Fortunately, the girls find shelter - and friendship - on an abandoned bridge that's also the hideout of Muthi and Arul, two homeless boys. The four of them soon form a family of sorts, sharing food and supplies and laughing together about the absurdities of life. And while making their living scavenging the city's trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to take pride in, too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves - and are truly hoping to keep it that way.

Padma Venkatraman's moving survival story brings to light the obstacles faced by young people n many parts of the world, and is inspired by the children she met during her years in India. Her heroic characters will touch readers with their perseverance and unwavering love for each other.


This heart-breaking yet powerfully told story really resonated with me.  Maybe because I work with children myself and see the challenges they sometimes have to confront.  But despite the difficulties that Viji and Rukku face being homeless and having to live on the streets the book is surprising hopeful.  Viji refuses to give up on her dream of becoming a teacher despite now spending her days pawing through garbage just to make a tiny bit of money to buy food.  Viji and Rukku's relationship grows and changes as Viji learns to see her sister in new ways (Rukku has developmental or neurological disabilities of some sort, not specified in the book).  And the way the girls become family with Arul and Muthi keeps the book from becoming too depressing which it very easily could have done.  It was still challenging though to read about the children wading through hip deep garbage and sewage for hours only to be taken advantage of by the waste man who buys from them.  Arul's religious beliefs combined with their difficult circumstances makes for an interesting side plot.  Unfortunately, living as they do it's impossible for the children to avoid tragedy and Viji is left heartbroken and guilt-stricken.  But with the help of her adopted family and a new source of hope, she finds a way to carry on.  An incredibly touching story based on the real life experiences of children in India.  Eye-opening and empathy inducing.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: Awesome Achievers in Technology/Awesome Achievers in Science by Alan Katz


Everyone has heard the name Steve Jobs, but what about Nolan Bushnell--Jobs's boss before the invention of Apple, and the founder of the first major video game, Pong? Many of the most relevant figures in tech history have remained in the shadows, but not any longer! From Alan Katz's new Awesome Achievers series, Awesome Achievers in Technology gives kids a look behind the scenes at 12 lesser-known inventors whose contributions to tech are personally relevant to their lives today. Each figure is given a traditional biography but is also subject to Katz's unique brand of silliness, with humorous elements such as imagined poems, song lyrics, and diary entries by and about the not-so-famous figure accompanying each bio.

Spot illustrations throughout add to the lighthearted and appreciative humor each figure receives. Reluctant readers and budding tech enthusiasts alike will delight in this imaginative and engaging introduction to a new series of laugh out loud biographies.


The twelve short bios in this book focus on the technological contributions of some lesser known individuals.  I enjoyed reading about people such as Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus who developed SIRI, Mr. Nils Bohlin who created the three-point seat belt, and Mary Anderson who invented windshield wipers.  Each short bio gives a brief description of the individual followed by information about how he/she came up with the invention or technology for which he/she is known.  After that Katz throws in some humorous commentary using everything from poetry to song lyrics to pretend letters and diary entries.  This is the kind of biography book that kids might actually pick up and enjoy on their own.  But the book wouldn't work for reports as it doesn't have any documentation and the information is very brief and incomplete.  A fun series for kids who love to collect a variety of unusual facts and stories.


Everyone has heard the names Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, but what about Michael Collins--the third brave Apollo 11 astronaut who didn't get to walk on the moon? Many of the most relevant figures in scientific history have remained in the shadows, but not any longer! From Alan Katz's new Awesome Achievers series, Awesome Achievers in Science gives kids a look behind the scenes at 12 lesser-known scientists whose contributions are personally relevant to their lives today. Each figure is given a traditional biography but is also subject to Katz's unique brand of silliness, with humorous elements such as imagined poems, song lyrics, and diary entries by or about the not-so-famous figure accompanying each bio.

Spot illustrations throughout add to the lighthearted and appreciative humor each figure receives. Reluctant readers and budding scientists alike will delight in this imaginative and engaging continuation of a new series of laugh-out-loud biographies.


If only all biographies could be this entertaining.  When you combine Katz's humorous side with interesting stories about a variety of scientists you end up with a book like this one.  Twelve scientists are highlighted, most of whom are lesser known but whose work still made a major contribution to society and the world of science.  The biographies are short and get right to the point which makes them interesting but not informative enough to use in reports.  The extras that Katz provides add to the entertaining nature of the book with a variety of silly commentary provided in comics, poems, and imaginary discussions.  This is the kind of nonfiction book that it isn't hard to get students to pick up and read for enjoyment because it's short, interesting, with plenty of humor.  Just don't expect to get enough information or bibliographic information to make it useful for reports. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

CYBILS JUNIOR/SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION NOMINEES: The Dozier School for Boys/Enemy Child/The Miracle & Tragedy of the Dionne Quintuplets



Some true crimes reveal themselves in bits and pieces over time. One such case is the Florida School for Boys, a.k.a. the Dozier School, a place where--rather than reforming the children in their care--school officials tortured, raped, and killed them. Opened in 1900, the school closed in 2011 after a Department of Justice investigation substantiated allegations of routine beatings and killings made by about 100 survivors. Thus far, forensic anthropologist Dr. Erin Kimmerle and her team from the University of South Florida have uncovered fifty-five sets of human remains. Follow this story of institutional abuse, the brave survivors who spoke their truth, and the scientists and others who brought it to light.


Beginning with the fire that destroyed a dormitory in 1914, Murray takes the reader through a brief history of what came to be known as The Dozier School for Boys.  Over the hundred plus years of its existence, thousands of boys and at times girls attended the school.  Built to be a reform school, it was intended to educate and create adults of reformed character.  But from the beginning students were mistreated.  This mistreatment took many forms.  The education offered was poor and sometimes non-existent.  When combined with the hard labor the students were required to perform, one wonders about the mental, emotional, and physical health of the children who attended the school.

After describing the problems inherent in the way the school was run, the author presents information and survivor testimony revolving around the torture and rape that occurred at the school.  Admittedly this was the hardest part of the book to read.  The next chapter presents the stories of a handful of survivors who have chosen to speak out about their experiences.  It was hard to read about the abuse they experienced at the hands of those who should have been helping them.

The rest of the book focuses on the survivors efforts to reveal the secrets the school had been keeping for so long and the results of their efforts.  The investigations that were made, the reunions that were held, and the forensic work conducted around the school's cemetery.  While informative, this section of the book is ultimately unsatisfying.  By the time these investigations took place, there wasn't much to find.  Out of the fifty or so bodies found in the cemetery only a handful were identifiable.  And none of the remains were in good enough shape to provide any definitive answers.  Still the survivors continue to speak out and their efforts did help lead to the closure of the school in 2011.

An informative book on a difficult topic, The Dozier School for Boys, gives the reader a glimpse into a modern day tragedy that stretches back into the past.  I didn't look at a physical copy of the book so I can't speak to the effectiveness of the book's design, but as far as the content goes, it's a well-written and solid account.


It's 1941 and ten-year-old Norman Mineta is a carefree fourth grader in San Jose, California, who loves baseball, hot dogs, and Cub Scouts. But when Japanese forces attack Pearl Harbor, Norm's world is turned upside down.

One by one, things that he and his Japanese American family took for granted are taken away. In a matter of months they, along with everyone else of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, are forced by the government to move to internment camps, leaving everything they have known behind.

At the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming, Norm and his family live in one room in a tar paper barracks with no running water. There are lines for the communal bathroom, lines for the mess hall, and they live behind barbed wire and under the scrutiny of armed guards in watchtowers.

Meticulously researched and informed by extensive interviews with Mineta himself, Enemy Child sheds light on a little-known subject of American history. Andrea Warren covers the history of early Asian immigration to the United States and provides historical context on the U.S. government's decision to imprison Japanese Americans alongside a deeply personal account of the sobering effects of that policy.

Warren takes readers from sunny California to an isolated wartime prison camp and finally to the halls of Congress to tell the true story of a boy who rose from "enemy child" to a distinguished American statesman. Mineta was the first Asian mayor of a major city (San Jose) and was elected ten times to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he worked tirelessly to pass legislation, including the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. He also served as Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Transportation. He has had requests by other authors to write his biography, but this is the first time he has said yes because he wanted young readers to know the story of America's internment camps.

Enemy Child includes more than ninety photos, many provided by Norm himself, chronicling his family history and his life. Extensive backmatter includes an Afterword, bibliography, research notes, and multimedia recommendations for further information on this important topic.


Andrea Warren has written a compelling account of Norman Mineta's childhood experiences in a Japanese Internment camp.   After giving some background about Norman's family and life before the camps, the author then follows Norman as he and his family travel to the camps and set up a new life there.  Providing background information about the camps while sharing specific experiences of Norman and his family gives the reader a nice combination of external and internal views of the camps.  The way Japanese Americans were treated was appalling.  What was impressive was how most Japanese Americans worked hard to build as decent a life for themselves as they could within the limitations they were given.  Warren presents the reader with a nice overview of camp life while integrating many of Norman Mineta's specific experiences.  She looks at everything from building a home in a small space, to meals and laundry, to recreation and education.  Norman Mineta's life after the camps is also highlighted at the end of the book allowing the reader to see the man he became and how he didn't let his difficult experiences stop him from becoming a successful person and influential politician.  He even played a key role in helping get reparations from the government along with an apology.  A powerful and well-told story that provides an important look at the consequences of some of the awful decisions that have been made in the United States history.  Highly recommended. 


When they were born on May 28, 1934, weighing a grand total of just over 13 pounds, no one expected them to live so much as an hour. Overnight, Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie Dionne captivated the world, defying medical history with every breath they took.

In an effort to protect them from hucksters and showmen, the Ontario government took custody of the five identical babies, sequestering them in a private, custom-built hospital across the road from their family — and then, in a stunning act of hypocrisy, proceeded to exploit them for the next nine years. The Dionne Quintuplets became a more popular attraction than Niagara Falls, ogled through one-way screens by sightseers as they splashed in their wading pool at the center of a tourist hotspot known as Quintland. Their faces sold everything from Baby Ruth candy bars to Colgate toothpaste.

In this masterful work of narrative nonfiction, Sarah Miller examines the lives of five identical sisters forced to endure the most publicized childhood in history — and how they survived their turbulent teenage years to forge identities of their own. Impeccably researched, with photos of the Dionnes from birth through adulthood, this is an enthralling, heartbreaking portrait of a unique sisterhood, imbued with the astonishing resilience of the human spirit.


This story of the Dionne Quintuplets and the ups and downs of their lives up to the present day was quite the roller coaster ride emotionally.  From the difficult circumstances of their birth and the tremendous efforts made to save their lives up through the building of the hospital and 'imprisonment' of the girls, to their release back to their parents at age 9, their growing up years, and journey to adulthood, Miller tells the story of these five individuals in a accurate and powerful way.  I found the book very compelling as well as heartbreaking.  The title of the book is very appropriate in that the girls survival was a miracle brought about through the efforts of many, but too many of the decisions made regarding the girls later ended up causing a lot of grief for the girls and their family.  Reading about how the girls were separated from their family for nine years, except for brief, and often uncomfortable visits, was sad.  There was little chance that the girls would ever have a normal relationship with their parents and siblings after growing up apart from them.  

The part of the book that made me the angriest though was reading about how the government took them from their parents to protect them from exploitation and then turned around and exploited them.  But then again, during their childhood they were exploited by almost everyone, including their own family.  And the money that should have been theirs was generously spent by their family, guardians, and caretakers leaving the girls with financial challenges later.  Reading about the challenges the girls carried with them into their futures was also difficult as it became apparent that their childhood left them ill-prepared to cope with the problems of adulthood. 

Miller has written a compelling account that has clearly been thoroughly researched and as accurately presented as possible.  All biographies should be so well done.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019



From Academy Award–winning actress Lupita Nyong’o comes a powerful, moving picture book about colorism, self-esteem, and learning that true beauty comes from within.

Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty differently.


This stunningly beautiful book packs a punch.  I found myself both near tears and smiling hugely while reading this book. Sulwe, a young girl with skin "the color of midnight", wants more than anything to have skin the same shade as her sister, who has lots of friends and pleasant nicknames.  Despite her mother's reassurances and love, Sulwe tries everything she can think of to change the way she looks.  She eats light colored foods, applies makeup, and even tries to scrub off the darkness.  Finally, utterly heartbroken she prays for God to change her.  One night she is visited by a shooting star (Sulwe means star), who tells her the tale of day and night and how night ran away because she was rejected while day was loved.  Day goes looking for Night in order to convince her that she's needed and wanted in order for balance to exist on earth.  The story helps Sulwe realize that while she looks different than her family and those around her, her beauty is just as real.  Harrison's gorgeous illustrations blend so well with Nyong' o's text that my breathe was taken away. Not only is this a beautiful book in and of itself, but it's also an important one.  With so many young girls, especially young black girls, questioning their self-worth and beauty, books like this one are necessary to help convince them of their great worth and beauty.


A visit to Washington, DC’s National Portrait Gallery forever alters Parker Curry’s young life when she views First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait.

When Parker Curry came face-to-face with Amy Sherald’s transcendent portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery, she didn’t just see the First Lady of the United States. She saw a queen—one with dynamic self-assurance, regality, beauty, and truth who captured this young girl’s imagination. When a nearby museum-goer snapped a photo of a mesmerized Parker, it became an internet sensation. Inspired by this visit, Parker, and her mother, Jessica Curry, tell the story of a young girl and her family, whose trip to a museum becomes an extraordinary moment, in a moving picture book.

Parker Looks Up follows Parker, along with her baby sister and her mother, and her best friend Gia and Gia’s mother, as they walk the halls of a museum, seeing paintings of everyone and everything from George Washington Carver to Frida Kahlo, exotic flowers to graceful ballerinas. Then, Parker walks by Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama…and almost passes it. But she stops...and looks up!

Parker saw the possibility and promise, the hopes and dreams of herself in this powerful painting of Michelle Obama. An everyday moment became an extraordinary one…that continues to resonate its power, inspiration, and indelible impact. Because, as Jessica Curry said, “anything is possible regardless of race, class, or gender.”


In this absolutely adorable picture book, a young girl visits the National Portrait Gallery and is inspired by the portrait she sees of former First Lady Michelle Obama.  Based on a true experience and told by mother and daughter, Parker Looks Up, reminds readers/listeners of the importance of finding out own mentors or sources of inspiration.  Life is hard, especially for all too many young black girls, and it's vitally important for them to find examples to help them grow and keep moving forward.  In addition to an inspirational story, the relationship and joy the girls experience together while enjoying the visit to the museum simply made me smile.  Young Parker finds joy in being with her friend, her sister, and her mother as she is reminded of the importance of keeping the dream alive.  Jackson's illustrations really tugged at my heartstrings.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this adorable little girl and her family finding inspiration in an outing together.  One of my favorite books of the year. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Spencer's New Pet/Hide and Seek


From the creator of Not Quite Narwhal comes a classic tale of a boy and his dog—except in this unique story, one of them is a balloon!

When Spencer gets a new pet, he’s excited to do all the things that pets do—taking walks in the park, going to the vet, and attending parties together.

There’s just one hitch: Spencer’s new pet is a balloon.

And that means No. Sharp. Objects.

No drooling dogs at the park. No prickly porcupines at the vet. And absolutely no pinning tails on any donkeys!

Spencer’s New Pet is a story of pure fun about a boy, his dog, and a friendship that endures life’s sharpest...and most unexpected twists.


This primarily wordless picture book follows a young boy named Spencer and his dog.  That seems simple enough until the author/illustrator changes a couple of things.  First the dog is clearly a balloon animal and second, the story is told like an old silent movie with a countdown and everything.  Each primary scene is introduced with a black screen shot and a few words.  The action takes place completely in the illustrations.  The first scene revolves around the boy's playing, feeding, and bathing his dog before taking it to the vet, where they meet a hedgehog.  A hedgehog with sharp spines! Yikes. On to scene two, wherein Spencer and the dog visit a park and enjoy being around other people and their dogs.  Except the balloon dog is threatened with popping a bunch of times before fleeing into a birthday party.  The boy pursues his pet through the party hoping to catch the dog before disaster strikes.  At this point in the story I thought I knew what was going to happen.  I was wrong.  The author/illustrator throws in a completely unexpected event leading to an ending I did not see coming at all.  I didn't think the book was spooky at all until I got to the end.  Now that I've had a chance to think about it, I think I'd be careful using this with really young children, it might startle or scare them.  Older children on the other hand might really enjoy the surprise and twist at the end.  The black-and-white illustrations with just a touch of red work really well for this story as does the silent movie style presentation.  A entertaining new look at life with a pet. 


The mischievous stars of Seen and Not Heard climb out of their paintings for another nighttime adventure in this gently spooky bedtime story.

A midsummer moon shines on Shiverhawk Hall, where portraits of children come alive on the wall. As night falls, the playful painted residents wake up for another Gorey-esque rhyming caper. When the DeVillechild twins are nowhere to be seen, the other children escape their frames in search of two girls in white dresses -- and, possibly, a midnight game in the garden. Out in the night air, through the maze, and into the woods they go, looking for their mysterious friends. Will they be able to find the twins before the sun rises? Charming and eerie without ever being too scary, Katie May Green's second tale is perfect for Halloween story times and bedtime read-alouds after a long day of play.


After a pair of twins sneak out of their painting and head outside to explore, their companions follow them.  The children then proceed to play an unofficial game of hide and seek.  The following children enjoy being outside while they look for their friends.  But when it starts to rain the children must return home.  I didn't find this book particularly scary although some small children might.  The children are simply playing a game in a slightly spooky environment.  I quite liked the illustrations.  They have a rather old-fashioned feel, which makes sense considering the children come from old-fashioned paintings and are wearing old-fashioned clothing. I found this to be a slightly spooky tale of a romp through the yard by a group of children that just happen to come from paintings on a wall.

Monday, November 4, 2019

MMGM: The Griffins of Castle Cary by Heather Shumaker


Siblings Meg, Will, and Ariel Griffin are off on an adventure! They can’t wait to spend a week vising their eccentric aunt and her giant, tongue-drooling Newfoundland dog in England. But when they finally arrive, they’re faced with a few local secrets that stir up more than a little trouble.

Add in some very peculiar lights, strange new friends, a police chase and some stampeding sheep, and the Griffin kids are in over their heads—literally. Apparently this town has a ghost problem and the three children must race to solve the mystery before the ghosts take something that doesn’t belong to them.


When Meg and her siblings, Will and Ariel, visit their Aunt Effie in England, they are hoping for an enjoyable holiday with their favorite aunt.  What they don't expect is to face a couple of ghosts whose desires interfere with their plans.  At first the ghost stories are merely amusing, but as Ariel gets lost in her newfound imaginary friend, and Will hears music that isn't really there, Meg wonders if there is more going on than they know.  As it becomes apparent that the ghosts intentions aren't friendly, the kids have to find a way to satisfy the ghost's longings or become casualties of them.  I'll admit, this book was for me, one of those in which I wanted to jump into the story and stop the kids from making decisions that were clearly going to get them in trouble or give them a warning to watch out for a seeming innocuous event.  Usually when I feel like that it's because I've come to care about the characters.  So while I figured out several plot points long before they actually developed, I cared enough about the characters to keep reading to make sure that things worked out properly.  And I'll admit, I didn't see the rather amusing scenes in the hospital coming, which was a nice surprise.  This is a rather slow building ghost story with enough tension to keep the story moving and enough menace to keep the story compelling.  

BLOG TOUR : Chapter Two is Missing! by Josh Lieb


Chapter Two is Missing is a hilarious picture book mystery starring a hopelessly lost narrator, an unqualified detective, and a very sneaky janitor, who are all surprised to discover that second chapter of the very book of which they are a part is--gasp--missing!

Do not be alarmed, but the second chapter of this book appears to be missing! It was here a minute ago, but now it seems to have simply walked off. Not only that, but some of the punctuation has gone topsy-turvy, a bunch of letter Ms are hiding in Chapter 5, and Chapter 45 appears to be from another book entirely! The narrator is going to need some assistance getting things in order, especially with the unhelpful detective who keeps butting in and that shifty janitor lurking about. Luckily he has you--the reader--to help! From Emmy winning comedy writer and producer Josh Lieb, Chapter Two is Missing is a hilarious whodunit, an irreverent look at storytelling, and perfect for fans of Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) and The Book With No Pictures.


Josh Lieb writes books and poetry and television shows. He lives with his wife and multiple pets (two of them human) in New York City.


Kevin Cornell is known for his humor and has illustrated many books, websites, and comics such as The Chicken Squad, Count the Monkeys, The Terrible Two, and Mustache! He spends his time in Philadelphia drawing made-up things.



Chapter Two is Missing is a funny picture book that's been divided into chapters. Unfortunately, chapter two appears to be missing.  Thus the narrator sets off on a furious journey to find it.  The book janitor and police detective though seem to get in the way more than they seem to assist him in his efforts.  In fact, the janitor keeps swiping letters and grammatical marks and the detective is clearly lacking in competence.  There's even a chapter that clearly doesn't belong in the book that gets in the way.  While quite amusing the rudeness of the characters lessened the humor for me.  In addition, the length of the text and the solution make it not very workable for a story time or read aloud book.  (Hint: the solution requires a mirror).  If characters name calling and being rude to each other doesn't bother you, the book is quite amusing in its snarkiness.  The guilty party though isn't real hard to guess and many children will figure it out long before it's revealed.  An amusing book that doesn't take itself real seriously.

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