Wednesday, January 16, 2019

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: We are Not Yet Equal by Carol Anderson


Carol Anderson's White Rage took the world by storm, landing on the New York Times bestseller list and best book of the year lists from New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Chicago Review of Books. It launched her as an in-demand commentator on contemporary race issues for national print and television media and garnered her an invitation to speak to the Democratic Congressional Caucus. This compelling young adult adaptation brings her ideas to a new audience.

When America achieves milestones of progress toward full and equal black participation in democracy, the systemic response is a consistent racist backlash that rolls back those wins. We Are Not Yet Equal examines five of these moments: The end of the Civil War and Reconstruction was greeted with Jim Crow laws; the promise of new opportunities in the North during the Great Migration was limited when blacks were physically blocked from moving away from the South; the Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was met with the shutting down of public schools throughout the South; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 led to laws that disenfranchised millions of African American voters and a War on Drugs that disproportionately targeted blacks; and the election of President Obama led to an outburst of violence including the death of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri as well as the election of Donald Trump.

This YA adaptation will be written in an approachable narrative style that provides teen readers with additional context to these historic moments, photographs and archival images, and additional back matter and resources for teens.


 We Are not yet Equal was a fascinating and informative read.  Anderson does an amazing job supporting her theme of racial inequality.  Her point is that every time progress has been made in addressing racial inequality, especially in regards to blacks, there has been a massive backlash by the white population (white rage she calls it).  And after reading the book, I have to say that she's convinced me of the truthfulness of that statement.  This YA adaption focuses on five major events that seemed to indicate that progress was winning the day, only to have the backlash lead to major regression.  Anderson focuses on the following events: Reconstruction/Jim Crow laws, the Great Migration, the backlash to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the War on Drugs, and the election of President Obama.  I was aware of some of the circumstances and events mentioned in the book, but some of them were new to me.  It's clear to me after reading this book that the United States hasn't made nearly as much progress to racial equality as we like to think we have.  Anderson makes it clear that there is still much to be done to achieve social and racial justice.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

MIDDLE GRADE NONFICTION: Jack Montgomery: World War II Gallantry at Anzio by Michael P. Spradlin

Jack C. Montgomery was a Cherokee from Oklahoma, and a first lieutenant with the 45th Infantry Division Thunderbirds. On February 22, 1944, near Padiglione, Italy, Montgomery's rifle platoon was under fire by three echelons of enemy forces when he single-handedly attacked all three positions, neutralizing the German machine-gunners and taking numerous prisoners in the process. Montgomery's actions demoralized the enemy and saved the lives of many American soldiers.

The Medal of Honor series profiles the courage and accomplishments of recipients of the highest and most prestigious personal military decoration, awarded to recognize U.S. military service members who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary acts of valor.


This short nonfiction chapter book tells the story of Jack C. Montgomery, a recipient of the Medal of Honor for gallantry in action during World War II.  The book provides enough background for young readers to understand the context of Montgomery's actions without getting bogged down in too many details.  I could have done with a bit more information about Montgomery himself, the background details are pretty basic, but for young readers it shouldn't be an issue.  The focus of the book is on building up to the details of the events that lead to Montgomery's being awarded the Medal of Honor.  And that part of the book is the best part, unsurprisingly.  I was stunned to read of the remarkable actions that Montgomery took to protect those under his command.  It's amazing he came out of it alive.  Young readers who are into stories of the military and war are sure to appreciate this one.  While it would have been nice to have more photographs of Montgomery, the few that are included are a nice addition.  The other photographs help provide context for the circumstances that Montgomery found himself in.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: Wedgie & Gizmo books 2 & 3


Wedgie LOVES the new micro-pig next door. And she LOVES him! They both like to go for walks and roll in smelly things. They are going to be in the school pet parade together. They are best friends.

But Gizmo knows the truth. The pig is Wedgie’s new sidekick. Super Wedgie and the Toof have teamed up to stop Gizmo from taking over the world.

But they will not win! Gizmo is an evil genius. He is smarter than most comic book villains. And more powerful than even Darth Vader! He ordered a flying machine online and he will use it to set free all the guinea pigs at the pet parade.

Then they will crush both dog and pig and make all humans feel their wrath. Muh-ha-ha!!


Gizmo, the cavy, called a guinea pig by humans, is still plotting to take over the world.  But first he must recruit other cavies to his cause.  He creates a flyer designed to do that very thing.  He also orders a drone to assist in his plans.  Meanwhile, Wedgie is meeting the new neighbor, Emily and her pet pig.  At first the two seem to get along, and then Pinkie (called the Toof by young Jackson) seems to be getting all the petting and attention and Wedgie resents it.  Turns out that Wedgie's young mistress, Jasmine and Emily are determined to win a trophy from the upcoming pet show, but Pinkie is succeeding in her training and Wedgie is failing.  Everyone's plans, human and animal, come to a head at the pet show.  Selfors has once again written an amusing tale of animal ambition and behavior.  Fisinger's illustrations provide a lot of the humor, providing the perfect complement to Selfor's funny story.  Bound to be popular with young readers with it's easy to read text and hilarious illustrations.


Wedgie and Gizmo’s humans are taking their first family vacation—to a campground by a lake! And their pets are too destructive to stay home alone. Wedgie the corgi is super-excited. He can’t wait to chase squirrels and poop in the woods!

But Gizmo, the evil genius guinea pig, has no time for games. He must convince the forest critters to join his Evil Horde and help him take over the world—one tent at a time.



Wedgie and Gizmo travel to a pet hotel with their family, but when things don't work out there they end up going camping instead.  Gizmo plots to take over the world, or at least recruit some minions and steal Wedgie's (Thorgi) cape in the hopes to reining in Wedgie's 'power'.  Wedgie is obsessed with 'protecting' his family from the tiny 'squirrels' (chipmunks).  But things take a turn for the dramatic when Gizmo has to fend off a visitor and gets lost and Wedgie has to decide between protecting his families' socks and the delicious sausage the chipmunks have to offer.  Once again Selfors has created a hilarious tale of pets and family and different points of view.  The combination of art and text works smoothly to create a book great for reluctant readers but enjoyable for others as well.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEWS: dear sister by Alison McGhee/The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell


What do you do when you have an incredibly annoying little sister? Write her letters telling her so, of course!

Whininess, annoyingness, afraid of the darkness, refusal to eat lima beans, and pulling brother's hair. This is the criteria on which little sisters are graded. Inspired by the notes Alison McGhee's own kids would write each other, this heavily illustrated collection of letters and messages from an older brother to his little sister reveal the special love--or, at the very least, tolerance--siblings have for each other.


Anyone who has grown up with a sibling should be able to relate to this book.  This quick read is presented as a collection of notes written by an older brother to his little sister over an eight year period of time.  The letters are funny and combined with the illustrations make for an entertaining read.  The brother starts off unsure that he likes his little sister (as is obvious from the notes he writes and the pictures he draws--to his parents' great displeasure).  But over time, he grows to tolerate and then have affection for his little sister.  While the book provides a quick and entertaining read, it's also easy to relate to the angst and frustration both the brother and sister experience.  Bound to be enjoyed by many young readers.


Welcome to a neighborhood of kids who transform ordinary boxes into colorful costumes, and their ordinary block into cardboard kingdom. This is the summer when sixteen kids encounter knights and rogues, robots and monsters--and their own inner demons--on one last quest before school starts again.

In the Cardboard Kingdom, you can be anything you want to be--imagine that!


This graphic novel follows the exploits of a neighborhood full of imaginative kids.  Each brief chapter focuses on one or two of the individual kids and the character he/she imagines him/herself to be.  There is plenty of interaction between the different children, both positive and negative.  They have disagreements just like any group of children might.  In addition, each of the children has other things they struggle with: single parents, frustrated parents, bullies, gender bias, etc.  But the focus of the book is on the imaginative play of the children and they way they use cardboard boxes to build their characters and kingdoms.  The artwork is bright and cheerful and appealing.  I for one am delighted to see a book that celebrates that wonderful things called imaginative play, especially in a world that has become so much about technology. Middle grade readers are bound to enjoy this one, especially those who enjoy such play themselves.

CYBILS JUNIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Eleanor Roosevelt Fighter for Justice and Facing Frederick


Eleanor Roosevelt, Fighter for Justice shows young readers how the former First Lady evolved from a poor little rich girl to a protector and advocate for those without a voice. Though now seen as a cultural icon, she was a woman deeply insecure about her looks and her role in the world. But by recognizing her fears and constantly striving to overcome her prejudices, she used her proximity to presidents and her own power to aid in the fight for Civil Rights and other important causes. This biography gives readers a fresh perspective on her extraordinary life. It includes a timeline, biography, index, and many historic photographs.


This well-written biography focuses on the work that Eleanor Roosevelt did in helping fight social injustice.  Eleanor's life starting with her birth and continuing up through her death is covered.  But the focus is on her evolving feelings and work related to civil rights, women's rights, and other social justice causes.  Her family life is described including references to her complicated relationship with her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and her troubled relations with her children.  I found it fascinating to read about how her opinions about things changed over time and how it influenced her actions.  The way she stepped forward to help in causes she believed in at a time when women weren't supposed to be so active and involved is admirable.  But Cooper doesn't hesitate to point out weaknesses in Eleanor's beliefs and actions both related to her family and her public actions.  A thought-provoking look at a woman who despite her weaknesses stepped up and made a difference at a time when many Americans were suffering.


Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) is best known for the telling of his own emancipation. But there is much more to Douglass’s story than his time spent enslaved and his famous autobiography. Facing Frederick captures the whole complicated, and at times perplexing, person that he was. Statesman, suffragist, writer, and newspaperman, this book focuses on Douglass the man rather than the historical icon.


This beautifully designed book tells the story of an historical icon in a way that makes him come to life.  Quoting from Douglass's own works as well as newspapers and letters and other documents, Bolden tells Douglass story in a way that young adult readers will find engaging and informative.  The numerous photographs of Douglass as well as images of newspapers and letters help bring the story to life.  The book focuses on Douglass's public life although his family life is included.  I found it fascinating to read about aspects of Douglass's life that I wasn't familiar with as well as stories I had heard before.  An important and well done biography of a man who left his mark on the world in many important ways.

Monday, January 7, 2019

MIDDLE GRADE BOOK REVIEW: The Language of Spells by Garret Weyr

The Language of Spells

• Hardcover: 256 pages • Publisher: Chronicle Books (June 26, 2018)

 Grisha is a dragon in a world that's forgotten how to see him. Maggie is a unusual child who thinks she's perfectly ordinary. They're an unlikely duo—but magic, like friendship, is funny. Sometimes it chooses those who might not look so likely. And magic has chosen Grisha and Maggie to solve the darkest mystery in Vienna. Decades ago, when World War II broke out, someone decided that there were too many dragons for all of them to be free. As they investigate, Grisha and Maggie ask the question everyone's forgotten: Where have the missing dragons gone? And is there a way to save them? At once richly magical and tragically historical, The Language of Spells is a novel full of adventure about remembering old stories, forging new ones, and the transformative power of friendship.

Purchase Links

Chronicle Books | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Garret Weyr

?Tea drinker
??Cat lover with 2 old dogs
?->?New Yorker in LA

Find out more about Garret at her website, and connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


This quiet story of friendship and sacrifice revolves around the relationship between Grisha, a dragon, and Maggie, a young girl growing up in Vienna, Austria.  Grisha was born during a time when dragons were seen by most people as allies and used in battle.  He grew up in a forest in Germany with other creatures like himself, magical and otherwise.  An encounter with a sorcerer leaves him stuck as a teapot.  Many years later through the efforts of a friend who recognized him as living inside the teapot, he is released.  He heads to Vienna to join a group of dragons seemingly called there.  He doesn't recognize it as a trap and many of the dragons disappear thanks to the same sorcerer that Grisha encountered earlier.  Over time he pushes the memories away because they are too painful.  Things change though after he meets and befriends Maggie, a young girl living with her father in a hotel.  Once a week Grisha meets with some of the other dragons in the hotel bar to socialize and there he meets Maggie.  As Maggie asks Grisha about his past and their relationship deepens, Grisha starts to remember.  When he tells Maggie about the missing dragons, Maggie is determined to rescue them.  But in order to find them, they need to face the DEE, the enchanted organization the sorcerer left behind to manage the dragons.  And saving the dragons may require a sacrifice that Maggie and Grisha aren't willing to make.

Weyr has written a thoughtful, quiet sort of fantasy which is likely to appeal to a small group of young readers.  Since many young readers prefer action-packed plots, they may not stick with the book long enough to finish it, but those who do will find it worthwhile.  The story has depth to it with themes of friendship and sacrifice, fitting in with a changing world or being left behind, being invisible because others can't be bothered to look beyond their own world.  The black and white illustrations are a nice touch but don't particularly jump out at you.  A nice read but one that many middle grade readers aren't likely to read despite the dragons.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: Super Sons: The Polarshield Project by Ridley Pearson



The polar ice caps have nearly melted away, causing devastation to coastal cities. Erratic, deadly weather forces everyone inland, tearing families apart. Earth is facing its greatest crisis--and Superman and Batman are nowhere to be found.

Jon Kent and Damian "Ian" Wayne are opposite in every way except one--they are the sons of the World's Greatest Heroes! To uncover a global conspiracy, this unlikely dynamic duo will need to learn to trust each other and work together to save the Earth. But who is the mysterious Candace, and what secrets does she hold that could be the key to everything?


 Jonathan Kent wants to be like his father, Clark Kent, aka Superman, and he is, more than anyone other than his parents, knows.  Ian Wayne is already a lot like his father, except with too much arrogance and a lack of experience.  But their world is in serious trouble with flooding and other devastating events occurring more and more frequently.  In an effort to help, Superman leaves Earth on a mission to Mars, and Bruce Wayne heads for Asia.  This leaves the two boys to their own devices, especially when Jonathan's mother is struck down by a mysterious malady.  The two combine forces with two girls, Tilly and Candace (who appears to have powers of her own), to track down the source of the malady, and stop it's spread.  This graphic novel is full of excitement and adventure as these budding heroes seek to save the world.  Like many graphic novels the focus is on plot and not on character development, but middle grade readers aren't likely to care overly much.  The art works well for the graphic novel format and the coloring is nice.  The book does end on a major cliffhanger, but there is a bit of an ending.  Young readers will most likely be eagerly awaiting the sequel as am I.  This is the sort of book that is intended solely for entertainment though so don't go into it expecting a whole lot of depth.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: The Grand Escape by Neal Bascomb


At the height of World War I, as Allied and German forces battled in the trenches and in the air, any captured soldiers and pilots were sent to a web of German prisons. The most dangerous POWs, the ones most talented at escape, were sent to the camp of Holzminden--better known as "Hellminden." Protected by every barrier imaginable, its rules enforced with cruel precision, the prison was the pride of a ruthless commandant named Karl Niemeyer.

This is the story of a group of ingenious and defiant Allied pilots and soldiers who dared to escape from Holzminden, right under Niemeyer's nose. Leading a team that tunneled underneath the prison and far beyond its walls, these breakout artists forged documents, smuggled in supplies, and bribed guards. Twice the tunnel was almost exposed, and the whole plan foiled. But in the end, a group of ten POWs escaped and made it out of enemy territory in the biggest breakout of WWI, which inspired their countrymen in the darkest hours of the war.


Neal Bascomb tell the compelling tale of a group of prisoners of war who during World War I plotted and executed an almost unbelievable escape from a German prison camp.  The daring individuals who came together to set this escape into motion are briefly described along with their backgrounds.  But the focus of the book is on the circumstances that led up to the escape, the escape itself, and the aftermath.  The conditions of the camp, the actions of the camp commandant and the tremendous determination the prisoners exhibited are all a part of the story.  What makes the book so compelling though is the way the author tells it.  The book reads like a thriller, with near misses, plenty of setbacks, and failures detailed along the way.  The inclusion of photographs of the tunnel, the camp, and the people involved make the story feel all the more real.  The maps and diagrams help the reader visualize the setting and circumstances involved in the story.  A fabulously told story that proves the adage: truth is stranger than fiction.

Monday, December 31, 2018

MMGM: The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart


Five years.

That's how long Coyote and her dad, Rodeo, have lived on the road in an old school bus, criss-crossing the nation.

It's also how long ago Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash.

Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished―the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box―she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days...without him realizing it.

Along the way, they'll pick up a strange crew of misfit travelers. Lester has a lady love to meet. Salvador and his mom are looking to start over. Val needs a safe place to be herself. And then there's Gladys...

Over the course of thousands of miles, Coyote will learn that going home can sometimes be the hardest journey of all...but that with friends by her side, she just might be able to turn her “once upon a time” into a “happily ever after.”


Coyote and Rodeo (her father) live on the road in an old school bus.  The school bus has been adapted to meet their needs with places to sleep, sit, and even cook. And for the most part, Coyote is content with this lifestyle that has been hers for the last five years.  That changes though when she gets word from her Grandma that the park where she buried a memory capsule with her mother and sisters is being torn up.  Coyote desperately wants to retrieve the capsule but she knows her father has no intention of ever returning to the town that reminds him so much of the accident that took the lives of his wife and daughters.  So Coyote sets out to manipulate her father into taking her back.  The problem is that she only has a week to get herself and her father from Florida to Washington.  Along the way, Coyote and Rodeo pick up some passengers, Lester who wants to get to Boise, ID to see his former girlfriend (or does he?), Salvador and his mother who are fleeing an abusive situation, and Val, whose parents have kicked her out.  But everything is set in motion by the arrival of a tiny kitten.  But can Coyote continue to lie to her father?  Especially the closer they get to their former home?

Gemeinhart has written a book that is all heart.  Coyote won me over from the first page as she talks about her adoption of Ivan (the kitten).  And the idea of living on the road in a school bus is certainly an intriguing one.  The other people that Coyote and Rodeo reach out to along the way also helped make the story as strong as it is.  Lester, a good guy who loves music and wants to be in a band, but who also cares for his ex-girlfriend and whom Coyote convinces to join them to help drive the bus.  Salvador and his mother, who finally left the his father in search of a new job, and who Coyote invites to join them after they help her out of a jam.  This is a tender story of a family trying to find their way and extending kindness to others along the way.  I could have done without all the swearing/profanity, but those readers who aren't bothered by that will find themselves unable to resist an endearing Coyote and her determination to achieve her goal.
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