Friday, September 29, 2017

BLOG TOUR: It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk


Jack is not fond of the bossy narrator of his fairy tale! When Jack is told to trade his beloved cow Bessie for some magic beans, throw the beans out the window, climb the ENORMOUS beanstalk that sprouts overnight, and steal from a GIANT, he decides this fairy tale is getting out of control. In fact, he doesn’t want to follow the story line at all. Who says Jack needs to enter a life of daring, thievery, and giant trickery? He takes his story into his own hands—and you’ll never guess what happens next!

With laugh-out-loud dialogue and bold, playful art (including hidden fairy tale creatures for kids to find), this Jack and the Beanstalk retelling will have children rolling with laughter till Bessie the cow comes home.


Like Jack, Josh Funk loves telling his own stories. He is the author of the popular picture books Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its sequel, The Case of the Stinky Stench, illustrated by Brendan Kearney; Dear Dragon, illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo; and the upcoming How to Code a Sandcastle illustrated by Sara Palacios in partnership with Girls Who Code. Josh lives in New England with his wife and children. Learn more about him at, and follow him on Twitter @joshfunkbooks.

Edwardian Taylor currently works as a visual development artist and character designer for TV and animation feature film. His work can also be seen in mobile games, films, and commercials. He is the illustrator of the picture book Race!, written by Sue Fliess. Edwardian lives in Texas with his partner, their three dogs, and seven chickens. Learn more about him at, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @edwardiantaylor.

Check out a book trailer, collector’s cards, and more at
Poor narrator.  He tries so hard to tell the traditional Jack and the Beanstalk story, but Jack just won't cooperate, and he complains the whole way, first about selling his cow, then about climbing the beanstalk, and finally refusing to rob the giant.  And then to top it all off, he gives away the ending of the story.  In frustration, the narrator tries to end the story, but naturally Jack doesn't let him have his way.  Funk and Taylor have created a thoroughly amusing fractured telling of Jack and the Beanstalk.  And they've thrown in Cinderella to boot.  This is another fun retelling for me to add to my growing collection.  It's fun to compare original fairy tales with fractured ones.  And when the illustrations complement the humor as well as these do, well that is icing on the cake.


Two Lions is offering one copy of IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK to one lucky winner (U.S. addresses).
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, September 28, 2017

YA REVIEW: The Border by Steve Schafer

One moment changed their lives forever.

A band plays, glasses clink, and four teens sneak into the Mexican desert, the hum of celebration receding behind them. 

Crack. Crack. Crack.

Not fireworks--gunshots. The music stops. And Pato, Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys are powerless as the lives they once knew are taken from them.

Then they are seen by the gunmen. They run. Except they have nowhere to go. The narcos responsible for their families' murders have put out a reward for the teens' capture. Staying in Mexico is certain death, but attempting to cross the border through an unforgiving desert may be as deadly as the secrets they are trying to escape...


I'll admit that this book hit me pretty hard.  I knew when I agreed to read it that it was going to be emotionally-charged, but knowing and feeling aren't the same thing. The opening chapters where the families of the four main characters, Pato (the narrator), Arbo, Marcos, and Gladys, are murdered packs a punch.  I appreciated the fact that Pato doesn't behave like a brave hero, he behaves like most people would, he freezes up and soils himself.  When Arbo is seen by the gunmen, crying over his father's body, Marcos steps in and shots Arbo's assailant.  The problem is that that assailant's brother sees them do it and swears to get revenge.  And while the teens manage to escape, they have very little going for them.  They have no supplies and no family they dare approach for help.

Seeking shelter at the house of an elderly acquaintance of Pato and Arbo, they have to decide what they are going to do, especially when they learn there is a price on their heads, a big one.  Their options are few and they decide crossing the border into the United States is their only hope of survival.  But things continue to go wrong and soon the four teenagers are left wondering if it's even worth the effort.

Goodness it was hard reading about the loss these kids suffer and knowing that it isn't uncommon south of the border.  Even harder is reading about their struggle to survive in the desert, a beautiful, but brutal place that they are utterly unprepared to face.  When further tragedy strikes, I literally had tears running down my face.  And yet I had to admire their persistence in the face of almost impossible odds.

Frankly, a book like this is needed.  With all the contention over immigration law and building walls, it's easy to forget that their are real people involved, many who are truly desperate to make a better life for themselves.  This book really made me think about those who are caught in the middle coming her illegally.  I believe I now have more empathy for them.

One note on content:  there is some profanity, mild sexual activity and references, and quite a bit of violence, some of it down right heart-breaking.  Please keep these things in mind when sharing this book. Not all teens will be able to read this.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: I Survived True Stories: Nature Attacks/I Survived True Stories: Tornado Terror by Lauren Tarshis



The author of the New York Times bestselling I Survived series brings us more harrowing true stories of real kids up against terrible forces of nature. From fourteen-year-old lone survivor of the shark attacks of 1916, to nine-year-old who survived the Peshtigo fire of 1871 (which took place on the very same day in history as the Great Chicago Fire!), here are four unforgettable survivors who managed to beat the odds.

Read their incredible stories:
The Deadly Shark Attacks of 1916
The Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871
A Venomous Box Jellyfish Attack
The Eruption of Mount Tambora


There seems to be something compelling about hearing disaster stories.  Especially if they happen to someone else.  And to be honest, I'm no different in that regard.  When I think about what it is that draws me to these stories I come up with three reasons:  it makes me happy to be living my own life, I admire the determination and courage that often shines through in such stories (not that everyone behaves that way), and I'm looking for ideas for how I could survive if such a thing ever happened to me.

Young readers aren't any different than older readers when it comes to disaster stories.  And true disaster stories are especially appealing for some readers.  This nonfiction companion to Tarshis's historical fiction series I Survived, takes a look at real disasters that have occurred that involved children.  The stories in this second volume of the True Stories series looks at a shark attack, a jellyfish accident, a volcanic eruption and a wildfire. Tarshis briefly shares each story after which she includes some interesting back matter including photographs, historical living, statistics (when available), her sources, and related topics.  This book is bound to send students looking for other such stories and more information about these topics and stories.  As a librarian, I especially appreciated her explaining about the research she does before writing each story.


The Tri-State Tornado of 1925 was the deadliest tornado strike in American history, tearing through three states and killing 700 people. The Joplin Tornado of 2011 was a mile-wide monster that destroyed heart of a vibrant city. The true stories of these two events plus fascinating facts, profiles of tornado scientists and storm chasers create a unique and thrilling nonfiction read, by the author of the New York Times bestselling I Survived series.


In this third book in the I Survived True Stories series, the author highlights two of the worst tornadoes to ever hit the United States.  One took place in 1925, long before tornado watches, warnings and sirens existed, the other took place in 2011 in Joplin.  Reading about what it was like to be hit by a tornado without the warning systems we have today was a bit scary.  The sheer power of a tornado is always stunning and the photographs show that powerfully.  On the other hand, Joplin residents ignored the first sirens because it had been forty years since they had actually been hit by a tornado.  Luckily for them, a storm chaser notified local authorities that he'd actually seen a tornado and the sirens were sounded again which got through to some people.  

This book is particularly powerful because it shows in both text and word the damage that tornadoes can do.  The additional information about the ranking of tornadoes, the challenges of forecasting tornadoes, and statistics regarding deaths all contribute to making this a fascinating book to read.  The stories in this book provide the reader with a inside look at what it's like to live through one and not just information about them.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing by Leda Schubert


There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing.
With his head thrown back
and his Adam s apple bouncing,
picking his long-necked banjo
or strumming his twelve-string guitar,
Pete sang old songs,
new songs,
new words to old songs,
and songs he made up.

In this tribute to legendary musician and activist Pete Seeger, author Leda Schubert highlights major musical events in Mr. Seeger's life as well important moments of his fight against social injustice. From singing sold-out concerts to courageously standing against the McCarthy-era finger-pointing, Pete Seeger's life is celebrated in this book.


 for Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing
Leda Schubert holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in the Writing for Children and Young Adults and was a core faculty member until 2012. She is the author of many award-winning titles, including The Princess of Borscht, Ballet of the Elephants, and Monsieur Marceau, winner of the Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction. Leda lives in Plainfield, Vermont, with her husband and two dogs. 
To learn more, and to download a curriculum guide, visit

Raúl Colón has illustrated several highly acclaimed picture books, including Draw!; the New York Times-bestselling Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt; Susanna Reich’s José! Born to Dance; and Jill Biden’s Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops. Mr. Colón lived in Puerto Rico as a young boy and now resides in New City, New York, with his family.

Leda Schubert provides some great links to recordings and videos of Pete Seeger here.


★“Schubert and Colón ably demonstrate one of their book’s final assertions: ‘there really was nobody like Pete Seeger.’”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

“A rousing tribute to a singular musician and activist who ‘walked the talk.’” —Publishers Weekly

“This inspiring picture book biography about one of America’s greatest folk heroes is sure to get a new generation of children singing.” —School Library Journal

“An inspiring and heartfelt tribute to, as Schubert calls him, a ‘true American hero.’” —Horn Book

I'll admit, I have a special place in my heart for picture book biographies.  I'm not sure why I love them so much, maybe it's the beautiful artwork that usually accompanies them.  Or maybe it's the way the authors have to work so hard to choose just the right words to describe the person.  Whatever the reason, I was happy to pick up this book about Pete Seeger.  While I came after Seeger's time, I am very familiar with a lot of the songs that he brought to the world.  In fact, I was amazed at how many of the songs that Schubert listed in her text I recognized.

At a time when there is so much contention and disagreement in the world, it was refreshing to read this beautiful book about someone who worked hard to bring unity and peace.  Someone who used his talents to inspire people to change themselves and then change the world around them. Unlike many who like to talk about change, Seeger worked to bring about change, he really walked the talk.  Schubert's text does a great job of introducing this man in a way that children can understand and appreciate.  I loved the way she integrated his song titles into the text as she talked about the issues that he worked so hard for.

As for the illustrations, the minute I saw Colon's name on the book, I knew they would be gorgeous.  And I was right.  The soft texture of his illustrations suits the subject of the book to a tee.  This is a book that I would highly recommend, not just for the historical impact that Seeger made, but for the inspiring example he could be for us today, through both his beautiful music and his focus on community.

CYBILS Judges Announced!

I am thrilled to say that the judges for the 2017 Cybils awards have been announced.  I'm even more thrilled to say that I am a member of the Junior/Senior High Nonfiction 1st round panel this year.  I'm excited to participate with Cybils once again, this time in a new category.  To see all the judges chosen for this year, go here.

Here are the other Junior/Senior High Nonfiction panelists:

Round 1
Rebecca Aguilar
Rebecca G. Aguilar
Anne Bennett
My Head is Full of Books
Louise Capizzo
Nonfiction Detectives
Heidi Grange
Geo Librarian
Julie Jurgens
Hi Miss Julie!
Round 2
Danyelle Leach
Bookshelves in the Cul-de-Sac
Thomas Maluck
Richland Library
Katy Manck
Books YA Love
Helen Murdoch
Helen’s Book Blog
Jennie Rothschild
Biblio File

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

GRAPHIC NOVEL SEQUELS: Cleopatra in Space: The Golden Lion/The Nameless City: The Stone Heart


Cleo is back at Yasiro Academy, recovering from the tragic events that occurred on planet Hykosis. She feels responsible for the death of her friend Zaid, and trains nonstop. And when she learns that the Golden Lion -- a star with immeasurable energy that could destroy them all if weaponized -- has been located, she goes alone to the snowy, icy planet Cada'duun to find it. There, she faces off with a new enemy who has been instructed to destroy the Golden Lion... and her.  

Each book in this series has gotten more intense than the last as Cleo struggles to live up to the prophecies about her.  After the tragedy of losing a friend in book 3, which Cleo blames herself for, Cleo isn't about to involve her friends in her latest escapade.  Especially since the council (most of them) didn't want her to seek out the Golden Lion (fallen star of great power) in the first place.  But this is Cleo, who acts first and thinks later, and she convinces her friend Brian to help her get to the planet where the Golden Lion is supposed to be.  But despite the warnings about snow, Cleo is not prepared for what she finds: blizzards, enormous snow spiders, and a thief (Antony) from her past. Forced to team up with Antony, Cleo fights to survive and stumbles into something unexpected.  And when the enemy shows up, she's forced to fight.  I have to admit, the ending of this one stunned me it was so unexpected.  In fact several things happen at the end that really surprised me, but which open up some rather interesting new questions about just who Cleo is and what she's supposed to do.

This is a fabulous series for young adventure readers who like a good dose of humor, courage, and the unexpected.  The relationships are fun as well as Cleo and Antony (who didn't see that coming) get to know each other better amid all the storm and strife.  Combining historical fiction and science fiction has turned out brilliantly in this thoroughly entertaining series.


Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.

To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he's stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. . . . But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?
Having really liked the first book in The Nameless City trilogy, I was eager to read this second book.  And I was not disappointed. Kai and Rat are coming to terms with their changed circumstances and the changes that seem to be in store for the city.  But unfortunately, the politics involved in the running of an empire can change quickly, and when things take a turn for the worse, Kai, his father, and Rat are forced to flee.  As the fate of the city rests on a knife's edge, Kai and Rat wonder if the formula created by the cities' founders is the answer.  But keeping it out of the hands of the new found enemy may be more than they can handle.  Like second books in most trilogies, the book ends on a cliffhanger, with many questions still to be answered.  I'm truly anxious to get my hands on the third book.  My favorite part of this series are the gorgeous illustrations, depicting Kai and Rat, young people from different cultures who found the courage to look beyond appearances.  Now it's up to them to try to prevent all out war and save the city they both love.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: This Book Stinks! by Sarah Wassner Flynn


Get up close and personal with a wonderful world of waste. From composting and recycling, to landfills and dumps, to how creative people are finding new ways to reuse rubbish. It's fun to talk trash when it's jam-packed with infographics, thematic spreads, wow-worthy photos, sidebars, serious stats, and fabulous facts. Also included are quizzes and activities to inspire kids to take action, be proactive, and rethink the things we throw away.


I had no idea garbage and recycling could be so fascinating.  The facts in the book are both intriguing and horrifying at the same time.  Just thinking of the amount of waste human beings produce is mind-boggling.  On the other hand, the efforts being made to lower the waste created through composting, recycling, and other programs gives hope.  The book is divided into seven chapters:

  1. The Bin and Beyond
  2. Trashing the Earth
  3. All about Recycling
  4. Food (Waste) for Thought
  5. Dirty Work
  6. The Future of Garbage
  7. Take Out the Trash
There are articles about people making a difference as well as creative uses of garbage. Infographics provide quick glimpses into junk in space, the most garbage producing nations, as well as facts about recycling and food waste.  Brief quizzes and suggestions for contributing to the effort to reduce waste are also included.  This is an important and eye-opening book for young readers.  It would also make a great text for environmental studies classes.  The illustrations are eye-catching if not always appealing (it is garbage after all).

Thursday, September 7, 2017

YA REVIEW: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco


Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord's daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father's wishes and society's expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle's laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.


Jack the Ripper is of course a well-known serial killer, but one who to this day remains a mystery in terms of who he was and why he did what he did.  That makes his story perfect for fictionalizing.  And Maniscalco does a fabulous job of it.  Combining the mystery of Jack the Ripper with her own interests in forensic science, Maniscalco has created a powerful tale of science, madness, and relationships gone awry.

Ever since her mother's death which lead Audrey Rose to abandon her faith in God, her curiosity has lead her to an interest in her uncle's work as a forensic scientist (an early version of a medical examiner).  But her father's rather paranoid need to protect her from every germ known to man (her mother died of scarlet fever which she caught tending Audrey Rose) means that Audrey Rose has to sneak around behind her father's back.  Things become more complicated when Audrey meets her uncle's assistant, Thomas, who she finds to be attractive but also amazingly obnoxious.  Dealing with her own complicated feelings for Thomas while avoiding detection by her father makes her efforts to help her uncle difficult.  But after Jack the Ripper's first victim is found, Audrey finds herself drawn in, compelled to help stop the monster responsible for such destruction. But a connection to her own family leaves Audrey wondering if she really wants to know the answer to the question: Who is Jack the Ripper?

The incredible details related both to the historical time period as well as early forensic science creates a book that I had a hard time putting down.  The relationships between characters also left a lot of questions about who is interested in who and who can be trusted.  And the shocking truth about Jack the Ripper's identity (the fictionalized Jack the Ripper of course) leaves both Audrey and the reader stunned to say the least. I will say that the choice of villain and the focus on forensic science means the book is quite gruesome.  I wouldn't recommend this for someone who doesn't have a strong stomach.  But those readers who enjoy a well-written mystery and enjoy shows such as CSI or NCIS, this one is a must.

I also appreciated the author's note at the end where the author explains what she fictionalized.  I learned things about the real Jack the Ripper I didn't know that make it clear that the man was very, very sick in his head.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

MIDDLE GRADE BOOK REVIEW: Things That Surprise You by Jennifer Maschari



Emily Murphy is about to enter middle school. She’s sort of excited… though not nearly as much as her best friend Hazel, who is ready for everything to be new. Emily wishes she and Hazel could just continue on as they always have, being the biggest fans ever of the Unicorn Chronicles, making up dance moves, and getting their regular order at The Slice.

But things are changing. At home, Emily and her mom are learning to move on after her parents’ divorce. Hardest of all, her beloved sister Mina has been in a treatment facility to deal with her anorexia. Emily is eager to have her back, but anxious about her sister getting sick again.

Hazel is changing too. She has new friends from the field hockey team, is starting to wear makeup, and have crushes on boys. Emily is trying to keep up, but she keeps doing and saying the wrong thing. She want to be the perfect new Emily. But who is that really?

Things That Surprise You is a beautifully layered novel about navigating the often shifting bonds of family and friendship, and learning how to put the pieces back together when things fall apart.


Growing up is an experience that I wouldn't want to have again.  Books like this one bring back so many of those memories, both good and bad.  While I didn't have a sibling with an eating disorder, I did have a friend that I lost during those years because of changing interests.  Emily doesn't want her life to change.  She doesn't like the fact that her sister had to go to an eating disorder treatment facility.  She doesn't like the fact that her father left and now has an Alice in his life. But most of all, she doesn't want her friendship with Hazel to change.  And yet all of those things are happening.  Middle school can be a very confusing time and Maschari has captured that very well.  Emily doesn't really know where she fits at home or at school and she doesn't feel like anyone listens to her.  Her efforts to fit in with Hazel's new friends fizzle every time and Emily resents the attention her sister gets when she comes home.  After ordering a set of self-help CDs, Emily sets out to become the girl she wants to be.  But who is that exactly?  

Maschari does a great job of creating a character that is easy to relate to, one who wants to be popular and fit in with Hazel and the other field hockey girls, but who also wants to be herself.  She finds herself clinging to the old while being drawn to the new; new friends, new interests, and shifting relationships.  Emily's relationships felt genuine and reminded me of some of the relationships I've had over the years.  I have no doubt that young readers will find much to relate to as well.  The underlying themes are presented well with relationships being at the heart of it all.  Recommended for young readers who enjoy seeing themselves in what they read or those who are looking for windows into the experiences of those who are different.

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