Monday, April 20, 2015

Earth Day ~ Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai: The woman who planted millions of trees
by Franck Prevot; illus by Aurelia Fronty
48 pages; ages 6-9
Charlesbridge, 2015

Earth Day is Wednesday, and what better way to celebrate than to read about a real Earth hero. Wangari Maathai is known as the woman who encouraged other women to plant trees. She was born in a tiny village in Kenya, and learned to dig and plant her gardens in the shade of the big mugumo - a fig tree. Her mother taught her that a tree is worth more than its wood- wisdom Wangari remembered for the rest of her life.

Wangari is a fortunate daughter; she is sent to school. She attends college in the US, and when she returns to Kenya she sees that forests have been cut and wildlife is rare. Small farms have given way to large plantations, families can no longer grow food to feed their children, and rivers run muddy. Wangari sees her country eroding before her eyes. What can she do?

She begins planting trees. Traveling from village to village, she speaks on behalf of the trees, and the animals, and the children. She asks people to think of the future, and creates tree nurseries to provide women with saplings. She starts the Green Belt movement. Tree by tree the women plant forests. But that is not enough.

Wangari tells the president that he must stop cutting trees to put up buildings. She is threatened and jailed but still she believes that trees are important. She dreams that one day Kenya's children will be able to play in forests. She is the "mother of forests" and in 2004 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.  Review copy from local library.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Glamorous Garbage

Glamorous Garbage
by Barbara Johansen Newman
40 pages; ages 5-8
Boyds Mills Press, 2015

theme: cleaning up your bedroom; recycling, Earth Day

Bobbie and Joanie are cousins. Best cousins. You met them a couple years ago when Joanie needed glasses.

Now Bobbie has a problem. She loves to invite Joanie over to play in her bedroom, but Bobbie's bedroom is too messy! It's no fun to play there because toys get lost and there's no room to sit down.

So Mom lays down the law: "I'll give you two weeks to decide what stays and what goes. After that, I get to decide."

What I like: This is a subject we can all identify with: clutter. And the need to declutter. And dreaming about what your room could look like given a chance to do-over. Bobbie, though, starts collecting things for her "new" room before she even gets rid of all the junk on her floor and under her bed and spilling out of the closet. Finally she asks her mom for help and together they clean and paint and fix and finally.... Bobbie has space to create the room she wants.

Beyond the book: This book is perfect to read before Earth Day (which is next Wed). Why? 
Reuse. Bobbie and her mom strip and re-paint old furniture, making it "good as new". Bobbie also finds old barrels and crates that she "glams" up to use in her room.

Reduce. Cut the clutter, Bobbie's mom says. Use less. Or at least figure out what you really need to keep, and a good way to store it (whether it's sports equipment, shoes, or unfinished manuscripts...). Do you really need all your stuff? What do you have in your room that you can get rid of?

Recycle. One way to recycle is to figure out a new use for things. Like turning a box into a doll house, or making a stool by belting a stack of magazines together and putting a cushion on top. But there's only so many sock puppets and tin-can flower vases you can make, so sometimes you need to think of recycling outside the house. That's what Bobbie does. She holds a yard sale, but there are other ways of sharing old things that are still useable. What ways do people in your town use to recycle old furniture, tools, and other stuff?

 Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from the publisher.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Diary of a Waitress ~ historical fiction

Diary of a Waitress: The not-so-glamorous life of a Harvey Girl
by Carolyn Meyer
348 pages; ages 10-14
Calkin's Creek, 2015

Katherine Amelia Evans, aka "Kitty", graduates from Leavenworth High School in the spring of 1926. She is sixteen-going-on-seventeen and already knows what courses she plans to register for when she heads to college in the fall.

Until Daddy tells her that business isn't going well, and they won't be able to send both her and her older brother. Instead, she can work at the shoe store for a couple years... until things improve.

Kitty has other ideas. She intends to be a journalist. And she'll do anything other than sell shoes. So when she sees an ad for young women to work as waitresses in the Harvey Eating Houses along the Sante Fe Railroad, she decides to apply. Even though the ad expressly says applicants must be at least 18 years old. Even though she has never been a waitress before. Even though it means going somewhere strange and living with rules. Lots of rules (no makeup; no jewelry; black shoes that must be kept polished).

Being a Harvey Girl, it turns out, is hard work. The restaurants are at the train stations, and have both a formal dining room (jackets required) and informal lunch counters. Harvey girls must set the dining rooms up perfectly, with silver service just so, and serve the meals on a schedule so that when the trains come in for a water fill-up, they can feed the passengers and get them back on board in time for the scheduled departure. They must do this even when the customers are cranky and ill-tempered. And they must always have a smile and remain unruffled.

Once trained, Kitty is sent off for a five-month tour-of-duty in a small town in New Mexico. Her job includes room and meals - though she'll eat once the paying customers have been served. She chronicles her adventures in her journal, honing her journalistic instincts and preserving memories to share with her family when she returns home.

What I like about this book is that every so often there's a photo from the archives. I also like the author's note about how this story came to be, and which of the people in the story are real, and which characters are invented. For history buffs there is a bibliography and a list of photo credits.

I'd write more, but I hear that whistle blowing, and that means I've got three minutes to check that the napkins are folded crisply, and the water chilled, before the train chuffs in....

Today is Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and we're hanging out with other MMGM bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Animal Heroes

Today I'm sharing two books about animal heroes. The first is true stories.

 Kangaroo to the Rescue
by Moira Rose Donohue
112 pages; ages 7-10 years
National Geographic, 2015

This book features stories about one kangaroo, two dogs, and three pigs. Lulu the kangaroo was a rescue animal. There are great descriptions of how her adoptive family raised her from a cat-sized joey to an adult. They made Lulu a pouch, figured out how to feed her, and helped her regain strength. Later, they encouraged her to go free, but she stayed close to the family. Good thing, too - because she ends up saving someone's life.

Maggie and Pilot were two labs: one black, one blonde. They played chase, fetched balls, and served as mentors for young pups in training to be guide dogs. Later, when Maggie went blind, Pilot acted as her guide, sticking close and nudging her out of trouble. 

The last section tells stories of three not-so-little pigs who were brave and strong and helped people out of predicaments. One even received a gold medal from the ASPCA for saving her human companion's life.

Salted in with the tales of animal bravery are sidebars and fact-boxes about the animals themselves. We learn about marsupials and why tails are important to kangaroos. There's information about guide dogs and therapy dogs, and pig social life. Did you know pigs can make over 20 different oinks, grunts, and squeals? And that pig mamas sing to their piglets?  Review copy provided by publisher.

If you're looking for a fun companion book that's fiction, try this one:

Sparky and Tidbit
by Kathryn O. Galbraith; illus by Gerald Kelley
40 pages; ages 6-8
Simon Spotlight, 2015

On Sparky's birthday he got just what he always wanted: a K-9 cap, a K-9 collar, and a shiny K-9 badge. Now he can be a hero. But what would a "real" hero do? His first attempts fall through, and then he hears cries of a puppy in distress.

Is it mean cats? A stolen bone? Cranky skunks? No, sighs the pup named Tidbit. It's a book. He can't read it. What's a hero to do? Sparky helps Tidbit through a few pages of the book - just this once, he says. But the young pup is in need, and Sparky has a big heart, and before he knows it he is a "reading" dog.

This is a "Ready to Read" book with language simple enough for early readers, and a fun story that will keep them turning to the next chapter. It's a great choice for reluctant readers who love dogs. It's also a great story for therapy dogs to share with their reading buddies. Review copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Stone Giant & a Winner!

We've got a winner! The winner of Fatal Fever by Gail Jarrow is Danielle. Congratulations, and look for your copy in the mail. Now on to today's book.... which somehow got buried at the bottom of my book basket.

 Stone Giant: Michelangelo's David and how he came to be
by Jane Sutcliffe; illus by John Shelley
32 pages; ages 6-9
Charlesbridge, 2014

Ever since I was a kid, I've been intrigued by Michelangelo, a Renaissance painter, sculptor, poet, and architect. His "real" name is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni which, if you try to say that all in one breath, is probably why most people simply called him Michelangelo.

But I digress... this book begins with an enormous block of marble that is taking up space in the city of Florence. The city fathers wanted a statue of David - the heroic kid who felled a giant using only a sling, a stone, and his smarts. But things didn't turn out as they planned.... no sooner would an artist begin cutting into the stone than he'd quit or die.

Nobody knew what to do with this huge block of marble. Not even Leonardo da Vinci. Until Michelangelo came to town. He looked at the stone.... and he saw what others didn't: the David who was waiting to be released. So Michelangelo built a shed around the block of stone and went to work with his hammers, chisels, and a special drill.

It took a long time ~ three years ~ to chip the stone away from David, and Michelangelo stopped only when he had to eat or sleep. But finally, there he was. David. Ready to face Goliath.

David has been standing for more than 500 years, but Sutcliffe breathes so much life into her story that you can almost hear the chiseling, and taste the marble dust floating in the air. The illustrations are warm, providing plenty of visual details. Plus there's back matter for curious readers.

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Counting Crows

Counting Crows
by Kathi Appelt; illus by Rob Dunlavey
40 pages; ages 3-7
Atheneum Books for Young People, 2015

theme: counting

opening lines:

One, two three 
        crows in a tree.
Three roly-poly bugs,
        three ripe mangoes.
Three for the counting crows.
       Three, by jango!

These crows  love peanuts and plums, crickets and crackers. They are bold and sassy, dressed all alike in red stripes - except for that one, over there, with the long scarf.

What I like: The sweaters. The long, long scarf that will surely get tangled up in a branch. The counting by threes - at least until we reach ten. Then it's adding one crow at a time, as if the extra crow will somehow unbalance them and cause them all to fall.

I like the way Appelt plays with words and images: twelve crows on a park bench wing by wing. And the disgusting things she has them eat: slimy snails. And the cat. Oh, that? Yeah, just a cat stretching and yawning and counting crow tails... and then all aflutter the crows take off.

I love the artwork: black-and-white with just red. And the juxtaposition of striped and dots. The silly ways the crows hang out, or gather on a line.

Beyond the Book activities: Crow talk. Do you have crows in your neighborhood? Go outside and listen for them. Crows have more than 20 calls, including a rattly call and beak-clacking. You can hear crow sounds here.

Crow smarts. Crows use sticks and spines to get food out of tough places. But here's a video of a crow bending a bit of wire into a hook to pull a bit of food out of a tube.

Crow play. Maybe you saw this video of a crow snowboarding down a roof. Here's the explanation for why some scientists think it might be playing.

Crow puppet. All you need is a paper bag, black paint, construction paper and your imagination. But here's something to get you started

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from Blue Slip Media.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Fatal Fever ~ Book Give-Away & Author Interview

Last Monday I introduced Gail Jarrow's newest book, Fatal Fever (Calkins Creek, 2015). Since then, I've had a chance to sit down and talk with Gail about writing Fatal Fever. And you still have a chance to win a copy ~ just leave a comment.

Sally: What inspired you to write about Typhoid fever?

Gail: When I was researching Red Madness (about Pellagra), I read a lot of public health bulletins. I kept seeing mentions of typhoid fever - which was happening at the same time. I'd heard about Typhoid Mary, but didn't know much about her, so I decided to investigate. Then, as I began doing the research I discovered links between the people tracking down Mary and my town of Ithaca, NY, which also suffered an outbreak of typhoid fever. Learning about the people - Mary and the scientists tracking her - gave me a connection to this story.

Sally: This book is packed with information. Talk about your research.

Gail: Because residents in Ithaca - and students at Cornell University - contracted typhoid fever, I found a lot of interesting information in Cornell's rare manuscript collection. There were some student scrapbooks from 1903 filled with news articles, and letters. Then, when I looked at George Soper's book (Soper was a sanitary engineer) I noticed that there were photos of the village just a couple miles from my house. I didn't visit the island that Mary was confined to - it's closed to the public - but I could gain a lot of information from photos. When you go back to those places (in aerial photos), they don't look like they did 100 years ago.

Sally: Mary was quarantined for the remainder of her life. Can you talk about individual rights within the context of a community's right to protect the health of its citizens?

Gail: These issues have not gone away, especially when you have no cure for a disease that can kill so many people. We got a sense of this with Ebola. If people get Ebola, they can die. So the question is: do you isolate people who are sick? And do you quarantine people who have been exposed? Back during the typhoid epidemic people were just beginning to understand that some people could be carriers of a disease but not show symptoms. The medical community erred on the side of caution. Today, we have a rise in tuberculosis, with antibiotic-resistant strains. So we're facing similar questions: do you want someone serving food or working with you who could pass on tuberculosis?
Mary was isolated because she refused to comply with medical directives and kept cooking and serving food. Today, state and federal governments have the authority to isolate people with tuberculosis who refuse to take their medications.

Sally: This is your second book on disease. What's next?

Gail: I'm working on my last book in what I call my "deadly diseases" trilogy. It's about bubonic plague. Interestingly, all three books take place at the turn of the century - in the very first years of 1900 - right after they discovered germ theory but hadn't yet discovered antibiotics.

Sally: Thank you for sharing your insights with us. You can check out Gail's website here.

Book Giveaway Rules: leave a comment. also - please send me an email to sueheaven[at]gmail[dot]com so I can contact you if I draw your name. (If I can't contact you, I can't send you a book!) Giveaway ends on Friday is only for US addresses.

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. It's also Marvelous Middle Grade Monday and we're hanging out with other MMGM bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.