Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Reading

I'm taking a summer break to read through the pile of middle grade novels that have been collecting in my big blue basket. So I'll most likely be hanging out in the hammock with a good book and a frosty glass of lemonade.

You can do the same. If you're looking for some books to read, check out the archives - or head over to your local library. Most libraries have summer reading programs; ours is Fizz! Boom! Read! Check out the Candor Library blog for some hands-on activities that fizz, boom, and bounce.

Remember: if you need some inspiration for good books, you can check out the reviews in the archives. Just click on the tabs for picture books, midgrade/YA or nonfiction.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey and the War of 1812

Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey and the War of 1812
by Hope Marston with Burt Phillips
 114 pages; ages 9 - 12

It's the fall of 1810 and young Rankin McMullin can't wait to see the warship Oneida. She should be pulling into the harbor any day now. So before dawn, he sneaks out of the cabin and makes his way to the harbor.

There she is: a grand vessel with two huge masts - a brig that will help protect Sackets Harbor from a British invasion. And he, Rankin McMullin, intends to be part of the crew. There's only one problem.... Rankin is 11 years old. 

Not everyone is thrilled that a warship has anchored in town. What if she stops their lucrative - but illegal - business of shipping smuggling potash to Canada? Still, Rankin wants to serve aboard the Oneida, even if it means lying about his age. His job: powder monkey - they guy who carries the powder from the hold to the cannons. It's a dangerous job, even when everything goes right. But when things go wrong, Rankin has to improvise.

Author Hope Marston has written more than 30 children's books, many of them nonfiction. I caught up with her last week to ask three questions about the Powder Monkey.

Sally: What inspired this story?

Hope: It started when the site manager at Sackets Harbor Battlefield asked me to write a children’s book about the War of 1812. That was two years before the Bicentennial Celebrations, and she hadn't been able to find any books for kids about the war. At first I wasn’t interested; war is not my favorite topic.  But once I decided to do it, and began my research, I discovered the first two battles of the War of 1812 were fought at Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario. I decided to focus on the first, fought July 19, 1812. 

Sally: Tell me about your process, what sort of research you did and how you got the story to the page.

HopeI began by  investigating library materials and permanent displays at the Battlefield in Sackets Harbor.  One of the most helpful things I found there was a list of the local men who enlisted when the warship Oneida came to Sackets looking for recruits. That’s where I found the names of my characters - including the powder monkey, Rankin McMullin. 

I did a lot of library and online research and visited the museum at the battlefield. I attended the annual re-enactment weekend at Sackets, where I could ask questions and see just how a long gun was loaded. O attended other reenactments and a couple of area "War of 1812 Symposiums". I also read any historical novel about the War of 1812 I could - they helped me learn how to express myself in nautical war terms.  Also a colleague who grew up in Sackets Harbor taught me such things as there are no “steps” on a warship. Those things that look like steps are referred to as “ladders.”

Sally: Why did you decide to tell it as historical fiction rather than write a nonfiction book? 

HopeMy first drafts were nonfiction, but, according to my Critique Group, they lacked kid appeal. I scratched my head trying think what would make kids want to read my book - powder monkeys! I couldn't remember reading about them, but must have somewhere along the line ... because when that thought came to me I knew I wanted to pursue it.  When I searched the ship's log for names I noticed that the  enlistee’s job on board was listed as well. When I read Rankin McMullin’s name, he was simply listed as boy. I knew I had my main character.

The Sackets Harbor Historical Society liked the story so much that they asked me to adapt it for a stage play. So I contacted a local playwright who got a grant for making the adaptation and agreed to direct the play. The premier is scheduled for Sackets Harbor in mid-November.

Hope has a page at her website filled with videos and more about Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey.  She's just finished another historical novel set in almost the same time period called Hannah Brown, New England Pioneer and it is, as she puts it, "out looking for a publisher".

Beyond the Book: 

Visit Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site. During the summer, guides dress in military clothing of 1813 and reenact camp life of the soldiers. August 1 - 3 is their annual War of 1812 reenactment. Learn more about events here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui

At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui.
by Christine Liu-Perkins; illus by Sarah S. Brannen
80 pages; ages 9-14
Charlesbridge, 2014

"For more than two thousand years, people had gazed across the plains at a pair of hills rising like a giant saddle from the earth," begins Christine Liu-Perkins. These aren't ordinary hills, but burial mounds of ancient royalty. But who?

When the tomb was opened, scientists found the mummy of Lady Dai of Mawangdui. Her body was so well preserved that they were able to perform an autopsy on her, and learned that she died of a hear attack. They also found 138 muskmelon seeds in her digestive tract - remains from her last meal.

This book takes readers into the tomb of Lady Dai, along with the archeologists - and forensic scientists - who excavated the site. It's filled with photos and drawings of the things she carried with her to the next life. There's plenty of back matter for folks who want more:  a timeline, glossary, author's notes and sources.

To learn more about this archeological treasure, and see photos and a video, check out this article.

Hop over to Nonfiction Monday where you'll find lots more great nonfiction books at the Nonfiction Monday blog. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Geometry takes flight with the Wing Wing Brothers

The Wing Wing Brothers Geometry Palooza!
by Ethan Long
32 pages; ages 4-7
Holiday House, 2014

themes: math, humor

"Walter wheels out the Whammer. Here comes Wendell! Watch him whiz through the air!"

The Wing Wing Brothers are a family circus act of five wacky birds: Walter, Wendell, Willy, Wilmer, and Woody. They do their best to make math painless and fun. Using magic wands and feats of daring they whip those polygons into shape.

Their first amazing feat - Describing Relative Positions - opens with a blast, boom, splat! Their goal: Launch a human bird cannonball through a hoop of fire. Then, with a waggle of the wand - poof! Triangles! Squares! Rectangles! and more to amaze you! Of course there's the "sawing a person in the box" act... which turns out just the way you'd expect and requires special glue...

What I like about this book: it's silly and a fun way to play with math - as long as kids don't try these stunts at home! The alliterative language is fun, too.

Beyond the book: The first thing I wanted to do after reading this book was see how many different shapes I could make using just triangles and squares. Easy to do - just cut a couple or three index cards into right triangles and a square and put them together.

Tangrams! A tangram is a puzzle of seven shapes that are put together to form specific shapes, such as a rabbit or a boat. The tans (pieces) are: two large right triangles, two small right triangles, one medium right triangle, a square and a parallelogram. If you don't have a tangram puzzle, you can make one - directions here (you might want to trace the pieces onto a cereal box so they last longer). Or you can play with the puzzle online here.

Go on a field trip to find shapes. The best place to hunt for triangles (and other straight-edged shapes) is around town: bridges, buildings, playgrounds.

Today is STEM Friday - head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other people are talking about in science. Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Babe Conquers the World

Babe Conquers the World: the legendary life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias
by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
272 pages; ages 9-14
Calkins Creek/ Boyds Mills, 2014

When Babe grew up it was rare for young girls to play sports. But she lucked out - her elementary school principal realized that Babe needed to sweat and jump and run and allowed her to play sports with the boys. After school, Babe headed to the sandlot for baseball. Without women athletes to serve as role models, Babe fashioned her own way into sports.

In high school Babe played basketball, baseball, tennis... and when the 1928 Olympics opened track-and-field events to women, Babe followed the news. Her school didn't have a girl's track-and-field team, but there were rows of hedges all along the avenue. Heck - she even wanted to play football. For her, playing sports was a way to be equal.
Rich and Sandra follow Babe's life from her first big break on a women's semi-pro basketball team to the 1932 Olympics, her foray into golf and professional athletics, and even a stage show. They infuse her story with warmth and help us see Babe as a whole person, not just the world class athlete. In true journalist fashion they include all kinds of extras at the back: a timeline, FAQs, source notes and more.

This is Nonfiction Monday. You'll find lots more great nonfiction books at the Nonfiction Monday blog. It's also Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday - and you'll find more good middle-grade and YA literature over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Big Pigs!

Big Pigs
by Leslie Helakoski
32 pages; ages 3-7
Boyds Mills Press, 2014

Take three little pigs who are tired of being "good little pigs", toss them out the barn door and see what trouble ensues.

"First one to sneak into the garden is a big pig," says one... and the challenge is on. They scrape and scramble, squiggle and jiggle, shove and shimmy until one of them finally ends up in the garden.

Now it's time for a new challenge: who can eat a whole row of vegetables the fastest? The competition is rife with colorful verbs until one pig wins. Now, with no vegetables, the garden is a perfect place to wallow in the mud.

I really like how each challenge builds on the one before it - and I love the muddy hoof-prints all over the pages and the pigs try to make it back to the barn - but will they evade mama pig's detection? and if she finds them, what will she do?

The illustrations are such messy muddy fun that you might kick off your shoes and head out to squish your toes in the mud. Review copy provided by publisher.