Friday, October 28, 2016

Soldier Sister, Fly Home

Soldier Sister, Fly Home
by Nancy Bo Flood; illus. by Shonto Begay
144 pages; ages 10 & up
Charlesbridge, 2016

Tess and her sister, Gaby are close. So when Tess moves from the reservation school to Flagstaff to finish junior high, she looks forward to spending time with her sister who is enrolled in the local college. Tess is hoping that a track scholarship will help her get to college.

But things change. Gaby enlists and Tess misses her companionship. Gaby's best friend is killed in action right before Gaby is deployed to Iraq. Tess is trying to figure out how to live in two worlds: that of the mostly white school she attends, and back home with her Diné family. She is also left with Gaby's horse, Blue, who she promises to care for but is afraid of.

What I love about this book is the authentic writing. Nancy Bo Flood captures the sounds and smells of the desert: ravens whooshing overhead or "hunkered on limbs of a gnarly pinion tree like old men arguing politics." You can taste the air, feel the red sand in your shoes, and the heat of the desert sun beating down on your head.

I love how Nancy brings us into the Navajo culture, sharing traditions and language. How Tess and her Grandfather collect a lamb for Gaby's Protection Ceremony meal, and soothe it, singing, so the lamb is calm and peaceful when Grandfather picks up his knife.

I love how Nancy captures Tess, caught in tow worlds. At school she is the "girl from the Rez" and accused of using "Navaho magic" to win at track. At home she is called an apple - red on the outside, white on the inside. An incident at the trading post makes Tess think more deeply about what it means to be a "real Indian", and where home is when you are half white, half Navajo.

I love that Nancy includes back matter: information about the Navajo language and a glossary of words used in the book, as well as an acknowledgement of Lori Piestewa , a member of Hopi who is remembered as the first Native American woman in US history to die in combat on foreign soil while serving in the military.

Beyond the book: 

Check out this lovely tribute to Lori Piestewa (and pay attention to the song that is being sung).

Writing about a culture other than your own isn't easy. Some people think that you shouldn't. Nancy shares her thoughts on writing about another culture on her blog.

You can learn more about culture, traditions, and beliefs of the Diné here. You'll also find links to Code talkers (like Tess's grandfather). For a lesson in how to say the colors in Navajo language, check out this video

 We'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Scar, a Revolutionary War tale

Scar: a Revolutionary War Tale
by J. Albert Mann
144 pages; ages 9-12
Calkins Creek

It's a hot July day in upstate New York in 1779. Noah is alone in the woods, except for a young Mohawk. They both lie wounded, after a bloody battle.

At the age of 16, and despite his lame foot, Noah has taken on the work that would normally have fallen to his father. His father is gone - not to fight the British, but felled by disease. Then a Mohawk band storms their farm, burning everything. Noah and his family hide in the woods. When the villagers gather, they decide to track the Mohawks and fight, against the advice to wait for help to arrive from Washington's army.

Noah volunteers and is paired with a doctor. The march is hard; the battle worse and their unit wiped out. Wounded, Noah tries to find help. That's when he discovers the wounded Mohawk warrior, whom he names "Scar". Noah bandages him and provides water and comfort through the night.

Told in first person, the chapters alternate between July 22, the day of the Battle of Minisink, and earlier events leading to the battle. We discover that Noah has dreams of building a farm, and a girl to share those dreams with. This story brings to life a part of the Revolutionary War we don't hear much about and raises questions regarding what a hero is.

Back matter includes information about the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant and the battle, along with biographical sketches of main characters who are real people. A bibliography provides additional reading for curious young historians.

You can find more information about the battle at the Minisink Valley Historical Society.
We'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Dinosaurs! Dinosaurs!

I love books about dinosaurs! The more the better - so I was ecstatic when two show up in my review basket.
themes: dinosaurs, imagination, adventure

Never Follow a Dinosaur
by Alex Latimer
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
Peachtree Publishers, 2016

One afternoon, Joe and his sister Sally spotted a strange set of footprints.

When Sally asks who made them, Joe is certain they are dinosaur footprints. The intrepid duo set out to follow them. They pass by the empty pet food dish. "It must be a very hungry dinosaur," said Sally.

What I like about this book: you can almost hear the scary music building in the background as Sally and Joe follow footprints that indicate a hungry, heavy dinosaur. They follow clues that lead them to think the dino has been dancing, swimming... and then they decide to build a trap. Then they learn that hungry dinosaurs should be left alone.

Author/illustrator Alex Latimer takes on dinosaurs in a fun way. You can see some of his artwork at his website, and read reviews of his previous books, Pig and Small and Lion vs Rabbit.

Dinosaurs in Disguise
by Stephen Krensky; illus. by Lynn Munsinger
32 pages; ages 4-7
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016 (out Nov. 1)

Most people believe that dinosaurs are long gone.
But not me.

The young narrator of this tale is certain that the dinosaurs that ruled the earth for millions of years could have survived the impact of an asteroid. They're not extinct, just smart enough to stay hidden - especially once humans emerged on the planet.

What I like about this book: the imaginative ways that dinosaurs could blend in to our modern world. "You can find them if you look hard enough," says the narrator - and he sees them everywhere, from traffic light supports to department store Santas. As he imagines dinos in the present era, he realizes that humans might have to clean up the place a bit before the dinos come out of hiding.

Beyond the books:

Cut out some dinosaur footprints and create a trail for a friend to follow. Here's one way, and here's another. Check out these dinosaur footprints found in Australia just last month! You could also cut some dinosaur footprints into a potato and make potato-print trails ... perhaps a birthday card or a treasure map where footprints lead to the treasure.

Find places dinosaurs might hide if they were in disguise. Are there places in your neighborhood? Could they be disguised as workers? Lamp posts? Draw a picture showing how you would hide if you were a dinosaur.

Make a picnic and invite a dinosaur along. If you are wondering what dinosaurs eat, check out Archimedes Notebook for ideas. 

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copies provided by publishers.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Election Season "Must Read": Clayton Stone Facing Off

Clayton Stone, Facing Off
by Ena Jones
224 pages; ages 8 - 12
Holiday House, 2016

Just in time for this year's elections: a book of political intrigue, dirty tricks, and lacrosse. Thirteen-year-old Clayton Stone is busy prepping for the lacrosse play-offs. His school, Master's Academy, stands a chance - if they can beat Sydney Brown.

Then he's recruited to go undercover to protect the President's son. At Sydney Brown school. That means working his way onto the team so he can stay close to POTUS JR. And that means playing against his own team on the play-offs.

No sooner does he show up at Sydney Brown, than the school is put on lock down. It's a regular drill, but how's the new kid to know? Now he's on the "watch out for" list... and the President's son makes a point to avoid him.

Not only that, it's election season, and the students are voting for next year's student leaders. The school presidential debate is coming up (yes!) and someone is stealing voters. A plucky school reporter is hot on the story and wrangles Clayton into helping. The plot thickens when a senator's son (who is an overbearing bully) engages in dirty tricks and Clayton suspects the dastardly deeds at school extend all the way to Capital Hill.

As Clayton prepares for the lacrosse play-offs he tries to determine the end-game. A fun read - perfect for this season of debates. Check out this awesome interview with Ena Jones over at the Mixed Up Files.   

 We'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog. Hop over to see what other people are reading.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Biographies of Strong Girls

I love stories about strong girls. Here are two that are true ~ one about a pilot, one about a baseball legend.

 theme: biography, nonfiction 

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and her flying machine
by Heather Lang; illus. by Raul Colon
40 pages; ages 5-8
Calkins Creek, 2016

Who can resist a story that begins, "The loop ... the spiral dive ... the dip of death!" coupled with the drawings of biplanes careening through the air.

 What I like about the book: Ruth is an independent woman with a dream: to fly her plane across the country. The year is 1916 and people say it can't be done by a woman. But if anyone can do it, Ruth can. She added gas tanks, installed metal guards to protect her legs from the frigid wind, and gathered her maps. Then one dark November morning she took off.

I like the occasional quotes from Ruth: "When your engine suddenly stops while you're 2,000 feet in the air, it's some comfort to know that if anything can be done, you can do it." I like that there's back matter: more about Ruth, a bibliography, resources, and source notes for the quotes.

Explore beyond the book with this video of Ruth Law in her flimsy flying machine.
Check out Ruth's "pilot story" from the Smithsonian's Postal Museum collection.

The Kid from Diamond Street: the extraordinary story of baseball legend Edith Houghton
by Audrey Vernick; illus. by Steven Salerno
40 pages; ages 4-7
Clarion Books, 2016

Edith Houghton used to say, "I guess I was born with a baseball in my hand," and if you'd seen little Edith playing in the 1920's, you'd probably have believed it. 

It didn't matter that there was no such thing as Little League - if there was a sandlot game going on anywhere near her house, she'd be in the middle of it. Edith was so good that she was playing professional baseball at the age of ten!

What I like about the book: It's a fun read of American history and a tale of women's professional baseball. Edith had to roll up the waistband of her Philadelphia Bobbies pants to make 'em fit, but she was passionate about the game. The book takes us on their trip to Japan (the principal agreed that Edith would get more out of this "field trip" than staying in her classes).

Go beyond the book and listen to an interview with Edith Houghton here.
And check out a wonderful photo and story about Edith in the Philadelphia Inquirer  here

Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copies provided by publishers.

Friday, September 23, 2016

In the Shadow of Liberty

In the Shadow of Liberty
by Kenneth C. Davis
304 pages; ages 10 - 14
Henry Holt, 2016

"Most of us learn something about the US presidents," writes Kenneth Davis. "But this book is about some people who are not so famous."

Davis introduces us to five enslaved people who lived with and worked for four famous founding fathers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson. These enslaved people were bought and paid for by the writers of the Declaration of Independence, the very same men who declared that all men are created equal and fought for their own freedom from another master, the king.

William "Billy" Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson witnessed extraordinary events in America's history. Because they were "owned" by men we consider great presidents, we know their names and part of their stories, says Davis. Because of their connections to these presidents, there are records about who they were and how they lived - records that help us understand what being enslaved meant in early America.

It is fitting that this book hits the shelves this week, as September 22, 1862 is the day that President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Under the War Powers act, Lincoln warned that he would order the freedom of all slaves in any state that did not end its rebellion against the Union by January first 1863.

Davis begins his history with a look at how slavery began, and the importation of slaves to the colonies. By 1700, he notes that enslaved people are being imported into Virginia at the rate of 1,000 per year. Each subsequent chapter focuses on the story of one enslaved person and his (or her) connection with a president.

Billy Lee was George Washington's valet, a personal manservant who attended Washington at home and on the battlefield. He was entrusted to deliver notes and letters, he rode in hunts, he accompanied Washington when the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence. Davis points out that Washington, having seen black soldiers fight against the British, began to question slavery. "The contradiction between the ideals he had fought for and the enslavement of people like Billy Lee was now obvious," writes Davis. And yet, when Ona Judge escaped to find her freedom, Washington posted a reward for her return.

At the end of each chapter is a timeline of slavery in America. These points in history - British banning the slave trade (1804), Thomas Jefferson signing a ban on importing slaves (1807) put the personal stories into a national and international context. Historic photos, cartoons and illustrations from the archives add to our understanding of the history. I appreciate the chapter notes, bibliography, and index.

"The history we learn is often about dates, battles, famous speeches, and court decisions," writes Davis. "But in the end, history is not just about wars and constitutional amendments, facts we memorize. It is about people. This book tells the real story of real people—all of them born in slavery’s shackles—who were considered the property of some American heroes." You can read an excerpt from the book here.

On Monday  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, September 16, 2016

Seen from a Distance

Seen from a Distance, the Art of Monet
by Seon-hye Jang; illus. by Jae-seon Ahn
36 pages; ages 7-10
Big & Small (Lerner), 2016

theme: art, biography, creativity

opening: It would be hard to draw a magnificent garden like this in a small sketchbook, wouldn't it? That's why Monet often painted on a very large canvas.

Sometimes Monet painted on canvases bigger than himself. Claude Monet loved to paint nature - the shapes and colors and shadows. He tried to show the effects of sunlight in his paintings, a hallmark of the artists we call "Impressionists".

This book is a field trip into Monet's paintings. You see a small detail and try to guess what it is: a cloud? smoke? No, it's part of a dress, of reflection in a pond. It's illustrated with Monet's art, as well as some line drawings of the children trying to guess what they're looking at.

What I like about this book: It presents Monet's work in a different light - and it is fun to guess what that detail is. I like the back matter that explains Impressionists and the changing colors of light. There's a cool comparison of two paintings of water lilies. It's a fun way to learn about an artist and his art.

Beyond the book: Go on a Monet field trip to an art museum or to this online gallery of Claude Monet's works. Look at the details and the light.

Become a light detective. Find a landscape or scene that you enjoy looking at. It could be a pond with lily pads, a footbridge over a stream, a garden of sunflowers, or even a grouping of trees and rocks. One day when you have a few hours, go early in the morning and watch how the light changes from sunrise to noon. Or visit the place at different times of the day. Write down your observations about light and shadow. If you have a camera, take photos.

Choose a favorite Monet painting. Find crayons or colored pencils of the colors in the painting. Now go create your own piece of art with Monet's colors.

This book is one in the Stories of Art series. Check out the others at the Lerner website.

 Today is PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. This is National Arts in Education week. Check out the previous posts this week for arts activities and book reviews.