Friday, June 28, 2013

Blog Tour: As Fast As Words Could Fly

Welcome to the blog tour for:
As Fast as Words Could Fly
by Pamela M. Tuck; illus. by Eric Velasquez
32 pages, ages 5 - 8
Lee & Low Books, 2013

A quick overview: Trouble is brewing in Greenville, North Carolina. That's where fourteen-year old Mason Steele lives. It's the sixties, and Mason has an important job - he writes letters for his father's civil rights group. When the group gives him a typewriter, he teaches himself where every letter and symbol is located on the keyboard.

That is the year schools are integrated, and Mason and his brothers are bussed to a formerly all-white high school. Despite his fears, and injustice from some students and faculty, Mason does well. He works in the library and joins the typing team. His skill lands him a place at the county tournament where he chooses to type on a manual machine because, he says, "it reminds me of where I come from."

The story, though fiction, is based on the real live experiences of author Pamela Tuck's father, Moses Teel, Jr. He used his typing talent to defy the prejudices of people who considered him inferior, she writes in her author's note.

Pamela, winner of Lee & Low's New Voices award, graciously answered Three (and 1/2) Questions about her new book:

Sally's Bookshelf: How did your father's writing experiences influence your path to becoming a published author?

Pam: I actually wrote for my dad, for his business, and that strengthened my confidence in my writing ability. But my love of writing - I trace that back to being raised by southern storytellers. I loved to recite stories, but once I learned how to write - that was it! I give some credit to winning a second-grade poetry contest; that empowered me and gave me proof that I was a "poet". Then in high school I joined the drama club and wrote a couple of plays - they really showed me how words affect the viewer. I kept on writing after high school and created a home writing business, writing short poems for people and framing them.

SB: Why did you choose to tell this story as fiction rather than biography? And did you have to do research?

Pam: I chose fiction mainly because my father couldn't remember all the details from some of his experiences, and there were lengthy time lapses between some events.  Biographies require accuracy in dates, sequence of events and quotes, and I felt I had more control of the flow of the story and the direction of my plot if I wrote my father's story as a work of fiction. Most of the events in the story actually took place as written, but I created dialogue and creative transitions to connect one event to the other.

(It turns out that writing fiction can take quite a bit of research)... In the book I feature a civil rights activist, Golden Frinks, so I did research on him to get a better feel of his character beyond what my father could tell me. Although I may not use all of my research in my stories, I want to know my characters well enough to talk about them like family members. I researched school names in Greenville, NC during the 60s, to add authenticity. 

SB: You are the winner of the New Voices Award. Talk about your evolution as a children's writer.

Pam: I got into writing children's stories through a family storytelling night we held. When I decided to get serious, I realized that I didn't know the first thing about queries. Someone told me about SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and I attended the 2007 SCBWI conference in NJ. I returned home a bit overwhelmed - but my husband, Joel, encouraged me to submit this story to the New Voices. So I called my father and then sat down and wrote.

SB: You have eleven children - how do you manage to get your writing done?  

Pam: Being a homeschooler, I'm used to structuring our time - and that actually helped me schedule writing time into my day. Everyone has some individual quiet time in the evening, so that's when I write. Also - when you know you're limited on time, you make the most of it!

And make the most of it she will. Pam says she has two more projects in the works: a mid-grade novel on the civil rights era and a historical fiction picture book.

Review copy provided by publisher. 

 The Blog Tour continues next week with stops at:

Wednesday, July 3:  ProseandKahn
Monday, July 8: Wrapped In Foil Blog
So be sure to drop by and visit.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo

Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo
by Nancy Bo Flood; photos by Jan Sonnenmair
40 pages; ages 8 - 12
WordSong, 2013

I remember going to small town rodeos when I was a kid - there was that time a bull busted loose and ran through town. There were clowns, barrel races, bronc-riding, calf-roping and lots of jean-clad guys and gals sittin' on fence rails.

In Cowboy Up! Nancy Bo Flood captures the spirit of rodeo from the minute the stockmen's trucks gather to heading home at dusk. Her poems and narrative capture the tempo, flavor - even the dust of small town rodeo.

"Just as many Little League baseball players dream of competing in the World Series, many young Navaho ropers and riders dream of competing in the National Finals Rodeo," she writes. Instead of practicing their pitches, rodeo kids practice spinning their lariats over a pair of horns nailed to a sawhorse.

Accompanied by the announcer - "Ladies and gents, give a big warm welcome to our youngest competitors" - and the action-packed photography of Jan Sonnenmair, the poems and stories show every aspect of the sport of rodeo. Some events are times for speed, others for endurance. Flood tells us the rules of the arena; Sonnenmair shows us the dirt clods flying.

If you're looking for a book about athletes, about culture, about traditions and history - or if you just can't get to the Calgary Stampede - then get your hands on a copy of Cowboy Up! Check out more nifty nonfiction at Playing by the Book.  Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, June 21, 2013

What's in the Garden?

What's in the Garden?
by Marianne Berkes; illus. by Chris Arbo
32 pages, ages 3-8
Dawn Publications, 2013

"Delicious, nutritious, what could it be?" The first page features that important question and an illustration of a bird singing in a tree, pink blossoms blooming all around. Flip the page and you see it's an apple - complete with directions for how to make applesauce.

There's lettuce, carrots, cukes, onions and more - each with a recipe for something a child can help prepare. Illustrations feature beneficial insects - ladybugs and bees - as well as potato beetles and other pesky insects that nibble our veggies for lunch.

Four pages of back matter include "Food for Though" which tells a bit more about each of the fruits and vegetables. "How does your Garden Grow?" lists what plants need (light, air, water... just for starters) and clears up the question: is a tomato a fruit? You can learn about plant parts, cooking terms, and find a list of garden songs to sing while you pull weeds.

I can't think of a better place to be on the solstice than in a garden! This post is part of STEM Friday round-up. Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Need a monster? Visit the Monstore!

The Monstore
by Tara Lazar; illus. by James Burks
32 pages, ages 4-7
Aladdin, 2013

Zack has a problem - a big problem. And the only thing that can solve a big problem is a big solution... like a monster. Fortunately for Zack, there's a Monstore close by that sells only the "most useful monsters," writes Tara Lazar. Especially the big hairy kind that frighten pesky sisters away.

So Zack invests his hard-earned allowance and takes he monster home. He tells him to keep his sister Gracie out of his room. Instead, the monster and Gracie bond over hiding places and Zack heads back to the Monstore for a refund. Where he learns that there are No Returns; No Exchanges; No Exceptions! But there is a solution: buy another monster - they scare better in pairs.

I just had to find out if author Tara Lazar had used monsters to deal with her pesky younger brother. So I gave her a call and she was kind enough to answer Three Questions:

Sally's Bookshelf: So about your younger brother....

Tara: Sure, he bothered me by wanting to play with my friends, and we fought over some things. But we could be very cooperative. For example, we created casino-type games and invited neighborhood kids to play - for a price. Once we invested our allowances on trinkets for a neighborhood auction and split the proceeds. This is what happens in Monstore: Zack wants to keep his sister out of his life, but then realizes that he doesn't want to get rid of her completely.

SB: Did you have any monsters living under your bed or in your closet when you were a kid?

Tara: Not monsters - but I thought I had a poltergeist living in my bedroom! I had a stuffed clown that I didn't like very much, so I would often toss him into the back of my closet. In the morning, when I woke up, he'd be sitting in a little white chair. I wasn't scared of monsters, but I was worried about the clown. It turned out that my mom would find him when she was getting out my clothes, and she'd put him back in the chair every morning.

SB: If I come upon a monster (or buy one), how should I treat it?

Tara: You need to understand monsters - and in my book, Gracie does. She lets them do what they want to do as monsters. You really have to give them free  rein to be themselves. (SB's note: that seems like pretty good advice for dealing with siblings, too.)

Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Eliza and the Dragonfly

Eliza and the Dragonfly
by Susie C. Rinehart; illus by Anisa C. Hovemann
32 pages, ages 4 - 10
Dawn Publications, 2004

themes: sharing nature with children; friendship; discovery

opening: There's a dragonfly in my house. It flew in the window and landed on my toothbrush. I have to tell Aunt Doris.

When Eliza meets her first dragonfly nymph down at the pond, her first response is "Eeeewww!" How can that awful green creature be related to the gossamer-winged jewel that landed on her toothbrush?  Aunt Doris helps Eliza discover the secrets of the dragonfly nymph, which Eliza names "Horace". Then one day Horace is missing! He's not been eaten; he's just undergoing metamorphosis and soon he emerges a shimmery-winged flyer. As Aunt Doris would say: Magnificent!

what I like about this book: aside from the total coolth of aquatic insects and that it's a dragonfly? I love that Eliza takes the time to look, to draw, to be curious. I love the rich watercolor illustrations - they inspire me to take paints and brush to the pond and paint what I see. I love that what one person sees as "eeeewww!" another sees as "magnificent". And I love the back pages that contain information about life cycles and more resources.

beyond the book:
check out dragonflies with binoculars! (there's even a field guide to dragonflies through binoculars)

spend some time at a pond or in a hayfield watching dragonflies. Try to get up close and draw a portrait.

make a waterscope (to see underwater) and try some of the other downloadable activities here.

you can watch how dragonflies catch their prey on this video.

 This post is part of STEM Friday round-up. It's also part of 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 copy provided by publisher.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Revolutionary Friends

Revolutionary Friends
General George Washington and the Marquis de Layfayette
by Selene Castrovilla; illus by Drazen Kozjan
40 pages; ages 9 - 12
Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills 2013

When 19-year old Marquis de Lafayette learns of the American colonists' struggles during the Revolutionary War, he slips out of France and heads to the New World. He braves 54 days at sea and, once he reaches land, another month of travel to reach City Tavern, where he offers his services to George Washington's army. The colonists are leery at first, but Lafayette proves his mettle during battle, and he and Washington become fast friends.

The story centers around the September 11 Battle of Brandywine Creek, a loss for the Americans, But author Selene Castrovilla continues the story of Washington and Lafayette's "revolutionary friendship" in copious back notes, along with a timeline of Lafayette's life. She also intersperses the text with bits of letters and journal entries from Lafayette and punctuates the action with appropriate exclamations in French. There's a list of French phrases at the back -  but you won't need it.

This is a great introduction for someone who wants to know who Lafayette is. It's a bit dense for younger readers, but jam-packed with Revolutionary action and resources for kids who want to explore further. And it's a nice story about friendship that endures across hardship and distance.

Join Nonfiction Monday and check out more nifty nonfiction at Practically Paradise. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nature's Patchwork Quilt

Nature's Patchwork Quilt
Understanding Habitats
by Mary Miche; illus by Consie Powell
32 pages, ages 4-10
Dawn Publications, 2012

Look into nature and you will see a patchwork of beauty and mystery.

topic: ecology and habitats

 Just as a patchwork quilt has many pieces that fit together to make one larger blanket, so nature has many habitats pieced together to create one planet. This book explores key concepts of ecology by looking at different habitats. Mary Miche introduces children to interdependence, niche, and food chains. She shows how animals use camouflage, explains biodiversity and touches on species extinction. Miche devotes a page to the ecologists who clean up rivers, plant trees, write books, study science, make movies and organize others to speak for the plants and animals.

Each two-page spread is a quilt of plants and animals that make up a particular habitat: forest, desert, ocean, prairie. The illustrations are rich with color and detail that invite you to look closer.

what I like: each page is designed like a quilt, with patches of animals and plants that, together, create a whole.  I like that, at the end Miche goes back to the concept of interdependence, pulling readers into the web. It is easy to understand why this book was selected as one of National Science Teachers Association's Outstanding Science Trade Book.

beyond the book:

Create your own nature quilt with photos snipped from wildlife magazines and old National Geographics.

Go out on a "nature quilt" walk and look for animals and plants that live in your habitat. How do they fit together into the larger pattern?

There are tons of activities in the back of the book; some are downloadable at Dawn Publication's website (scroll down to find the book). This post is part of STEM Friday round-up. It's also part of 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 copy provided by publisher.

Monday, June 3, 2013

After Eli

After Eli
by Rebecca Rupp
 245 pages; ages 10 & up
Candlewick Press, 2012

Daniel's full name is Daniel (E.) Anderson. That's not the name printed on his birth certificate; Daniel added the (E.) after his brother, Eli, was killed when his truck ran over an Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq. To the folks in town, Eli is a war hero.

Eli's death leaves a hole in Daniel's heart and a lot of questions. To help sort through all those questions, Danny grabs an old binder and creates a "Book of the Dead" -pages full of notes about people who died, how they died, and (most important) the reason they died. There's George Mallory, who died while climbing Mt. Everest. Danny wonders whether "because it's there" is a good enough reason for risking one's life. He wonders if Eli had a good reason to volunteer for the war in Iraq. He wonders whether things would have been different if his dad had allowed Eli to volunteer in New York City after 9/11.

Then one summer Danny notices a new neighbor: Isabelle. He makes friends with an unlikely ally. He starts working on an organic farm. He begins to grow into himself while coming to terms with his brother's death.

This is a book of place: rural Vermont, summer fields and fireflies. This is a book of how people connect: parents, friends, people you thought were friends but turn out to not be. It is a book full of struggle and emotional pain and wondering if you're going to be OK when you grow up. But even more, it is a book infused with love and filled with nuggets of wisdom - like the day Danny's working at the farm and tells Emma that "a real friend is someone who likes you for who you want to be and not for who they want you to be."

Author Rebecca Rupp, master of creating fiction that holds deep truths, graciously answered Three Questions about her book.

Sally's Bookshelf: What inspired this story?

Becky: The evening news. In the first years of the Iraq War, every news broadcast had moments of silence and a list of people who had been killed - most of them painfully young. Then, as we moved into our decades-long condition of permanent war, we stopped doing that. II thought that was weong. These are real people; when they're lost, whole families are devastates. I don't want us to forget the human cost of war.

SB: The characters are so real. Where did Emma come from?

Becky: She just blossomed. When I first wrote the book, Emma wasn't even a character. Then she was introduced as a minor character. And then she just took on an infinitely kind personality all her own. She's based a bit on my Aunt Bev, who never finished high school, married at seventeen and by most people's standards wasn't a success in life. But all of us adored her, ans she solved everybody's problems with love and by listening around her kitchen table.

SB: This is a book with many layers. How long did it take to write it?

Becky: That's so hard to judge - maybe a couple months for a first draft. Then second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh drafts. Then editor's comments and an eighth draft... I don't keep a writer;s notebook, but I do have a daily journal in which I note down all kinds of stuff: ideas for books, ideas for characters, interesting tidbits that might turn into plots. Sometimes I outline the whole story, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I write the ending first. As for research, in writing diction you have to know a whole lot more than you ever put in the book. Since After Eli is set in both present and past, I has a huge timeline that went year by year, starting when Eli was born until Danny was fourteen and meets Isabelle.

This is part of the Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday round-up. Check out more great reading here. Review copy from publisher.