Friday, October 31, 2014

Poppy the Pirate Dog's New Shipmate

Poppy the Pirate Dog's New Shipmate
by Lizz Kessler; illus. by Mike Phillips
64 pages; ages 5-9
Candlewick Press, 2014

Ahoy, mateys! Welcome to the second installment in the tales of Poppy the Pirate Dog. This be a chapter book, with plenty of fine illustrations and very little actual pirate lore.

There are five short chapters. The first begins like this: "Poppy the Pirate Dog was bored. She was home alone. Again."

After a fun-filled summer featuring pirate ships and buried treasure, her people are heading back to school. As if that weren't enough, they're busy with after-school sports too!

Poppy needs a friend - and her people come up with a marvelous idea: get her a shipmate so she won't be so lonely. But what Poppy thinks an ideal shipmate is and what her family thinks - well, let's just say that those two ideas don't share anything in common.

George, the new shipmate, is cute. George gets to lie on the bed. George finds Poppy's buried treasure. George is a... cat!

But when George gets in trouble, Poppy walks the plank to rescue her new pain-in-the-tucas shipmate. What fun! This book deserves a staaarrrggghhh!

There is no Perfect Picture Book Friday round-up today, but there is a wonderful Halloweensie story contest happening over at Susanna Leonard Hill's blog. So head on over and read a few stories.
Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fleabrain Loves Franny & author interview

Before we get all involved in perusing a new book, I want to remind you that there's still time to get in on Friday's Blog Tour & Book Giveaway for Murphy, Gold Rush Dog.

And now, reaching into the bottomless book basket for another mid-grade novel, I find
Fleabrain Loves Franny
by Joanne Rocklin
288 pages; ages 8-12
Amulet Books (Abrams), 2014

The year is 1952, and Franny is stuck in the children's hospital - in an iron lung - because she has polio. She's lucky in many respects:
Sister Ed reads her favorite book (Charlotte's Web)
she's getting better

On the other hand: she's missing out on all the fun things she and her gang do over the summer. And they're afraid to visit her after she's released from the hospital and goes home and is no longer infectious [note: this would be an excellent time to make a distinction between "infectious" and "contagious", especially with concerns about Ebola running rampant. See here and here.]

What Franny wants more than anything is for a spider to spin "some girl" in a web. What she gets is chocolaty-colored scribbles from a flea.

This is a story of friendships made, some remade, of discovery, and of appreciation for the little things in life. There are superheroes. There's a dog, and a horse. There's a bit of magic and some over-zealous application of flea-B-gone. There's a couple different takes on the word "pedestrian" and some insight into the freedom a wheelchair provides (plus how to do wheelies). There is pride, there are falls, there is student protest and, yes, there is even a spider. And for those of us who like a dose of truth with our fiction, there are plenty of pages of authors notes that put this story into the historical context of the polio epidemic and Salk's work to produce a vaccine. Timely reading, as doctors are hard at work on an Ebola vaccine.

Fleabrain was so fun to read I just had to ask Joanne Three Questions:

Sally:  What inspired you to write Fleabrain Loves Franny? 

Joanne: I tend to wake up with "a good idea" for my next book, usually just a phrase that doesn't mean much to anyone but me. The phrase for FLF was "you can stop seeking messages in spider webs." Who would send such a note? Who would be seeking messages in spider webs? I did know that Charlotte's Web was published in October, 1952, after a summer of the worst of the polio epidemics in the U.S. in which 58,000 cases were recorded.  I realized almost immediately that my seeker of messages would be a young wheelchair-bound polio victim, Franny, in love with the newly published book, and seeking her own Charlotte in dealing with her almost kafkaesque experience. I began to do research about the era and the scourge of polio, discovering, too, that many of its victims were avid readers with active fantasy lives, determined to succeed.  Now, I asked myself, who would be the sender of the mysterious message? An erudite, educated writer - a being annoyed and jealous at the adulation of Charlotte, seeking attention and glory as well. Someone unconsciously humorous as well. I needed lots of comic relief. 

Sally: Why a flea? 

Joanne: I knew that a creature jealous of Charlotte would be a fellow bug. Franny's mother was a meticulous housekeeper, especially with an "invalid" living at home. Cobwebs were immediately destroyed (although she did miss one...) so the bug wouldn't be a spider. Flies weren't around all year. But her dog, Alf, was a faithful companion, a good "host" for one flea the flea powder couldn't destroy...I also liked the name Fleabrain, which is often used in a derogatory way, but in this case meant exactly that. 

Sally: What sort of research did you do? 

Joanne: I did a fair amount of research--enough to give an accurate description of physical properties. I actually have a phobia about enlarged photos of bugs and insects, so the research took some courage. During the writing of this book our new cat brought about a flea infestation in our home. My husband was unaffected, but I was covered with itchy welts. When I mentioned to my dermatologist that I happened to be writing a book about a flea, he looked at me strangely and diagnosed "hives", from a possible stress reaction. He was wrong. Anti-flea medication for our cat quickly solved the problem.

Check out the official Fleabrain Loves Franny book trailer 

Today is Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday round-up. Drop by to see what other bloggers are reviewing. This review from an ARC provided by publisher.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Murphy Gold Rush Dog - Blog Tour & book giveaway

Murphy, Gold Rush Dog
by Alison Hart; illus. by Michael G. Montgomery
160 pages, ages 7-10
Peachtree Publishers, 2014

I am a sucker for books about dogs, horses, pigs and spiders - even fleas (drop by Monday and all will be clear). I am especially drawn in to the stories when they're told first-person from the dog (or horse, etc) point-of-view. And that's exactly what Alison Hart does in this book, second in the "Dog Chronicles" series.

Murphy is an unlikely hero - mud-covered, paws bleeding from mushing across the ice-encrusted snow. It's early June when we meet him and his harness mates, racing from Dawson to Nome for the sake of staking a claim ahead of others on that same trail.

"When I was young I had known a gentle touch, a heaping bowl, and a loving home," Murphy reflects. But then he was sold as a sled dog to a hard-driving gold digging schemer who would stop at nothing to get rich. Now Murphy is caught in a life with no kind words, no straw bed, and never enough food to fill his stomach. Until....

... he is befriended by Sally, whose mama is worried that Murphy is a mud-covered, flea-bitten mutt (which he is until Sally washes him) who will eat them out of house and home. Murphy cleans up nice, and turns out to be a protector and friend.

This is a book of adventure, filled with villains, bears, an avalanche, and lots of gold dust. It is also steeped in history, and Hart appends notes at the end which sort fact from fiction. There is no real Carlick; he is a character drawn from the many claim jumpers and cheats that populated Alaska's gold fields. But the judge - and the scandal involving the Alaska Gold Mining Company - is real. And so are the techniques Hart's sourdoughs used to separate gold from the rock, and life in Nome at the turn of the century. Now, a hundred years later and into a brand-new millennium, Nome is experiencing a new "gold rush". Which makes this book both timely and timeless. 

The sourdoughs weren't the only ones struck by "gold fever". In my interview with Hart last year, she said she "struck gold" when she dug up a book about the Alaskan Gold Rush that contained letters and photos from Nome. Stuff like that is a real "treasure” for a writer.... and, struck by her own gold fever, Hart dove into research that resulted in Murphy. 

Hart also includes a bibliography and list of books so that readers who get bitten by the gold bug can delve deeper.

We're the last stop on this gold rush blog tour. If you missed any stops on the way, here's the schedule so you can catch up with earlier posts: 

Monday,10/20- Picture Books to YA 
Tuesday, 10/21- Geo Librarian & Kit Lit Reviews 
Wednesday, 10/22- Chat with Vera 
Thursday, 10/23- The 4th Musketeer & Blue Owl 

Book Giveaway. To stake your claim for a copy of this book just follow these rules:
1. leave a comment
2. then email me at sueheaven[at]gmail[dot]com -  so I have a way to contact you if you are the winner (or go to my profile and click on the email).
3. the giveaway is limited to residents in the US.
Get your comments in by Wednesday (Oct 29).  Review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, October 20, 2014

There Will Be Bears

There Will Be Bears
by Ryan Gebhart
224 pages; ages 10 - 13
Candlewick Press, 2014

Tyson used to hang out with his ex-best friend Bright, but these days he finds his Grandpa Gene much better company. Bright has ... defected to the popular kids' group, leaving 13-year old Tyson hanging. Now who will share his passion with Taylor Swift songs and other on-the-cusp-of-teen nonsense?

Tyson and Grandpa have been cooking up plans for his first-ever elk hunt. But when Gene moves into a nursing home to get better care for his kidney disease, Tyson feels abandoned. Not only that - he was really hoping that bringing home a rack of antlers might make him seem more "manly" to his buds, and the new girl, Karen.

Will Tyson succeed in breaking Grandpa Gene out of the nursing home for an illicit hunt in grizzly country? Will his sister find the Taylor Swift tickets he hid? Will he make it home before dad finds out where he really went?

However it turns out, rest assured that There Will Be Bears! Today I'm joining the Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday round-up. Drop by to see what other bloggers are reviewing. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Prairie that Nature Built

Before I introduce my book of the day, I'd like to announce the book giveaway winner from last week: Merry won a copy of "Can I Come Too?". Congratulations, Merry, and now on to ...

 The Prairie that Nature Built
by Marybeth Lorbiecki; illus. by Cathy Morrison
32 pages; ages 4-10
 Dawn Publications, 2014

 Themes: nature, habitat, ecological relationships

"This is the prairie that nature built." Starting with the critters that worm and squirm under the prairie, and the diggers that burrow, to the plants and insects, birds and beasts... all playing essential roles in maintaining the prairie.

What I like about this book: it's fun to read. Everyone has a role: tunneling, rooting, providing food, hunting to keep the population in balance... every part is important to the whole. I also like the detailed illustrations, and the way Cathy Morrison uses the page. Sometimes you need to turn the book to get the full length of it all, from root to sky. I also like how, in the end, author Marybeth Lorbiecki brings the prairie home to us, as a place where a child and her dog could roam and explore.

As with all Dawn books, there is great back matter. This book ends with a "Prairie Primer" and some more detailed notes about the soil partners, grazers, flowers and other life essential to the prairie ecology. There's a page full of Prairie Fun activities, and some resources: books, websites and more.

Beyond the book - if you live near a prairie, get out and explore! What plants, animals, and bugs can you find? Take along your nature journal so you can sketch what you see. If you don't have a prairie nearby, see if there's a botanical garden nearby with some prairie grasses and flowers.

Plant some prairie seeds. Even if you don't live near a prairie, you can plant some prairie flowers in your yard - or in a paper cup. Here's a list of some of the flowers found on prairies: larkspur, purple coneflower, black-eyed susan, goldenrod, asters, anise hyssop, blue lobelia, milk vetch... you can find prairie seed mixes here and here. Fall is a good time to plant prairie seeds if you want to turn a patch of your back yard into a habitat for birds and butterflies. 

Read an interview with author Marybeth. She talks about growing up on the prairie, and her efforts to restore prairie landscape.

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

On Monday, we'll join the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by publisher.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Eliza Bing is (not) a Big Fat Quitter

Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter
by Carmella Van Vleet
176 pages; ages 9 - 12
Holiday House, 2014

Eliza loves cake decorating. She watches Sweet Caroline Cakes TV show with a passion, and wants to open a bakery with her best buddy, Tony. There's only one problem: they're eleven years old.

OK, there's another problem, too. Eliza wants to take a cake decorating class at the community center. But it's expensive - nearly twice as much as other classes - and money's tight. Plus, her parents think she's a quitter. Eliza tries so many things, and she really wants to do them, but... after a few lessons or group meetings, she realizes they're not her thing. It doesn't help that she has ADD and that makes it harder for her to stick to things.

But with Sweet Caroline offering another cake class in the fall, Eliza sets out on a plan: she'll convince her parents that she's NOT a quitter. And to do this she'll take her brother's place in karate class (he's not interested). There are only three things wrong with this plan:
  1. Karate turns out to be really hard. Eliza has to remember lots of things like how to tie her belt in that funny knot, and to bow in before class begins, and how to count to ten in Korean;*
  2. Madison, her least favorite person (and a popular kid at school) ends up being her partner in karate class; and
  3.  there's a TEST!
This is a fun book to read, and it might even make you want to head down to the nearest dojang (training hall) and try a few karate lessons yourself. It helps that author Carmella Van Vleet holds a third-dan black belt in tawkwondo, so the voice of the ninja-in-training is authentic. And it helps that she has drawn a sympathetic character in Eliza. And it really helps that she includes a pronunciation guide at the back, with "how to count to ten in Korean".

Today I'm connecting with other bloggers who review mid-grade books at the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday round-up. And check out Carmella's blog here.
And remember to check out the Book Giveaway for Can I Come Too (post & rules here.)

Review copy provided by publisher.

*hana, dool, set, net, dasut, yasut, ilgop, yuldol, ahop, yul!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Can I Come Too? Blog Tour & Book Giveaway

Can I Come Too?
by Brian Patten; illus. by Nicola Bayley
32 pages; ages 4-8
Peachtree Publishers, 2014

Themes: adventure, animals, nature

"A very small mouse decided she wanted to have a very big adventure. I'll go and find the biggest creature in the world, she thought."

On her way she meets a variety of animals: a frog, a badger, a tiger... and each time she asks that animal if it is the biggest animal in the world. No, says the animal, but can I come too? They wander through meadow and river, up mountain and down, until they reach the very edge of land... and there they meet "...something bigger than a million mice."

What I like about this book: the sense of adventure! Who wouldn't want to join this band of merry seekers off in search of the biggest animal in the world. I also love how the tiger promises not to eat anyone if they let him join the quest. And the realization that you don't have to be a big person - or creature -  to have a big adventure.

I also love the illustration! Nicola Bayley opens with a garden - from a mouse's-eye view, of course. I love the details she works into her art: prickles on a poppy stem, veins in a dragonfly's wing, the various nails and claws and feet of the animals.

Beyond the book: If a mouse from your neighborhood took off on such an adventure, what sort of animals would she come across? If you're not sure, tuck a tiny stuffed mouse in your pocket and go on a walk. Make a list of the animals you see, and then write your own adventure story.

Find a cozy place to sit in your yard or a park, and draw that place from the point of view of a very small animal. What would that animal notice? How big would the grass stems be, or the flowers, or the feet of people sitting on a park bench?

In case adventuring makes you hungry, the folks at Peachtree have a cute suggestion for a healthy snack: a pear mouse.

Book Giveaway: If you want to win a copy of this book, the rules are simple:
1. leave a comment
2. then email me at sueheaven[at]gmail[dot]com -  so I have a way to contact you if you are the winner (or go to my profile and click on the email).
3. the giveaway is limited to residents in the US.
get your comments in by Wednesday (Oct 15).

Today's review is 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.  And remember to drop by the other blog-tour stops (links below) where you might find more chances to win a copy of Can I Come Too. Review copy provided by publisher.

Blog tour stops earlier this week
Monday  Green Bean Teen Queen 
Tuesday  Geo Librarian & Kid Lit Reviews 
Wednesday  Chat with Vera 
Thursday  Blue Owl & The Fourth Musketeer

Monday, October 6, 2014

Whistle in the Dark

I'm digging into my basket of mid-grade books... so for the next few Mondays, that's what I'll be sharing. And there are so many good ones!

Whistle in the Dark
by Susan Hill Long
192 pages; ages 8-12
Holiday House, 2014

 This wonderfully rich coming-of-age story is set in Ozarks. The year is 1925. It's Clem Harding's thirteenth birthday, a year when he'll leave school to work in the lead mines. It's also the year of the deadliest tornado in US history.

Clem wants a dog for his birthday. Instead, he gets a miner's cap, and Pap teaches him how to light the carbide lamp. Together they tramp to the mine, though Clem would rather be any place else - as long as it was above ground with sky overhead. Heck, Clem would rather be in school than moving stone.

Susan Long does a wonderful job bringing us into the mine: "... the area they were to work was high enough to stand in and wide enough for five men, with rock columns left at regular enough intervals so the roof wouldn't collapse." There are smells: wet dirt, cigarettes. And noise: explosions, hammering, shovels thocking against the wall, clanking of rail cars.

When a dog finally does show up, it isn't at all like the pup he pictured. This one had short stubby legs, longish hair, and a wagging tail. Better yet, Pap agrees that Clem can let him stay - but only for a day or two.

There are lots of adventures: playing hookey from the mine, meeting a girl.There are some hard times too: Clem's sister dies, there's a mining accident, and a tornado levels most of the town. The characters are well-drawn, the story engaging - and Long adds a note at the end to ground us in the history behind the story.

Today is Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday round-up. Drop by to see what other bloggers are reviewing. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Dandelion Seed Dreams

The Dandelion Seed's Big Dream
by Joseph Anthony; illus. by Chris Arbo
32 pages; ages 4-10
 Dawn Publications, 2014

 Theme: nature, life cycle

"Once a little seed took to the sky. It had a dream..."

The tiny seed soars, filled with possibilities. But the wind shifts, it nearly loses its fluffy parachute, and it ends up in the wrong place. But it would not let go of its dream

What I like about this book: While the text tells the universal story of hanging on to one's dream - a bit philosophical for any seed - the illustrations tell the "true" story of seed flight, overwintering, and germinating in the spring when conditions are just right. They also show the story of children and their adult friends coming together to clean up a bit of trash-strewn land and turn it into a community garden. I especially like the ending - and the underlying thought that dandelions are beautiful and have a place in our world.

There's also good information in the back: a detailed introduction to dandelion plant parts, and short discussion on "flower or weed" as well as some history, and some things to do.

Beyond the Book (activities and more)
Take a Sock Walk. Get a pair of old white socks that no one will miss - and that are big enough to fit over your shoes. Moth-eaten wool socks work well, too. Pull the socks on, and go for a walk through tall grass and weedy places. Seeds from dandelions and other plants may stick to your socks. When you come back home, gently pull off the socks. Take a close look at the seeds using a magnifying lens. Draw them. Can you figure out what plants they came from?

Turn your sock into a garden. National Wildlife Federation has great instructions for how to turn a seed-full sock into a living garden. Have fun!

How far do seeds travel? If you can find some parachute-topped seeds (asters, dandelions, milkweed) collect a few. Then release them and try to measure how far they float or ride the breeze. You might need a friend to help - and skip the ruler; use the length of your stride to estimate distances. Alternatively, you could use a stopwatch (or watch with a second hand) to determine how long a parachute-topped seed can stay aloft.

Check out this interview with author Joseph Anthony.

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