Friday, March 31, 2017

Still a Work in Progress

Still a Work in Progress
by Jo Knowles
320 pages; ages 10-14
Candlewick Press, 2016

If the cover doesn't get you, the title of the first chapter will: "Please Stop Standing on the Toilet Seats".

Yup - that was the magnet that drew me to this fun-and-serious novel. That one and "Please Ban Country Music from All Future Dances" and "The Fart Squad Needs to be Disbanded". These are just a few of the requests found in the Suggestion Box at Noah's school.

It's a small school, the sort where you sit in a circle and discuss such topics during morning meeting (I feel like I worked at this school) while the cat climbs over and around you.

For Noah and his friends, life is simple. He loves art and he's got cool friends who think Noah's sister is perfect. But at home, Noah knows the truth. Emma is far from perfect. The problem is that his parents avoid talking about it and tiptoe around the issue, which makes everything even more complicated. When she finally does get help, Noah's life gets even messier.

If you're looking for a book with issues, family life, friends, and complications, put this high on your list.
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 from Rosi Hollenbeck who reviews books at The Write Stuff

** Spring Break** Sally's Bookshelf is going to take a Spring Break to catch up on all that reading.... Back in a few weeks.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Some Writer! The story of E.B. White

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White
by Melissa Sweet
176 pages; ages 7-10 (and older!)
HMH 2016

Elwyn Brooks White loved words. And it's a good thing he did, because lots of those words ended up in marvelous books, like Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little - words I read and reread as I imagined that I, too, might have a little mouse and a red car or a canoe...

So it is fun, fun, FUN to read this wonderful biography by Melissa Sweet. It is full of words, too - and bright collages that give the book the feel of a scrapbook. There are tales of vacations in Maine, writing stories for contests, working as a counselor at Camp Otter.

EB White traveled about, wrote for the New Yorker, and then started scribbling notes that would grow into Stuart Little. "One October evening Andy [E.B.'s nickname] watched a spider spin an egg sac and deposit her eggs," writes Melissa Sweet. He detached the egg sac, put it into a box, and took it back to New York where he left it on his dresser. A few weeks later he noticed hundreds of tiny spiders climbing out of the box and spinning webs about the room. Later, back at his farm in Maine, he got to wondering whether a spider could save a pig...

Sweet includes a rough draft of Charlotte's Web that opens, "Charlotte was a grey spider who lived in the doorway of a barn." He struggled with the opening, jotting down different ways into the story, and then set the story aside for a year.

And then, Sweet notes, "he cut to the action ..." to the lines we know so well:
"Where's Papa going with that ax?"

What I love about this book is how Sweet weaves the story of E.B. White with illustrations that capture specific moments in his life. She even makes grammar fun! E.B. White is famous for his writing advice to Omit Needless Words. He's also famous for explaining the difference between affect and effect (I know this because I have looked it up in The Elements of Style) and when to use an exclamation point.

Sweet also has fun introducing readers to the times in which E.B. wrote. Opposite the Table of Contents she explains how a manual typewriter works.
And of course there is back matter: an afterword by Martha White (E.B. was her grandfather) with family photos, a timeline of his works, a selected bibliography of works by E.B. White as well as works by others that curious kids might want to check out. And - yay! - there is an index for impatient folks who want to know right this minute where to find something about chickens or pigs or the nitty-gritty stuff of Stuart Little.  

You can find out more about Melissa Sweet at her website.
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, March 17, 2017

The Wolf's Boy

So you thought spring was coming...
It is - just not as fast as you were hoping. In the meantime, heat up a cup of cocoa and grab some "thought it would be spring but it's not" reading. Here's one I recommend:

The Wolf's Boy
by Susan Williams Beckhorn
240 pages; ages 9-12
Disney-Hyperion, 2016

I could not get free. The string of spit dripped closer. My brother was good at this game...

It doesn't matter whether you're living in the 21st century or back at the time when cave bears roamed, brothers haven't changed much. Especially when you're the weaker one.

Susan Beckhorn's tale transports us to that time just before wolf-relatives would become domesticated companions and partners with humans. This is a story of Kai who, by fate of birth, is an outcast. He longs to become a hunter - but born with a clubfoot he is forbidden to use hunter's weapons.

Kai has secrets; he was abandoned by his family and taken in by a mother wolf. Eventually Kai was reclaimed by his family, but he has never forgotten his wolf family. Nor have they forgotten him. When Kai discovers a motherless wolf cub, he brings her home to live with him. If you've ever had a puppy, you know that they like to chew things, like your best moccasins, the leather straps for your snares and traps. So Uff (the pup) and Kai are eventually exiled, and head north to a place where dangerous Ice Men live.

One of the things I love about this book is the language. Beckhorn introduces us to the culture of hunters by using their words: keerta (spear), nnnn-gata (hunter's prayer for luck). And especially oooni-alu-kas-pah-vard-ahh (fire-haired traveler with big hands, hear, and voice).

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 from author.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Leaping Lemmings and Missing Bears

Leaping Lemmings!
by John Briggs; illus. by Nicola Slater
32 pages; ages 3-7
Sterling Children's Books, 2016

Would you jump off a cliff just because everyone else is doing it? Larry wouldn't. He is different than the other lemmings. Larry is adventurous: he goes sledding with puffins and when other lemmings eat moss (a pretty normal lemming thing to do) Larry orders pepperoni pizza.

And when that fateful day arrives and all his friends are running to the edge of the cliff, Larry comes up with a way to save them from their demise.

The Bear who Wasn't There
by LeUyen Pham
40 pages; ages 3-6
Roaring Brook, 2016

The author of this book would have you believe that Bear is the star of this book, and has gone missing. But clever Duck knows that Bears are unreliable. If you want some one reliable, you should get a Duck.

"How about I tell you a nice duck story?" he asks.

Meanwhile everyone else is looking for Bear. Is he behind the door that says "Private. Keep Out"? Oops! You should not have opened that door. But if Bear is not around, who is leaving all those muddy bear tracks? You know things are getting silly when the illustrator has to holler for all the animals to show up for roll call.

 Still, the question remains: if Bear isn't there, where is he?

Both books are perfect antidotes to gray early March days when we're caught between the seasons. If you're looking for some beyond-the-book activities, check out these lemming activities from a an earlier post. Want another animal story? Head over to Archimedes Notebook for a true story about a fox.

 Review copies and ARCs provided by publishers.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Books for Moon Watchers


A Moon of My Own
by Jennifer Rustgi; illus. by Ashley White
32 pages; ages 4-10
Dawn Publications, 2016

theme: nonfiction, space

Hey there, Moon. There you are again. I wonder, why do you follow me?

A girl, off on an adventure, is followed by the moon. But she's not on just any adventure: she's traveling around the world - because the moon that shines on you is the same moon that shines on someone far across the ocean.

What I like about this book: The illustrations layer complexity atop simple text. For example: "I can be your friend." The illustration is of the Eiffel Tower with a waning gibbous moon behind it. A few pages later, the moon is a mere crescent in the sky over the savanna.  So there is the moon to watch, as well as figuring out where the sky is. Then there are the illustrations, which are silhouettes against a deep blue/violet sky. I also like the back matter: a guide to the places in the book, moon facts, and more.

Mitchell on the Moon
by R. W. Alley
32 pages; ages 4-7
Clarion Books, 2016

One windy fall evening, Mitchell was leading the way. Until ... Gretchen said, "STOP! The moon is disappearing."

What a great, spooky start to a Halloween story (although you could read it any time, including the dead of winter when the wind chatters dried leaves against the trees). Mitchell, Sorcerer of Space, will save the moon! But first he has to climb a ladder to get to the moon. And save the moon. And get un-lost in the process. Thankfully, his trusty sidekick, Gretchen, is there to help.

What I like about this book: pure, imaginative fun! Climbing to the moon on a ladder? Something eating the moon?

Beyond the books:

Phases of the moon ~ Cut out different phases of the moon and challenge a friend to put them in order. Glue them onto a long strip that you can hang on your door. Watch the moon at night and draw what it looks like. Make a moon calendar.

Make craters ~ Pour a layer of flour or cornmeal or sand into a cake pan. Then drop a marble into it and check out the craters you make.

Go on a moon walk ~ and see what the world looks like. Buildings and trees look black, silhouetted against a lighter sky. Make some moon art based on what you see: paint a paper with the color of your night sky. Then cut out some silhouettes of things you saw on your walk, using simple shapes. Add a paper moon, and maybe some spots of white paint for stars.

Moon shadows ~ On a full moon night, when the moon is bright (like next week) go outside and look for shadows. Do you have a shadow? 

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, February 24, 2017

Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and his sacrifice for Civil Rights

Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and his sacrifice for Civil Rights
by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
352 pages; ages 12 & up
Calkins Creek, 2016

So why is a biography of some white guy being featured during Black History month? Because Jonathan Daniels worked for voting rights, and it's still an issue.

Still. An. Issue.

Rich and Sandra Wallace have produced an information-packed (and very heavy) volume that explores the life and times of Jonathan Daniels, a white cleric from New Hampshire who answered the call from Martin Luther King, Jr. to join blacks in their struggle for voting rights. It was dangerous, in the 60s, to challenge the segregated ways of the south.

This book follows Daniels' life from childhood in Keene, NH through college in Virginia Military Institute, through his entrance into service in the ministry. In 1963 Daniels, studying at the Episcopal Theological School, had been serving residents in Providence, RI. He believed that the church should be active in promoting social change, and even joined the March on Washington. When Martin Luther King, Jr, asked for help, Daniels responded.

In addition to being an intriguing biography, the text and photos present documentary evidence of the struggle that black people faced. Even though they had the right to vote, segregation and southern laws prevented them from casting ballots. The Wallaces put history into context using multiple points of view.

The photos and primary documentation is invaluable. They also include a note on their research and forensic analysis of a photo. Also provided are a timeline, bibliography, resources for those who want to investigate further, and source notes for quotes. Check out their website for more resources. The only thing I wish had been done differently is to present text on white pages; black print on blue is difficult to read.

On Monday we'll join the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. We'll also 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, February 17, 2017

Two more books for black history month

The Underground Railroad: navigate the journey from slavery to freedom
by Judy Dodge Cummings; illus. by Tom Casteel
128 pages; ages 9-12
Nomad Press, 2017

This book opens with an explanation of what slavery is and what the abolitionist movement was. It will help readers glimpse what life was like for enslaved people, and how they fought the system that shackled them.

The cool thing about this book: it's like going on a field trip into the past. As with any expedition, you'll want to grab your notebook and pencil to record ideas, observations, and reactions as you work through the activities.

There are 20 activities, starting with how to interpret statistics. Though graphs and statistics help put huge numbers into perspective (11.3 million enslaved men, women, and children brought to the Americas) they are impersonal. So how do you put a human face on the people who suffered?

Other activities include making a hoe cake, creating your own abolitionist broadside, writing coded messages, and learning navigation skills. Through the reading, we get to know Frederick Douglass, Isaac Hopper and his society of abolitionists, black businessmen who put themselves in danger to help fugitives, and Harriet Tubman. Excerpts of primary sources and links to online primary sources help connect readers to historic events.

 Shackles From the Deep: tracing the path of a sunken slave ship
by Michael Cottman
128 pages; ages 10 & up
National Geographic Children's Books, 2017

Michael Cottman is an African-American journalist and deep sea diver. So when he learns of artifacts found in a shipwreck off the coast of Key West, artifacts from a slave ship, he wants to dive right in and learn more. His curiosity takes him on an excellent adventure to uncover the mystery surrounding the ship, Henrietta Marie.

The ship sank in the early 1700s, but it wasn't until 1972 that anyone had found it. And that discovery came about when a treasure hunter was seeking a different wreck. Instead of gold, he found shackles small enough to imprison a child.

When Cottman was invited to help with the underwater memorial at the site of the slave ship, he decided he wanted to learn more: who owned this ship? Who made the shackles and cannons? Who was the captain? The crew?

He wanted to retrace the route the Henrietta Marie took from London down to the west coast of Africa, and then to the Americas. He came to realize that slavery, for a ship captain back in the 1600s - 1700s was simply a business. African people weren't referred to as humans but as cargo. Not only is this a great adventure and mystery - it's a true story.

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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Garvey's Choice

Garvey's Choice
by Nikki Grimes
120 pages; ages 8-12
WordSong (Highlights), 2016

Garvey is a jokester, a bookworm, the loyalist of friends. He loves reading about space and listening to blues. (extra credit for loving Mr. Spock of Star Trek)

Garvey's dad wants to toss a football with his son. Or a basketball. Or even just spend time talkin' sports. He'd rather see Garvey running out for a pass - or just running around the block - than head in a book. Why can't Garvey be an athlete like his sister?

Garvey's mom understands; when things are quiet she pulls out the chess set and teaches him moves that will "make his brain strong". Joe understands - they've been buddies since they were little kids. Even the new kid, Manny, understands.

So when Garvey discovers his voice, will his family come to the concert?

This is a sweet story of growing up. It's told in a verse form that is short and sweet: tanka. Five lines, 31 syllables, like this: 5/7/5/7/7. Here's one that I particularly like:
Stories are breadcrumbs.
Just follow the trail of books
and you will find me
lost among the galaxies
of scorched stars and ships to Mars.
Photo credit: Aaron Lemen

Nikki Grimes is a poet and artist; she's written so many books that if you wrote down all their titles it would take nearly five pages! She was recently awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her body of work which has, over a period of years, made a lasting contribution to children's literature.

Check out her gallery of artwork at her website. And definitely check out some of her books from your library.

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, February 3, 2017

A Spy Called James - Black History and the American Revolution

A Spy Called James: the true story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War double agent
by Anne Rockwell; illus. by Floyd Cooper
32 pages; ages 7-11
Carolrhoda Books, 2016

We know the names of those leaders who led our emerging country through the Revolutionary War: Washington, Marquis de Lafayette, Franklin, Jefferson... But, as Anne Rockwell writes, "America would not have won independence without the courage of thousands of people whose names never became famous."

One of those people was James, enslaved by a farmer named William Armistead. James had heard that an enslaved man could win freedom by fighting for the colonies, so Armistead allowed him to join Lafayette's army. Under orders, he dressed in tattered clothing and presented himself to Cornwallis and Benedict Arnold as a runaway slave. He would gather information and sneak it back to Lafayette.

James was so good at "serving" Cornwallis that the British general asked him to spy on the Americans. And so James began the dangerous job of being a double agent.

The war officially ended in 1783, but for James there was no victory. While blacks who served as soldiers were granted freedom, James's work as a spy didn't earn him that reward. Eventually Lafayette heard about this gross injustice and wrote a letter to the US government. James adopted the last name Lafayette and became a farmer.

There is great back matter, including a note in which Rockwell mentions that, as a free black man, James bought slaves to work his farm. I wanted to know more...

A thicker, heavier volume includes stories of more black men and women who played a role in America's Revolution:

Answering the Cry for Freedom
by Gretchen Woelfle; illus. by R. Gregory Christie
240 pages; ages 9-12
Calkins Creek, 2016

Gretchen Woelfle has gathered 13 stories of little-known African American preachers, writers, soldiers, organizers, and enslaved workers. Some escaped to freedom with the British; others fought for freedom at home.

Stories include James (the spy), poet Phyllis Wheatley, Ona Judge who was owned by Martha Washington, and John Kizelle who escaped to Nova Scotia and later worked to end the slave trade in Africa. After reading these stories you'll ask: Why haven't we heard about these courageous people before?

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

Squirrel in the House

Squirrel in the House
by Vivian Vande Velde; illus. by Steve Bjorkman
80 pages; ages 6-10
Holiday House, 2016

Squirrel is a mischief-maker, but if you know any squirrels you already know how they are. And now it's winter, and squirrel is wondering if there's something better than his cold hollow in the tree.

Cuddles, the dog, gets to go inside the house sometimes. And look, is that a special squirrel entryway up there on the roof? It sure looks like one to squirrel, so he leaps from limb to roof and scrambles to the chimney. Then do-o-o-own he goes. Poof! into the soot at the bottom.

Squirrel, of course, makes a mess... leaving sooty paw prints on the couch, knocking over a lamp. And when Cuddles tries to warn his people, they put him outside. Things get tense, and when the smallest human gets lost, it's Squirrel to the rescue. If he can....

This is fun to read and (if you have squirrels around your home) true to life! Even if you're not a kid, go ahead and enjoy a story that will warm your heart, or at least warm you up with body heat generated by laughing. Review copy from publisher.





Friday, January 20, 2017

Tuktuk - a tale from the Tundra


Tuktuk Tundra Tale
by Robin Currie; illus. by Phyllis Saroff
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale, 2016

theme: nonfiction, animal tale

At the  top of the world, an Inuit driver cried to the sled dogs. "Hike!"
"Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!"
He saw the setting sun on the ice, but he did not see one furry kamik slip under the ropes and off the sled.

But Tuktuk did, and he thought the kamik was just perfect for a collard lemming. As he drags the boot home he is stopped by other animals who think that they should have the kamik.

What I like about the book: Instead of arguing with other animals, Tuktuk becomes the trickster. Yes, the kamik is a perfect fit on the polar bear's nose, or the arctic fox's tail... even the moose. But the fit is less than perfect.

I also like the back matter: information about polar seasons, a matching game, some Inuit vocabulary, and "fun facts" about life in the cold (more fun when you've got a sweater on and a hot mug of cocoa).

Beyond the Book:

Watch a slideshow of Arctic tundra animals.

Discover some sneaky facts about collard lemmings and other lemmings here.

Learn how to say "good morning" and more in Inukitut 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 copy provided by publishers.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Snow + Animals = Fun!

Who can resist a winter's tale about animals in the snow? Here are two for reading on a Snow Day.

Pablo in the Snow
by Teri Sloat; illus. by Rosalinde Bonnet
40 pages; ages 2-5
Henry Holt & Co, 2017

theme: winter, animal tale

It's early in the morning and the sheep are still dreaming. Except for Pablo. PAblo is looking out the window.
"Look, Papa! Pieces of the clouds are falling!"

It's just snow, but Pablo has never seen snow. He takes a few steps outside and sees his tracks behind him. "Snow is for making a trail," he says. Then he sees other tracks. Who has made the trail?

What I like love about this book: As Pablo explores, he learns new things about what snow is for. Swooshing down hills, snow is for fun. Making a snowman, snow is for making friends. But then he gets lost in the storm. I don't want to spoil the ending; just know that snow is for adventures.

Mr. Putter & Tabby Hit the Slope
by Cynthia Rylant; illus. by Arthur Howard
40 pages; ages 6-9
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016

Mr. Putter and Tabby are the best of friends - and there are more than 20 books in the series to attest to that. These are fun, fun, fun books for early readers.

Winter has come and things are slow. Mr. Putter doesn't remember winter being slow when he was a kid - he used to zip down hills on his favorite sled.

His neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry has a sled. Would he like to go sledding? "Cowabunga!" yells Mr. Putter as he and Mrs. T fly down the slope. Mrs. Teaberry steers; Mr. Putter hangs on. As for Tabby... she is not amused. How will Mr. Putter get Tabby out of the tree? Will she be his friend again?

Beyond the books:

Follow some tracks in the snow. Who made them? Where do they go? 

Find a hill and slide down. If you don't have a sled or saucer, improvise. Use a piece of plastic or cardboard. 

Celebrate snow by making snow angels. Put colored water in spray bottles and make paintings on the snow. Make snowmen or snow dragons. Stomp paths in the snow for other people to follow. Have a snowball fight.

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, January 6, 2017

Aim ~ historical fiction for the middle grades

Aim
by Joyce Moyer Hostetter
288 pages; ages 9-12
Calkins Creek, 2016

Fourteen-year-old Junior Bledsoe would like nothing better than to play baseball, but he can't make practices because he's got to take care of the farm chores when Pop goes off drinking. His pop's not a bad guy - he fixes folks' cars and never takes money for it - but he's got his own problems.

Junior's got his own problems, too, including his new roommate - granddaddy. Granddaddy loves baseball, too, and listens to games on the radio - except when he's listening for news of the war. So far, the US has managed to stay out of it, but for how long?

Then there's school. Junior wants to do something more useful than practice penmanship. And he's tired of getting picked on. Things change when Pop dies, and Junior quits school to take care of the farm. But he wants more. He wants to be of use. And he wants to find out whether someone had a hand in his Pop's death. What starts as an attempt to make friends with the bully leads Junior into a series of bad decisions.

What I like about this book is the way Joyce Hostetter pulls you into the world her characters inhabit. She brings Hickory, North Carolina to life in such a way that you'll be checking the map to see if it really exists (it does) and whether you can hop a train to get there (you can't). 

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.