Friday, March 29, 2019

Garbage Island

Garbage Island
written & illustrated by Fred Koehler
288 pages; ages 8-12
Boyds Mills Press, 2018

I was captivated by this book from page one, when we're introduced to Archibald Shrew. He's pedaling through the waves on his newly-invented sea cycle - "a pair of plastic bottles, poked through with Popsicle sticks and tongue depressors like paddle wheels" with rubber band belts, a framework of plastic tubing, and propelled by a coiled spring.

Next best thing to having a shrew as a main character is having an inventive shrew. Until those inventions go bolly-wonkers and cause all kinds of trouble.

Fred Koehler's debut middle grade novel is the first in a new series. Take one garbage patch, add an assortment of animals that normally don't live together, and force them to coexist in a community. Toss in an enemy, a kidnapping, a spider invasion, and mix well with politics and you've got a recipe for a fun, adventuresome read.

This book makes you want to raid the recycling bin to invent your own machines. Hopefully it will shine a light on a serious problem: the Pacific garbage patches. And while there aren't any shrew communities living on those patches - at least none that we know of - you might want to learn more about plastic in the ocean and its impact on wildlife. This post from the Smithsonian Institution is a good place to start.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle , so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 22, 2019


by Pepe Marquez; illus. by Natalia Colombo
40 pages; ages 4-9
Starberry Books / Kane Press, 2019

In nature, there are many creatures.

Some live on land, some in the water, and some are birds. Those birds come in a great variety of sizes and shapes - and so do their nests.

This book combines spare, honest statements about birds and their nests with imaginative and bold artwork to put a fun spin on the concept of "home".

What I like about this book:
The illustrations! Natalia Colombo is an illustrator and graphic designer who lives in Buenos Aires. Her usual media include colored and black pencils, acrylics, pen, ink, and markers on different types of paper and in digital format. For this book, she says, "the illustrations are made with acrylics, and with a reduced color palette: orange, red, turquoise, blue and white. The characters are very simple, with large brush strokes and undefined contours and in contrast to the backgrounds. Then I worked on the computer to give more contrast."

It's those undefined contours that I love. They give the feel of featheriness to her birds. The hint of grassy tufts to her nests.

I love the wry juxtaposition of vibrant graphics with statements of fact. And the way Colombo interprets statements such as, "Some birds build their nests in very high spots." Her take: a nest built on the head of a giraffe! What fun!

Beyond the book:

1. Where do birds in your neighborhood build their nests? Try to find their nests and draw a picture of what their nest looks like. Here are some interesting nests.

2. Become a Nest-Watcher! Here's how.

3. Make your own nest out of tissue paper and glue. Here's how. Perfect for Easter eggs (or chocolate!)

We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Fake News

There is so much talk about "fake news" in the media that it's time to take a closer look. Michael Miller does in this new book.

Fake News: Separating Truth from Fiction
by Michael Miller
112 pages; ages 12-18
Twenty-First Century Books (Lerner), 2019

Fake news is real and it matters, writes Michael Miller. The term “fake news” has been applied to stories that pose as news but are untrue and deliberately designed to mislead. But in recent years some people – especially those in power – are using the label “fake news” to cast doubt on legitimate news stories. Especially when those stories are critical of their policies.

But fake news isn’t always political. There are false medical as well as stories aimed at businesses. Maybe you heard that you could cure diabetes by eating carrots, that an X-box console killed a teen, or that a particular brand of bottled water contained “clear parasites” that no one could see.

Fake news isn’t new; it’s been around since the time of the Romans, when a senator read a false document accusing a military general of being a traitor. And, of course, fake news was a “vital part of spreading anti-Semitism in Germany before and during World War II,” writes Miller.

Why should teens care about fake news? Because a democratic society depends on educated voters, and relies on a free press to hold elected leaders accountable to the public. A free press is so important to democracy that the founding fathers gave it specific constitutional protection: the First Amendment.

Miller devotes an entire chapter to how real news works: how journalists do their jobs, how they document facts, and how they correct mistakes. He reveals the “many faces” of fake news, from tabloids to faked online news sites, propaganda, and satire. Yes – satirical, funny stories in the Onion are not “real news”.

He talks about how fake news is created for profit and for political ideology, and how social media comes into play. Miller dives into why people believe in fake news, bias confirmation, and even how political affiliation affects who is more susceptible to believing fake news. And he addresses the question: when fake news results in violence, can we ban it?

In the last two chapters, Miller describes how you can tell fake news from real news, and what you can do to fight fake news. The most important take-aways: get your news from reputable sources (he lists least-biased sources); read before you share; and when a news story is breaking, wait for information to be gathered rather than jumping on the first bandwagon that goes by. And though Miller urges kids to “debunk misinformation with facts”, there’s research that indicates biased people are fact-resistant.

As all good journalists do, Miller provides source notes and a bibliography. He also includes lists of books, websites and other media for further study. If I gave stars, this book would get a handful! Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, March 8, 2019


by Peter Bunzl
368 pages; ages 12 & up
Jolly Fish Press, 2019 (US edition)

Action! Adventure! Danger and Daring! What a great kick-off for the new series of Cogheart Adventures .

Thirteen-year-old Lily Harman is stuck at Miss Octavia Scrimshaw’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies. She would rather be anywhere else, especially if it involved adventures and piracy, like the stories she reads in her penny dreadfuls – the Victorian equivalent of comic books. Instead, she’s condemned to classes on deportment and posture and the Art of Making Polite Conversation (in French, no less).

Then her father, a famous inventor, disappears on what should have been a routine zeppelin flight. Suddenly Lily’s life is turned upside down. Her father’s housekeeper Madame Verdegris, becomes her legal guardian and brings her back home. Lily is happy to be away from the pretentious school. She is happy to be reunited with Mrs. Rust, a mechanical servant who cooked so many of Lily’s meals.

But something strange is going on. Madame Verdegris is selling some of her father’s mechanicals off for salvage, and strange men metal-eyed men lurk in the shadows.  Then there’s the clockmaker’s son, Robert, who has rescued Lily’s mechanical pet fox, Malkin. Why were metal-eyed men chasing – and shooting – at her fox?

I love the wild adventure that takes Lily and Robert across the rooftops of town. I love the mechanicals – and how each has its own winder. They are as precise as clockwork. I love Mrs. Rust’s wonderful lexicon of alliterative idioms. “Cogs and chronometers!” she exclaims. “Smokestacks and sprockets!”

And I love how the secret of the Cogheart is revealed. I’d say more, but there are metal-eyed men lurking in the shadows, so I must be off. I look forward to more exciting adventures in this series.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle , so hop over to see what other people are reading. And drop by one of his earlier posts where he reviews Cogheart. Review from Advanced Reader Copy provided by Blue Slip media.

Friday, March 1, 2019

How to Dress Like a Girl - or a Princess

Apparently, when I was very young I insisted on wearing dresses – the frillier the better. I’m told that I wanted to be a princess. What I remember, though, is playing cowboys and spies, and wanting to be a fashion designer (this will be a surprise to all my friends who know my taste in clothes). So here are two books that celebrate the complexities of growing up girl.

theme: girls, growing up, friendship

Dress Like a Girl
by Patricia Toht; illus. by Lorian Tu-Dean
32 pages; ages 4-8
HarperCollins, 2019

What does it mean to dress like a girl?

There are, apparently, rules one should follow to look your best. Perhaps you have heard someone say you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day or never wear socks with sandals. Thank goodness Patricia Toht reveals secrets in how to heed rules “in your own way”. With great fun, she shows a diversity of ways that girls can interpret fashion advice.

On how to wear white, for example, think beyond the linen pantsuit to: a lab coat, angel wings, or perhaps a space suit! As to that “little black dress” – imagine it as a gown and you could be conducting a symphony. Or, adding a lace collar, be sitting on the Supreme Court.

What I like about this book: It’s fun! It encourages kids to think about fashion as an art, and as a way to self-expression. As Patricia notes, “Can’t find what you like? Then design something new!”

The Absolutely, Positively No Princesses Book 
by Ian Lendler; illus by Deborah Zemke 
36 pages; ages 4-9
Creston Books (Lerner), 2018

Greetings dear reader! My name is Lilliana Arianna de Darlingsweet-Amazingface!

But we can call her LaDeeDa for short. She is princess pink and speaks in fancy font. But Lita, who sports plain overalls and an attitude, insists that there is no room in the book for princesses. LaDeeDa offers to help Lita. She suggests a fancy dress, or bedazzling with glitter. Lita would rather work on a ranch, and tries very hard to push LaDeeDa off the page. Boundaries are crossed. Words are said. Feelings are hurt.

What I like about this book: despite my loathing of pink, this is a fun book to read. I love that the story is told through dialog, and that each character has her own font. And color. I like that this dialog begins before the first page, when LaDeeDa says Lita’s font has no flair. I smiled when LaDeeDa finds herself stepping in cow poo. At which time she pointedly says, “You don’t like glitter, but you have allowed a cow to poop in your book.” But what I really like is when LaDeeDa says that a real princess can do anything she sets her mind to. And I realized, it’s not princesses I don’t like, but the way they’ve been portrayed in our books and movies. But I still don’t like pink.

Beyond the Books
Make a paper doll model and design your own fashion line. This is way faster than sewing clothes for a doll. Here, one blogger tells how. Here’s another downloadable template for a doll. Now create some clothes. Hint #1 – if you don’t have tracing paper, tape your doll to a window and you can see its outline through a sheet of paper. Hint #2 – remember to include tabs for clothes.

Create your very own Superhero cape from an old (large) T-shirt. Here's how (video)

Check out this interview with Patricia Toht where she talks about the inspiration for her book, Dress Like a Girl.

What sort of things can a princess do if she puts her mind to it? Queen Elizabeth served in WWII as a truck mechanic. Check out this historic footage.

We're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It's a weekly event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies & ARCs provided by publishers.