Sunday, December 31, 2006

Trapped In Ice

Sandler, Martin W. 2006. Trapped In Ice: An Amazing True Whaling Adventure.

Readers in search of amazing survivor stories need look no further than TRAPPED IN ICE, a nonfiction book telling the story of how thirty-two whaling vessels were trapped in the Arctic with only one hope to survive. Their story begins in the Spring of 1871, thirty-nine whaling vessels set sail from Hawaii full of arrogant adventurers seeking a plentiful and prosperous whaling adventure. The book provides readers with the background of the whaling industry, whaling vessels, and an in-depth glimpse of average whalers. (Primary sources such as journals, diaries, letters, etc.) When they arrive in the Arctic circle to hunt whales, they soon see something strange. Eskimos are seeking out each vessel to pass on a warning: winter is coming early. It is unsafe to stay. Most vessels (or should I say most captains) decide that they know better. After all return home with less than a full cargo? They’d be laughed out of the ports. And who would ever hire them for other expeditions? But seven vessels heed the warning and turn back. Thirty-two remain to spend weeks in the frozen waters hunting whales. They are plentiful. Always busy killing and processing whales. But soon trouble begins. One vessel after another becomes trapped, lodged in ice. Some vessels can’t withstand the pressure of the ice and begin to break apart and sink. Others seem stronger and more stable. The thirty-two vessels were carrying 1,219 officers, crewmen, captain’s wives, and children. Now there only hope for survival was to try to send a handful of men in several of the smaller whaleboats to see if the seven whaling vessels were still close enough to rescue them. A small team was elected to go and see if rescue was even possible. The others would have to stay and wait.

The amazing thing? They found the seven vessels, obtained permission for all 1,219 to be distributed among the seven remaining ships, and returned to spread the good news. The journey is not easy. The whaleboats are overcrowded and offer little protection from the harsh climate. Yet through it all, they persevere. Losing wealth and prestige but learning a valuable lessons...human life is more important than making a profit.

Martin W. Sandler is the author of many books, including The Story of American Photography, which was a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book. He has been nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize, and is one of America's most respected television producers, with five Emmy Awards to his credit. He is the author of five other Library of Congress Books: Pioneers, Cowboys, Immigrants, Presidents, and Civil War. Mr. Sandler and his wife, Carol, live in Massachusetts.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Up Before Daybreak

Hopkinson, Deborah. 2006. Up Before Daybreak: Cotton and People In America.

Up Before Daybreak is a well-researched and well-written nonfiction book about the cotton industry in America from its humble beginnings in the seventeenth century, to its reign during the eighteenth and nineteenth century before the civil war, and even expanding beyond the civil war through the reconstruction era and the first half of the twentieth century. It is an expansive view going beyond race, ethnicity, and class. Discussing issues such as slavery, sharecropping, and mill factories. Looking at the people behind the work--black, white, young, old, male, female--the common thread is poverty. The workers whether enslaved or paid cheap labor (a few dollars for 70+ hours of labor) their livelihood was dependent on the crop. It is an interesting examination of race, culture, and class. Up Before Daybreak is also well-documented and makes full use of primary documents such as oral histories. Includes selected bibliography, notes, index, and some amazing black and white photographs.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Walter Dean Myers

Myers, Walter Dean and Bill Miles. 2006. The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage.

Walter Dean Myers is an award-winning author who writes fiction and nonfiction for young adults. He has won the Coretta Scott King Award five times! In his latest book, nonfiction, he presents the history of the 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I.

The story of the Harlem Hellfighters is not simply one of victory in a war. Indeed, it is not even one of unexpected courage, amazing feats, or a disregard of danger. The men suffered when one would have expected them to suffer, they fell wounded when hit by shapnel or bullets, and many of them died. But it is the story of men who acted as men, and who gave good accounts of themselves when so many people thought, even hoped, that they would fail. When the soldiers of the 15th New York National Guard boarded the ships that would take them to France, they took with them the hopes and dreams of an entire people. They were in the prayers of black congregations throughout the nation each Sunday morning, and in the thoughts and dreams of thousands of black families. Those who died in the trenches and amid the barbed wire did so upholding the dignity of their race and of their country. They had fought for their country, and they had proved, beyond doubt, that they had a right to fight. Those who returned to march through the streets of New York, who paraded uptown past the cheering Harlem crowds, did so as heroes. They had helped to make the world safe for democracy and had held the banner of black dignity high enough for all the world to see. Many had hoped their sacrifices would make a change in how America saw them. They had hoped that the derogatory terms so casually tossed at them by bigots would be discarded once the first man of them went over the top. In this effort, even the Harlem Hellfighters were not successful. But the men who rose from those trenches after hours of shelling, who climbed the hills and waded through the mud, who rushed across no-man’s land with bayonets pointed at the enemy, would forever be heroes to their community, and to all Americans who understood what they had accomplished. (149-150)

The Harlem Hellfighters is a great nonfiction book. Using black and white photographs and an incredible text it tells an amazing story highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the human race.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Fleischman, Sid. 2006. Escape: The Story of The Great Houdini.

I remember reading Sid Fleischman’s autobiography five or six years ago, The Abracadabra Kid: A Writer’s Life, and learning how much of an impact magic had on his childhood. Magic was this author’s first passion, and it clearly shows in this biography of his childhood hero, Harry Houdini. It must have been an act of love writing such a biography--an enjoyable and accessible biography at that--for young readers. How can I describe it? It is well-written. It is enjoyable. It is well-organized. It is full of black and white photographs. It is well-researched. It features a selected bibliography and index. If only I could share the same interest as the writer. But magic has never been all that ‘magical’ to me. So I do recommend the book for readers of all ages if they show some interest in magic in general, or in the legend of Houdini himself, or if they just enjoy reading interesting biographies of famous people. It really is quite well done.

Krull, Kathleen. 2005. Houdini: World's Greatest Mystery Man and Escape King.

Written by Kathleen Krull (one of my favorite authors) and illustrated by Eric Velasquez (one of my favorite illustrators), HOUDINI is an enjoyable picture book biography. The deep, rich colors (black, red, and gold) add lushness and life to Krull’s text. The text presents a summary or overview of Houdini’s life and his most famous magic tricks. The author’s note brings Houdini’s life to a close and summarizes how Houdini’s life impacted the world. A bibliography is included.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Desperate Journey

Murphy, Jim. 2006. Desperate Journey.

The mark of a good book--particuarly a nonfiction or historical fiction book--is if it makes a subject that you have little or no interest in as a whole so remarkably fascinating and interesting that the book becomes not a dull lesson in the past but a genuine page-turner. Take for example, DESPERATE JOURNEY by Jim Murphy. I have never shown any interest whatsoever in the history of the Erie Canal or any other canal for that matter. (In fact other than knowing that the canal had something to do with rivers, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what it was or where it was.) I never would have gone out looking for a book about this subject. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Desperate Journey. Having been familiar with some of the author’s previous works (An American Plague and The Great Fire), I noticed his most recent publication. Jim Murphy is known for writing nonfiction, but Desperate Journey is a historical novel. Set in the early nineteenth century, Maggie Haggerty, our heroine narrator, is unforgettable. Twelve years old, she bears a large burden. Her family has just days--literally four or five days--to sail their boat and its heavy cargo to Buffalo. It will be a long and difficult journey. With two sets of mules pulling their way, there is always something to be done either driving the mules, steering the boat, or cooking, cleaning, and mending for the family. What makes a difficult journey even worse is when their father and uncle are arrested by a sheriff and accused of assaulting a man in a bar along one of their stops. Now it is up to her, her brother, and her mother (who is pregnant) to try to make it to Buffalo on time and unload its cargo or else their boat and everything they own will be lost. Is any amount of determination and hard work enough? And how can they deal with bullies up and down the canals?

It is an interesting journey. Well-written. Well-developed. A surprisingly enjoyable read about an often neglected subject.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Pennypacker, Sara. 2006. Clementine.

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker is a fun new chapter book perfect for young readers. (My guess second to fourth graders.) Our young heroine, Clementine is spunky and vibrant leaving a mark wherever she goes. Easily noticed by teachers and principals but not necessarily for the right reasons. But despite some behavior problems, Clementine remains a funny, lovable character.

When called to the principal’s office to explain how and why her friend’s hair got cut in the school bathroom, she answers:

“’I was helping’ . . . and then I told Principal Rice about how I’d helped her, too. ‘I answered the phone while you were gone. I ordered some new school pets, and I told the gym teacher we are never going to play dodgeball again, and I made two appointments for you. The phone kept going dead, so I guess it’s busted. But at least I helped you a little.’ That’s what I thought. There is a look they teach a person to make in principal school that is not very nice” (12-13).

The truth? Clementine always has good intentions, but sometimes her plans backfire or have unforseen-to-her consequences.

Monday, December 25, 2006's Best of 2006 List

As I discover them, I will be providing links to other best lists. Today's selection is from

Here is a brief excerpt from their introduction to the list...

As 2006 comes to a close, we at have compiled some of our favorite books of the year for teens.
We hope you enjoy our year-end feature and make new discoveries along the way, as you look forward to what lies ahead in 2007.

They then provide a title by title recommendation list divided into two main categories: stand alone titles and series books. Series books are further distinguished by whether they are debut series (first in an upcoming series) or series updates which would include all subsequent sequels. Each title is given a brief description and links are provided to reviews of each book.

Stand-Alone Titles

  • Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
  • A Brief Chapter In My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
  • Cathy's Book by Sean Stewart & Jordan Weisman
  • Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want To Know About Fast Food by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson
  • Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
  • Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton
  • Gossamer by Lois Lowry
  • Grand & Humble by Brent Hartinger
  • Heat by Mike Lupica
  • How To Be Popular by Meg Cabot
  • It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
  • Just In Case by Meg Rosoff
  • Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
  • King Dork by Frank Portman
  • Ophelia by Lisa Klein
  • The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Something Remains by Inge Barth-Grozinger
  • Tyrell by Coe Booth
  • Vanishing Act: Mystery at the U.S. Open by John Feinstein
  • What Happened to Cass McBride by Gail Giles
  • The Wish House by Celia Rees

Series Books, pt. 1 Debut Series

  • Terrier: A Tortall Legend--Beka Cooper #1 by Tamora Pierce
  • The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
  • Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

Series Books, pt 2 Series Updates

  • Maximum Ride #2: School's Out Forever by James Patterson
  • New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  • Small Steps by Louis Sachar
  • Party Princess: The Princess Diaries, Volume VII by Meg Cabot
  • Sweet Sixteen Princess by Meg Cabot
  • Valentine Princess: A Princess Diaries Book by Meg Cabot
  • Only In Your Dreams: Gossip Girl #9 by Cecily von Ziegesar
  • Would I Lie to You: Gossip Girl #10 by Cecily von Ziegesar
  • Evil Star: Book Two of The Gatekeepers by Anthony Horowitz
  • The Pretty Committee Strikes Back: The Clique # 5 by Lisi Harrison
  • Dial L for Loser: The Clique #6 by Lisi Harrison
  • Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
  • Specials by Scott Westerfeld
  • Demon Thief: The Demonata, Book 2 by Darren Shan
  • Slawter: The Demonata, Book 3 by Darren Shan
  • Some Like It Hot: The A-List # 6 by Zoey Dean
  • American Beauty: The A-List #7 by Zoey Dean
  • Sun-Kissed: The Au Pairs by Melissa de la Cruz

School Library Journal Best of 2006

SLJ's Best of 2006

Picture Books
Max's Words by Kate Banks
Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen by Cari Best
But Excuse Me That Is My Book by Lauren Child
The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child
Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg
How High Can A Dinosaur Count by Valorie Fisher
Lilly's Big Day by Kevin Henkes
Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman
Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins
Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
Superhero ABC by Bob McLeod
The Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney
Not Afraid of Dogs by Susanna Pitzer
Play, Mozart, Play by Peter Sis
Clip-Clop by Nicola Smee
John, Paul, George & Ben by Lane Smith
The Moon by Robert Louis Stevenson
Benny & Beautiful Baby Delilah by Jean Van Leeuwen
Flotsam by David Wiesner
Dizzy by Jonah Winter
Mommy? by Arthur Yorinks, Matthew Reinhart, Maurice Sendak

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T Anderson
Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce
The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks
Wabi: A Hero's Tale by Joseph Bruchac
Blood on the River by Elisa Carbone
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo*
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper
The Braid by Helen Frost
Endgame by Nancy Garden
Saint Iggy by K.L. Going
Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson
Firestorm by David Klass
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look*
The Adventures of Odysseu by Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden
The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga
Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker*
Larklight by Philip Reeve
Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy
Everlost by Neal Shusterman
To Dance by Siena Cherson Siegel
Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley
A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant
The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman
5,000 Miles to Freedom by Judith Bloom and Dennis Brindell Fradin
The Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman
Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman
Up Before Daybreak by Deborah Hopkinson
Isaac Newton by Kathleen Krull
Black Cat Bone: The Life of Blues Legend Robert Johnson (poetry)
Aliens Are Coming! by Meghan McCarthy
The Wand in the Word by Leonard S. Marcus (editor)
Quest for the Tree Kangaroo by Sy Montgomery
Wildfire by Taylor Morrison
The Buffalo and the Indians: A Shared Destiny by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Langston Hughes by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel
Whatcha Mean, What's A Zine? by Mark Todd and Esther Pearl Watson
Remember Little Bighorn: Indians, Soldiers, and Scouts Tell Their Stories by Paul Robert Walker
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
Immersed in Verse by Allan Wolf (poetry)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Wilde Novel List

Wilde Novel Awards 2006

Susie Wilde is a book reviewer in North Carolina. This best-of-2006 list was found on her website. This list includes everything that is not a picture book: chapter books, young adult novels, and nonfiction books. For the full article, including descriptions, visit her site.

Best Younger Novels:

  • Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow by James Howe
  • Dear Max by Sally Grindley
  • Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
  • Sleeping Beauty: The One Who Took A Really Long Nap by Wendy Mass
  • Bella At Midnight by Diane Stanley
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Young Adult Books
Best Sequels

  • The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
  • Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud
  • River Secrets by Shannon Hale
  • Green Jasper by K.M. Grant

Best Fairy Tale

  • Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Best Futuristic Novel

  • Rash

Best Collections

  • Porch Lies by Patricia McKissack
  • Scary Stories illustrated by Barry Moser; introduced by Peter Glassman

Best Non-fiction

  • The American Story: 100 True Tales From American History by Jennifer Armstrong
  • Nobody Gonna Turn Me ‘Round:Stories and Songs of the Civil Rights Movement by Doreen Rappaport
  • Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea by Sy Montgomery
  • Unexplained: An Encyclopedia of Curious Phenomena, Strange Superstitions, and Ancient Mysteries by Judy Allen
  • The Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman
  • Viktor Frankle: A Life Worth Living by Anna Redsand

Best Novels For Adults

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Stay With Me by Garret Freymann-Weyr

Best Historical Fiction

  • The Legend of Bass Reeves by Gary Paulsen
  • Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson
  • Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
  • Alphabet of Dreams by Susan Fletcher

Best New Mystery Series

  • The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer

Best Contemporary Fiction

  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • A Brief Chapter In My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • King Dork by Frank Portman
  • The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Best Resource

  • 500 Great Books for Teens by Anita Silvey

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Wilde Picture Books Picks

Wilde Picture Book Awards 2006

Susie Wilde is a book reviewer in North Carolina. The full article was published in the Raleigh News and Observer, and is available to read online. The article describes each book and provides more details.

In the category of ‘best baby present’ :

  • Baby: Unique Moments: A Record Book by David Ellwand

In the category of ‘best read-alouds for preschoolers’ :

  • The Cow Who Clucked by Denise Fleming
  • Move Over, Rover! by Karen Beaumont
  • So Sleepy Story by Uri Shulevitz
  • Why Do You Cry? Not A Sob Story by Kate Klise

In the category of ‘best fiction for 4-6s’ :

  • I’m Dirty! by Kate and Jim McMullan
  • Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
  • Moose Tracks! by Karma Wilson
  • Who Is Your Favorite Monster, Mama? by Barbara Shook Hazeen

In the category of ‘best picture books for 6-10s’ :

  • Clever Ali by Nancy Farmer
  • Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Flotsam by David Wiesner
  • Muti’s Necklace by Louise Hawes
  • Night Boat to Freedom by Margot Theis Raven
  • Probuditi! by Chris Van Allsburg

In the category of ‘most welcome returning characters’ :

  • Don’t Let The Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems
  • Lilly’s Big Day by Kevin Henkes
  • Olivia Forms A Band by Ian Falconer

In the category of ‘retellings’ :

  • Can’t Catch Me by John and Ann Hassett
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  • Pancakes For Supper! by Anne Isaacs

In the category of ‘non-fiction picture books’ :

  • Almost Gone: The World’s Rarest Animals by Steve Jenkins
  • Dizzy by Jonah Winter
  • Great Estimations by Bruce Goldstone
  • I’m A Pill Bug by Yukihisa Tokuda
  • Is There Really A Human Race by Jamie Lee Curtis
  • It’s Not the Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie Harris
  • Jurassic Poop: What Dinosaurs (and others) Left Behind by Jacob Berkowitz
  • Little Lost Bat by Sandra Markle
  • Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Owen and Mzee: The True Story of A Remarkable Friendship by Isabella Hatkoff
  • Unlikely Pairs: Fun With Famous Works of Art by Bob Raczka

In the category of ‘best celebrity book’ :

  • Queen of the Scene by Queen Latifah

In the category of ‘most playful concept books’ :

  • Blue 2 by David Carter
  • Eric Carle’s Animal Flash Cards

In the category of ‘quirkiest picture book’

  • Wolves by Emily Gravett

Friday, December 22, 2006

But Excuse Me That Is MY Book

Today I am reviewing one of the newer books in one of my favorite series. I absolutely fell in love with the characters of Charlie and Lola created by Lauren Child several years ago. In their first book, I WILL NOT EVER EAT A TOMATO, Charlie must help his sister Lola, who is a picky eater, overcome some of her issues with food. In their second book, I AM NOT SLEEPY AND I WILL NOT GO TO BED, Charlie must help put Lola, who is rather stubborn, to bed. Their third book, perhaps my favorite because it was the first one that I discovered, was called I AM TOO ABSOLUTELY SMALL FOR SCHOOL. Charlie must help Lola overcome her going-to-school jitters. Each of the books were fun, creative, and had a way of combining illustrations and text that were memorable and ever-so-charming. (Child does her own illustrations.) After the release of the third book, I discovered a new program. Someone had brought Charlie and Lola to life as a cartoon show on a cable network! Now with the success of the show, Charlie and Lola books are abundant with several hardback and paperback books being published each year.

Child, Lauren. 2006. But Excuse Me That Is My Book.

When their father tells Charlie and Lola that he is taking them to the library, this brother and sister team are happy. Lola has it all figured out. Today she will check out her favorite book in the whole world. It doesn't matter that she's checked this book out time and time and time again in the past. It is her favorite and her best. "But Charlie, Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies is a very special book that is my favorite and I really need it. Now. Now. Now. Now. Now!" But when the pair arrive at the library, Lola is in for quite a shock. She discovers her book is "lost" and "completely not there!" Charlie, ever-patient, reminds her that this is a library and that lots of people check out books. But Lola is convinced that Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies is HER book. Can Charlie convince her that she might like another book just as much? Or will this library trip turn into a disastrous fit? Funny as ever, Child once again illustrates a valuable lesson that relates with children everywhere.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Princess and the Beast

Child, Lauren. 2006. The Princess and The Pea.

Today I am presenting reviews for two beautiful picture books that are retellings of classic fairy tales. The first is Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child. It is beautifully illustrated. Child created beautiful, intricate, detailed paper dolls and provided them with proper backgrounds even adding small little details done in miniature to create the perfect backdrop for this classic tale of love. This miniature world was then photographed to create the illustrations. The text of the picture book is wonderful as well. Together the text and illustrations share a magical story with young readers.

Real princesses do not grow on trees. You just have to wait for one to come to you. And if one does, just to be sure, make her a bed of twelve feather mattresses, and underneath those twelve feather mattresses place a small pea-green pea. Then wait for the moon to set and the sun to rise. And if she wakes up all black and blue, you’ll know that you have indeed discovered a REAL princess.

Eilenberg, Max. 2006. Beauty and the Beast.

The second book I am reviewing today is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast by Max Eilenberg and illustrated by Angela Barrett. Again beautiful illustrations and text are used to create a magical environment for sharing this story with young readers. The illustrations by Angela Barrett are done beautifully in soft pastel colors. And help set the tone and mood of the story. The text is well-written and for the most part faithful to the traditional tale.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Amazon's Best Books of 2006

Amazon’s Best Books of 2006

Top 10 Editors’ Picks for Teens:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton
  • New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  • Desert Crossing by Elise Broach
  • Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 by Sean Stewart
  • Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
  • The Wish House by Celia Rees
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  • The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

Top 10 Editors’ Picks for Middle Readers:

  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo
  • Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
  • Pirateology: The Pirate Hunter’s Companion by William Captain Lubber
  • Here There Be Monsters by Alan Snow
  • Pick Me Up by Jeremy Leslie
  • Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge
  • Crispin: At The Edge of the World by Avi
  • Far-Flung Adventures: Corby Flood by Paul Stewart
  • Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim
  • Owen & Mzee: The True Story of A Remarkable Friendship by Craig Hatkoff

Top 10 Editors’ Picks: Picture Books

  • Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
  • Mommy? by Maurice Sendak
  • Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • Mrs. Crump’s Cat by Linda Smith
  • Alphabet Explosion!: Search Count from Alien to Zebra by John Nickle
  • Wolves by Emily Gravett
  • Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich by Adam Rex
  • Adele & Simon by Barbara McClintock
  • Encyclopedia Prehistorica Sharks and Other Sea Creatures: The Definitive Pop-Up by Robert Sabuda
  • Moon Plane by Peter McCarty

For a fuller description of each book, read the full article on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Whole Seuss

Cohen, Charles D. 2004. The Seuss The Whole Seuss and Nothing But The Seuss.

THE SEUSS THE WHOLE SEUSS AND NOTHING BUT THE SEUSS: A VISUAL BIOGRAPHY OF THEODOR SEUSS GEISEL by Charles D. Cohen is an incredibly thorough, well-researched (and well-documented), detailed analysis of all things Seuss.

THE SEUSS THE WHOLE SEUSS...focuses on Geisel's diverse contributions--from writings/drawings in his highschool and college newspapers/magazines, his cartoons/political sketches, his advertisements, his SEUSS NAVY, his work at FT. FOX during World War II creating films/propoganda for the Army/Navy featuring Private SNAFU, his short-lived comic strip, his children's books, his movie THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR. T, his philosophy concerning children's books and how children should learn to read/love to read, and his creation of toys/sculptures....etc...the "commercialization" of the Seuss world.

As the title says--the book focuses on his art--his writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, filming, etc--the legacy that he left behind. The book does present the "basics" of his life--who his parents were, where/when he was born/raised, what schools he attended, who he married, what jobs he had, etc. But not to the same extent as a "traditional" biography would. They are there as the framework for the rest of the stuff. For example, his parents--and really multiple generations before his father--the Geisel family was involved in brewery. Prohibition was a BIG DEAL at his house--because it essentially put his father out of business. So for many many years to come throughout his cartoons/drawings HE focused on alcohol and prohibition.

THE SEUSS THE WHOLE SEUSS...does not brush over the controversial issues. It presents "the whole man" of Seuss...and not just the children's book author. Before (and even during and after) his work as a children's author he wrote/drew cartoons/editorials with adult themes--derogatory to women and to most--if not all--races and ethnic groups. Cohen really analyzes why in the 20's and 30's Seuss would draw belittling/insulting pictures of African Americans, Asians, Scottish, Jewish, etc. peoples for laughs. Part of it was because that was typical of the time period...but Cohen analyzes Seuss's drawings and hopes to show where Seuss began to shed some of his earlier racism and begin to adopt his "A person's a person, no matter how small" and "for except for those stars, every Sneetch is the same" philosophy. (One thing Cohen notes is that the more Seuss traveled the world and saw different cultures and added to his experiences--such as the war and its aftermath--he began to change some of his views.)

THE SEUSS THE WHOLE SEUSS was an eye-opening book for me. I had never really heard about his life outside the realm of children's book author. I had no idea about his work before/during the war. Starting in '39 and '40 he began drawing cartoons that urged America to pay attention to the war and not hide its head in the sand--he also was very outspoken against Charles Lindbergh...depicted him as an ostrich. During the war, he worked writing scripts/designing characters for war films/propaganda. He wrote informational books or booklets on malaria "This is Ann" and contributed a great deal to the character/films featuring Private SNAFU. The war really gave Seuss his first taste of Hollywood and movie making.

The book is interesting. It contains information on such a wide variety of topics.

The visual aspects of the book are beyond outstanding--the primary sources are quite a gem--hundred if not thousands of Seuss cartoons, comics, sketches, writings, photos, magazine spreads, and objects--(Seuss sculptures, ashtrays, coasters, dolls, toys, objects to hang on the wall, etc.) Every page has at least one--if not five--illustrations. Captions are on almost all pages--but they tend to cover three or four illustrations instead of just one image. This book is so visually engaging that one could benefit just from browsing the book and get a better sense of who Seuss was. (Although the text is well written and interesting).

The book is arranged topically (for the most part) and then chronologically. Two chapters (at least) at the very beginning are not part of the chronological sequence, but from then on things go somewhat chronologically. It is not odd, however, for two or three chapters to cover the same time period but just focus on different aspects of his career. The table of contents and index make it user-friendly.

The book is also extremely well documented. There are fifteen pages--very small print--of end notes where he lists specifically where he got each piece of information. There are nine pages of index. And four pages of photo/image credits. He also has an acknowledgement page where he thanks all the experts he discussed the book with.

I think this book would get a lot of interest from kids/ya just for browsing purposes. The artwork is both b&w and color. And there are just so many illustrations--that it is really a browsers dream come true. But for someone who loves to read--the text will be of interest as well. (There are 361 pages of text.)

Anyway, I highly recommend both for browsers and for those who love to read!

I learned so many things from this book! Did you know that his first wife committed suicide? Did you know that he remarried less than a year later to a woman whose divorce had just been finalized and that he had two stepchildren? Did you know that before he was "The Grinch" Seuss used that same character as a billboard/advertisement for Holly Sugar?

For me one of the highlights of the book is when it discussed the young Ted as a highschooler who HATED Latin class. He wrote a poem "O Latin" in the style of "Captain, my Captain" that is absolutely hysterical to anyone who has ever endured Latin class--no offense intended if anyone out there actually liked Latin class growing up--but I personally hated it!

From page 26:

O Latin

O Latin! my Latin! that study hour is done
My brain has weathered every verb, the translation now is won,
The time is near, the bell I hear, the pupils all revolting,
While follow eyes the unforeseen, a “comp” test grim and scarring.
But O heart! heart! heart!
The wrong lesson I have read,
And at the desk the teacher sits,
My lord, what she has said!
O Latin! my Latin! O when will ring that bell?
Rise up! rise up! for you are next—ye gods, but this is--,
For you bad marks and scarlet “D’s”, for you a failing waiting,
For you she calls, the teacher dear, her dark green eyes are gleaming.
O trot! dear trot!
The time is almost sped.
It would be fine if on the desk
The teacher would fall dead.
I surely cannot answer, my lips are tight and still,
My teacher looks so wild and bold, she gives me now a chill,
My classmates snicker, now they grin, a murmur starts to run.
A fearful class! I’ll never pass! my lessons are not done.
Walk out, O class, when rings the bell!
But I with mournful tread
Go to the room at her request
And come out almost dead.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Find of the Day!

I was searching the internet for "best of 2006" recommendation lists when I came across another compilation done by The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. What's my great find? And why two posts in one day? The BCCB has created or rather updated a Guide Book for Gift Books list. It's available free as a downloadable pdf file. It is an "annotated bibliography which has been expanded and updated, offering you a choice selection of books suitable for giving to the young people in your life." Perfect for the holidays or year-round for birthdays and other celebrations. (Parents and teachers may find it useful as well.) What makes this gift guide slightly unique is that all of the books were in print and readily available at the time in which it was compiled making it convenient for shoppers. But at the same time, it's not pushing only what is available at the expense of quality. There's a standard to be met and each title has been selected and deemed worthy. I haven't read it word for word--it's twenty-three pages--but I have browsed through it to see the types of recommendations being offered. They are broken down and arranged into four categories:

  • Picture Books
  • Books for Young Readers, Grades 1-3, 6-8 years
  • Books for Middle Readers, Grades 4-6, 9-11years
  • Books for Older Readers, Grades 7-12, 12-18 years

The guide can be found here.

ABC's of Dr. Seuss

A few weeks ago I featured the "ABC's of Picture Books" it was really fun for me to create, but it also left me thinking. What would the ABC's of Dr. Seuss look like? What if it wasn't just titles of books, what if it used all the wonderfully zany nonsense words or some of the characters themselves that capture his might just look a little like this:

A is for Audio Telly-oTally-O-Count (The Sleep Book)
B is for Blue Goo (The Butter Battle Book)
C is for Cindy-Lou Who (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)
D is for Diffendoofer Day (Hooray for Diffendoofer Day)
E is for Eiffelberg Tower (Horton Hears A Who)
F is for Foo-Foo the Snoo (I Can Read With My Eyes Shut)
G is for Grin-itch Spinach (What Was I Scared Of?)
H is for Horton the Elephant (Horton Hatches The Egg)
I is for Island of Sala-ma-Sond (Yertle the Turtle)
J is for Jertain (There’s A Wocket In My Pocket)
K is for Kitty O’Sullivan Krauss (Oh, The Thinks You Can Think)
L is for Little Cats A-Z (The Cat In the Hat Comes Back)
M is for Marvin K. Mooney (Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now)
N is for Noodle-Eating Poodles (Fox in Socks)
O is for Oliver Boliver Butt (Too Many Daves)
P is for Plain-Belly Sneetches (The Sneetches)
Q is for Quilligan Quail (I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew)
R is for Red Fish (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish)
S is for Sam I Am (Green Eggs and Ham)
T is Tizzle-Topped Tufted Mazurka (If I Ran the Zoo)
U is for Up, Up, Up With A Fish (The Cat in the Hat)
V is for Von Crandall (You’re Only Old Once)
W is for Whisper-ma-phone (The Lorax)
Y is for Yeoman of the Bowmen (The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins)
Z is Zax both North and South (The Zax)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Penguin Osbert

Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. 2004. My Penguin Osbert.

Every holiday picture book isn't a winner. After all, some of them are too gimmicky to be truly memorable. (Although they all have their place.) But several years ago, one came out that I really enjoyed. (Not that it could ever take the place of The Polar Express which is my all-time favorite holiday-related picture book.) MY PENGUIN OSBERT is the story of a young boy, Joe, and his imaginative, expressive quest to get the perfect Christmas gift from Santa. The book begins with Joe writing a letter to Santa. In previous years, he discovered that whenever he asked for something, he never quite got exactly what he wanted. This year he's determined will be different. He decides the problem was that he was being too vague or general with his request! What does he want? A penguin. A real, live penguin. So he enclosed measurements and pictures and even specified that he wanted a penguin named Osbert. This time Santa delivers EXACTLY what Joe asked for. But Joe may just discover that what he asked for was a little too much to handle. Will Joe finally discover that sometimes Santa knows best? MY PENGUIN OSBERT is a funny, enjoyable read for "kids" of all ages.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Teri Lesesne's Best of 2006 List

I am always on the lookout for various best of 2006 lists--particularly those focused on children's and young adult literature. I discovered this list quite by accident while reading a question on Yahoo Answers. I wasn't expecting to find a gem at a website called "professornana" but that is exactly what I found.

Calling herself the Goddess of YA Literature, Teri Lesesne is the author of two books. Her first book is called Making the Match: The Right Book for the Right Reader at the Right Time, Grades 4-12. Her second book is called Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need To Become Lifelong Readers. Both books are published by a company called Stenhouse.

For her best list, Teri Lesesne devotes at least a paragraph to each book she is highlighting. I urge all who are interested to read her entire article.

Titles she highlights include:

  • The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Astonishing Adventures of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
  • Everlost by Neal Shusterman
  • The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Gossamer by Lois Lowry
  • Saint Iggy by K.L. Going
  • Vampirates by Justin Somper
  • Wide Awake by David Levithan
  • Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • Part of Me by Kimberly Willis Holt
  • Haters by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
  • The Boy Book by E. Lockhart
  • Long Gone Daddy by Helen Hemphill
  • Summer of the Kings by Han Nolan
  • Nailed by Patrick Jones
  • Under the Baseball Moon by John H. Ritter
  • What Happened to Cass McBride by Gail Giles
  • Notes From the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick
  • Diva by Alex Flinn
  • Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck
  • Going Under by Kathe Koja
  • Hazing Meri Sugarman by M. Apostolina
  • True Confessions of A Hollywood Starlet by Lola Douglas
  • Firegirl by Tony Abbott
  • Rx by Tracy Lynn

Friday, December 15, 2006

Patricia McCormick

McCormick, Patricia. 2006. Sold.

In Patricia McCormick’s verse novel SOLD the reader is introduced to a young woman, Lakshmi a thirteen year old girl sold by her stepfather into prostitution. Told only that she will be moving to the city to live with a new “auntie” and a uncle-husband, Lakshmi is at first fooled into thinking a glamorous life awaits her. True, she’ll be working as a maid. But she’s heard that cities have such luxuries as tvs and cars, etc. But the reality of her new life and lifestyle soon becomes much too terrifying to deal with. Numbing her emotion, she goes through the motion of living day after day in a brothel where if she doesn’t perform she will be beaten, starved, or thrown out on the streets. The only hope in her life is the friendship she makes with the other destitue prostitutes and their children. Set in India, SOLD is a powerful story of hope and despair.

Sold is Patricia McCormick’s third novel, and it is her first to be nominated for a National Book Award. Her previous books include Cut (2000) and My Brother’s Keeper (2005).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Holly Claus

Ryan, Brittney. 2004. The Legend of Holly Claus.

The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan is a fantasy novel loosely set in Victorian America; its two main locales being the fantasy world FOREVER where all IMMORTALS dwell and Victorian America—primarily New York City. Christopher Carroll is a young poor boy who surprises everyone—especially Santa Claus—when instead of asking Santa to bring him what he wants, he asks Santa what he most wants. Santa is moved to tears, and him and his wife, Viviana, wish for a child. Holly Claus is born a year later. Of course SANTA and his accompanying friends and relations do not live in the “real world” that you can see on a map. They are residents of FOREVER a land built on glaciers of jewels. Only the immortal can enter the gates of FOREVER and Santa or Nicholas Claus reigns as king of this land. FOREVER land is your typical magical kingdom. Everything is true, good, pure, and beautiful…and there is no fear in the kingdom. Love reigns supreme in the kingdom. Mortals can work their way into FOREVER by being loving, compassionate, selfless, generous people while on earth. Of course, every novel—or fantasy novel at least—needs a villain. Herrikhan is your typical evil villain. He’s full of hate, greed, pride…and his main goals in life are to conquer the world and make people worship him. Herrikhan is in bondage to the underworld—far below the depths of the world. He can roam the mortal realm for small periods of time, but he is restricted from entering FOREVER. Herrikhan only has power where there is fear. To make a long story short, reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty, Holly is cursed by Herrikhan and given a heart of snow to “protect” her perfect, pure, loving heart until he can marry her and gain for himself a get out of hell free card. There are plenty of fairies and magical/fantasy creatures who are Holly’s friends and companions. Eventually, Holly joins the mortal world for an adventure where she knows she will eventually have a showdown with Herrikhan who has the magical power to appear in whatever form he wants. While having her mortal adventure she meets and falls in love with Christopher who is partly responsible—magically speaking—for her existence. Of course all ends happily ever after with all curses being broken. Herrikhan is defeated/destroyed/obliterated by the power of selfless pure love. While the novel borders on being sickenly sweet in places—where abstract qualities take on a life/personality of their own (LOVE, FEAR, GOOD, EVIL, etc.), I enjoyed it overall. I thought that while certain aspects of the novel were predictable, there remained some surprise elements. The book will appeal most to readers of fantasy. There are talking animals, goblins, fairies, fauns, centaurs, magical charms and spells, evil curses, wizards, etc. It is 500+ pages long. So it will take a dedicated reader. But I thought it was overall a good story. Not perfect, but entertaining. I could see this book being brought either to the theatre or as a made-for-tv movie.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Keeping God In Your Pocket

Grimes, Nikki. 2006. The Road to Paris.

Paris is a young girl whose never had a home of her own. Not really. Her mother's bad habits and taste in boyfriends/husbands has never created a healthy environment for a growing child. Paris and her brother, Malcolm, have been in dozens of foster homes over the years. Some were horrible, some were livable. But the truth of the matter is, even when they were physically provided for, they've never been loved. When the two run away from their current foster home where they'd been physically and verbally abused, the two flee to their grandmother's house. Surely in this chaotic world, grandma will have pity on them, right? Wrong. She gives them two days and then she's putting them back into the system. Only this time they're being separated.

Now Paris, lonely away from her brother, is nervous and unsure about her newest foster home. The Lincolns seem nice--really nice. There's an older girl--a teen--who's a foster child. And the couple has two sons both younger than Paris. But can Paris ever learn to trust and open up her heart? She just might because one of her 'brothers' David has just let Paris in on a secret to never being afraid: keeping God in your pocket.

Home was such a funny word. For most kids, home was where your mom and dad lived, where you felt safe, where the bogeyman was merely make-believe. Home was where you knew every square inch of the place by heart, where you could wake up in the middle of the night and know exactly where you were without opening your eyes. Paris didn't have a place like that. She didn't even have an address she'd lived at long enough to memorize, no single place that felt familiar as all that. Except maybe the city itself. For Paris, home was more a person, and that person was Malcolm. (30)

The next evening, when Paris and David were alone in the dining room setting the table, David said out of the blue, "I used to be afraid of the dark. And of the bogeyman, and of spiders--all sorts of things." "Really?" said Paris. "Really." "What did you do?" "I started keeping God in my pocket." "Huh?" "It's something my mom told me once. To keep God in my pocket." "I don't understand. How can God fit inside your pocket?" "No that's not it. It just means to keep God close, you know, like he's right there, in your pocket, close enough to call on, or to talk to. That's what I do when I'm afraid." "And that helps?" "Yup. Sure does." And that was all he said on the subject. But it was enough. It was something she'd never forget. (41)

She wasn't afraid anymore. Not of being beaten, or being locked in the closet. Not of the dark, or of never seeing Malcolm again, or of nobody wanting her. . .Paris could hardly recognize the fearless person she was turning into. . .She was learning to keep God in her pocket, and because she had him to talk to, she was beginning to have faith that she'd be all right. (103)

The Road to Paris tells the story of one girl's journey of healing and recovery. A lot can happen in a year. Life can become normal, an address can become more than numbers on a piece of paper, and family can become more than just a word in the dictionary. (145)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More Fun With Rash

I know it's rare for me to devote two blogs to the same book. But I loved RASH by Pete Hautman so much that it was just too hard to pick and choose.

Hautman, Pete. 2006. Rash.

Yesterday I described Rash, but today I want to bring you the author's spin on RASH:

What do smoke-free restaurants, seatbelts and airbags in cars, and bicycle helmets have in common?

Fifty years ago none of those things existed. People smoked cigarettes everywhere--even in hospitals. Cars had no seatbelts or airbags. And any kid dorky enough to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle would have been laughed off the street.

Today, Americans are safer than ever. Accidents, violence, and disease are way, way down. Every year we get safer and safer...and safer...

That's good, right?

I wonder. Being safe is good--to a point--but I sometimes think we are so obsessed with safety we miss out on much of what life has to offer. I mean, if you wanted to be really safe, you would eat nothing but oatmeal, kale and lentils. You would never play contact sports, or ride a skateboard, or go for a hike in the mountains, or speak to a stranger, or drive a car, or give birth to a child...or do much of anything at all.

What if this safety trend continues? What will it be like in another fifty years? How safe do we want to be? Will sneezing in public be considered assault? Will tricycles have airbags? Will overweight people be sent to forced-labor diet farms? Will kitchen knives bear warning labels? (Caution: This implement can cause cuts!) Will french fries be as illegal as crack cocaine?

Thinking about these things was what led me to write Rash , a sometimes funny, sometimes not funny book about a teen growing up in the "United Safer States of America," circa 2074, when pedestrians wear walking helmets, football has been banned, verbal abuse is a misdemeanor, and obesity is a felony.

And because just about everything is illegal, nearly 20% of the population is in jail, where they provide the manual labor that keeps the USSA running.

Bo Marsten, like his imprisoned father and brother, has trouble following the rules. Rash is his story.

And just for fun, here are some more quotes:

From Bo's History Quiz:

Which of the following crimes were legal prior to 2023?
a) alcohol consumption
b) private ownership of large dogs
c) hunting
d) public defecation
e) driving without a safety web
f) boxing
g) chain saw possession

I had no idea. Every one of the crimes listed struck me as outrageous. It had to be a trick question. I answered: None of the above. (19)

About 'Reading' and 'Novels':

We were studying the ‘novel’ a twentieth-century media format that nobody under the age of sixty cares about anymore. Novels are long documents containing nothing but page after page of black font on a white background: no photos, no graphics, no animations, no audio. Gramps had a whole bookcase full of them in paperback form. He once tried to get me to read one called The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I tried but couldn’t make any sense of it. The paper pages felt strange and dry and crisp and like they were sucking all the moisture from my fingertips. Later I found out that the book was banned, so it was just as well I never read it. The novel we were reading for Mr. Peterman’s class was called Harry Potter and the Power Stone, an abridged and updated version of a book that was popular in the late twentieth century. Gramps claimed to have read it when he was eight years old. He said it was better back then. It had a different title, and in the original version some characters actually died. (34)

About Freedom:

There was a time in America when people talked a lot about freedom. It was a big deal back in the 1700s during the American Revolution, and it was a big deal during the Civil War, and in all the other wars. People wrote songs about freedom. America was a place where the most important thing was to be free to make your dreams come true. But people don’t talk about freedom as much as they used to. At least that’s what Gramps says. Most people are more likely to say, ‘what good is freedom if you’re dead?’
I think the change started when our life spans increased. Back in the mid 1900s people only expected to live about sixty or seventy years. But by the end of the millenium most people were living well into their eighties and nineties, unless they had an accident of some sort. People started wearing bicycle helmets and eating organic food and doing other things to fend off a premature death. A hundred years ago people would say to themselves ‘I’m only gonna live seventy years, anyway. What’s the big deal if I smoke a few cigarettes and croak at sixty-five?’ But when it became possible to make it to one hundred, well, folks weren’t so quick to throw those years away. They started taking care of themselves. By the time the 2030s rolled around, researchers at Philip Morris Wellness Center had developed the Telomere Therapies, which increased everybody’s life span by at least another twenty or thirty years--maybe more. Theoretically, unless you caught some horrible virus or poisoned yourself with drugs or walked in front of a suv or choked on a pretzel, you could live forever. Gramps said, ‘I think the country went to hell the day we decided we’d rather be safe than free.’ (59-60)

Monday, December 11, 2006


Hautman, Pete. 2006. Rash.

Rash by Pete Hautman is an enjoyable novel that is unique in many aspects.

I pledge Allegiance to the Flag of the Safer States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation under Law with Security and Safety for All

Set roughly in the 2070s, Rash provides readers with a clever and imaginative look at the future. Opening, in my opinion, with one of the greatest first lines I've ever read: "Gramps, who was born in 1990, once told me that when he was my age the only way to wind up in prison in the USSA (back when it had only one S) was to steal something, kill somebody, or use illegal drugs" (3). But times have changed quite a lot since then as our hero Bo Marsten finds out.

"Back then there were five of us Marstens serving time: my father, my brother, two cousins, and an aunt. . .Most people don't like to talk about their jailed family members. It's embarrassing. But having five close relatives in the prison system is not that unusual. According to USSA Today, 24 percent of all adults in this country are serving time. My family was only slightly more criminal than average. . .Of course without people like us Marstens, there wouldn't be anybody to do the manual labor that makes this country run. Without penal workers, who would work the production lines, or pick the melons and peaches, or maintain the streets and parks and public lavatories? Our economy depends on prison labor. Without it everybody would have to work--whether they wanted to or not." (4-5)

Bo continues: "Anyway, here's my point: Given my family's history I should have known to keep an eye on my temper. Lose control for one tiny chunk of time and bam--next thing you know you're ripping the legs off shrimp. But at the time...Well, if you look at history, you will see that I was not the first guy to do something really stupid over a girl. Look at how many Greeks died for Helen of Troy. How much self control do you think they had?" (5-6)

Maddy Wilson. The girl who started it all. At least from Bo's perspective. When Bo sees Maddy getting a bit too friendly with the guy he dislikes, Karlohs, his natural reactions lead him into trouble. True, modern readers won't 'understand' what was so wrong with the altercation. After all, no physical violence occured. But in the 2070s, hurting another's feelings by name calling can be just as dangerous according to the law. Judge for yourself: 'She doesn't want anything to do with a pretentious droog like you,' I said, getting right in his face. 'So leave her alone, okay? I don't want your disgusting dog-anus mouth anywhere near her, understand?' Karlohs staggered back as if he had been struck. I felt a moment of satisfaction followed immediately by a sick feeling. I knew I'd gone too far, even though it was true--his mouth really did look like the south end of a beagle. But verbally attacking someone's physical appearance is a class three misdemeanor. Then I watched as Karlohs's eyes went glittery and his anus lips spread across his face in a smile. I picked up my helmet, turned, and walked away with a lead weight in my belly and a prickling on the back of my neck. I already had two violations on my record. Three strikes and you're out. (14-15)

His sentence is handed down several chapters later: "Because I had refused to offer a plea, the judge reviewed my case and my record, asked me a few questions, then handed down an instant judgment: Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty. She sentenced me to three years, let that sink in for a few seconds, then suspended the sentence and told me I could go home. . . You have been tried, judged, and sentenced. However, I am waiving the requirements that you serve your sentence. You will remain free so long as you commit no further criminal acts between now and your nineteenth birthday. . .At the moment you remain free at the pleasure of this court. In other words, the next time you get in trouble, you will be incarcerated. One more verbal assault, one more reckless act, one more instance of self-neglect, and it's off to the rock pile" (68).

It doesn't take a genius to predict that it would practically impossible for a sixteen year old boy to control his temper 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 3 years. And sure enough, when he sees Karlohs Mink with his arms around Maddy at the local mall...his brief glimpse of freedom and a future fade away in rage.

Now Bo is being sent away to Prison 387 owned by the McDonald's Rehabilitation and Manufacturing Corporation and located in Canada after all "since the USSA annexed Canada during the Diplomatic Wars of 2055" most of McDonald's prison factories were moving up north.

According to Gramps, McDonald's used to only sell food, back when French fries were legal. But in the 2020s, they merged with a suv company called General Motors under the name the McMotor Corporation of America. A few years later, McMotor was bought by a Chinese company called Wal-Martong. In 2031, during the Pan-Pacific conflict, Wal-Martong was nationalized and privatized by the USSA government and renamed the McDonald's Rehabilitation and Manufacturing Corporation. I guess I learned something in school after all. For all the good it would do me. For the next three years, I would be a worker drone for McDonald's. They would use me however they saw fit, and there was nothing I could do about it. (86-87)

Prison 387 made frozen pizzas for McDonalds. You are no doubt aware of the retro craze for hand-tossed pizza. Until recently most people thought of pizza as just another old-fashioned grandma/grandpa food, like oatmeal or hamburgers. Most towns still have one or two old-fashioned pizzerias that cater to the geriatric crowd, but nobody I knew ate the things until recently, when Keanu Schwarzenegger told PeopleTime magazine that he enjoyed a hand-tossed, hand-topped sausage pizza during breaks on the movie set. That's how these things get started. (102)

But the lessons Bo learns about life, friendship, pizza, and football--which is also illegal by the way--open up his eyes to a whole new world. Prison life may not be easy, in fact it could be deadly, seeing as to how polar bears prowl around the fences of the prison, but Bo must learn to cope and adjust. And as he does so, the reader is taken on a very enjoyable journey.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Life/Murder of Bindy MacKenzie

Moriarty, Jaclyn. 2006. The Murder of Bindy MacKenzie.

Yesterday I reviewed THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS by Jaclyn Moriarty. I loved that book. I thought it was fun. It was clever. It was unique. It was worthy of recommending to anybody and everybody who enjoys the genre of young adult literature. Perhaps because I enjoyed it so much, I expected a bit too much from the companion novel/sequel entitled THE MURDER OF BINDY MACKENZIE. Although they take place in the same high school, Ashbury High, they only share a few traits. While THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS had multiple narrators and multiple plot lines, and employed various means of communication (letters, emails, diary entries, bulletin boards, etc.), THE MURDER OF BINDY MACKENZIE was told primarily through the eyes of its heroine: Bindy MacKenzie. Bindy played a small role, one of comic relief, in THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS. Readers were quick to catch on to the fact that Bindy was an annoyingly perfect, goody two shoes, the type that would volunteer to do extra homework over the summer or the type to remind teachers that they've forgotten to assign the class any homework. Bindy, in other words, is a solitary soul who doesn't rate high with her classmates because she's too perky, too ready to help, too eager to be liked, too much of everything.

Well, it is one year later, the beginning of Year 11 (THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS takes place during the course of Year 10), and this time the reader sees Ashbury High through the eyes of its overachiever, Bindy MacKenzie. A girl with almost no friends who feels that she is so above her peers (in intelligence, in maturity, etc) and reassures herself that THEY are just not ready to connect with her. It's their problem, not hers. Since the novel is told only through her eyes, well 98% through her eyes, the reader can get more than a little annoyed with its narrator. I have no doubt that they'll recognize her self-obsession quite quickly.

Essentially, the plot of THE MURDER OF BINDY MACKENZIE is that she is so annoying, so irritating, that somewhere along the way she has made a few enemies, enemies that might even go so far as to try to kill her. The list of suspects is long, but by that point she's begun to thaw out or relax enough to make some friends--not close friends, not best friends, but a small group of people she can talk to and share with. I will not ruin this review by giving the specifics of any of the murder plots or if the aforementioned schemes are successful. That wouldn't be fair to anybody.

The reasons I am less enthused about THE MURDER OF BINDY MACKENZIE are complex. First, I think the plot, the characters, the situations, etc. are less funny. Bindy was more funny when we were seeing her through someone else's eyes. Bindy herself doesn't have much of a sense of humor. She doesn't write things in a comical way. Her view of the world as she reports it is rarely entertaining and funny. Second, the lack of variety. Bindy's log of her daily life can be tedious. There just isn't the spark of life or friendship as with THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS. No variety. No fun. No comraderie. Third, I felt even when Bindy began to make a few friends...the novel lacked something. It was too outlandish. Too unbelievable. Too bizarre or absurd. This is not to say that it is a bad book. It's not. It may have a loyal fanbase that loves it. But I can only say that I enjoyed it half as much as the first, THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Year of Secret Assignments

I was planning on catching up on some reading when I came across THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS by Jaclyn Moriarty. Several years ago, I remember it made several 'best' lists and whatnot. And of course, I noticed that a companion novel/sequel had just been released this year entitled: THE MURDER OF BINDY MACKENZIE. So I decided to read both books and see what all the fuss was about.


The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty was full of delight. I loved practically every minute of it. It had romance. It has suspense. It had humor. It had a little bit of everything: "diary entries, rude graffiti, hate mail, love letters, revenge plots, date plans, notes between friends, and famous last words." How do I know that? That is the subtitle of this often sarcastic, very funny, yet romantic novel. Our three main characters are a trio of friends: Emily Thompson, Lydia Jaackson-Oberman, and Cassie Aganovic. The three attend a private school Ashbury High, and one of their assignments in English class is to begin corresponding with students from Brookfield, a rival school with a slightly 'dangerous' crowd in attendance. To say that the schools have been feuding with one another for years would not be an overstatement. Thus begins the heart and soul of the novel. How these three students connect with their pen pals determines everything. :) Will they make friends? enemies? or lovers?

The Year of Secret Assignments was first published in Australia in 2002. That is where the story is set, so for American readers it might take a few chapters to get familiar with the Australian school system.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Behind the Eyes

Stork, Francisco X. 2006. Behind the Eyes.

Set in Texas--El Paso and San Antonio--Behind the Eyes is the story of a young teen boy in trouble with the law. When his brother is murdered by a rival gang, our narrator Hector Robles steps out of his character and does the unthinkable: tries to retaliate. Hector grew up different from his father and brother. Not prone to violence or anger. A boy who likes to blend in and escape notice from the more dangerous elements of their neighborhood. A boy who tries to make good grades and dreams of making a better life and getting the necessary education. But all that changes with the death of his brother. Without thinking almost, he reacts impulsively and is almost killed. Now lying in a hospital bed, he is missing his own brother’s funeral and listening to a social worker tell him that his only hope to survive is to go to a school for teens with troubled pasts in San Antonio. Once there he must learn to cope with the past in order to create a positive future not only for himself but for his family as well.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Harmon, Michael. 2006. Skate.

No doubt about it, Ian McDermott is a troubled teen. A teen raising his brother who’s in fourth grade while their mother vanishes for weeks on end doing drugs and prostituting herself. This is a family in crisis. Searching for pocket change to feed himself and his brother is a daily chore. One of the heartbreaking scenes in the book is when the reader sees him with three dollars cash go to the store and buy a can of tuna and a box of tuna helper. He starts preparing supper and while it’s cooking they go for a skateboard ride in the neighborhood. The boys return to find their mother drugged out and her drug-dealer boyfriend eating their supper unrepentantly. When Ian says that was the only food in the house and he only has seventy cents to his name, his mother shrugs it off and the drug-dealer gets angry. Ian goes back to the store to buy a can of soup. He and his brother eat while hiding in the shed in the backyard while his mother and her drug-dealer do drugs all night. But his problems extend past his home life. His difficulties at school are mainly with the “authority.” He has an administration determined to transfer him if he’ll go quietly or expel him if he protests. His crime? He doesn’t “fit in” with the school’s image. He takes the second or third meeting with the administration relatively calmly. True, he’s angry and he says a few things he shouldn’t have said. But he’s on his way out. He knows that they won’t let him stay. But then he has a confrontation with one of the coaches. The coach is antagonizing him, provoking him, grabbing him. Ian loses it and hits him in the jaw. Then he’s gone. He runs. He flees picking up his younger brother on the way out of town. Now the boys are on the run from the law with very few friends and no cash.

Skate is the journey of a young man to the dark side and back. His determination NOT to be who people want him to be--a mindless street thug drawn to drugs and violence--is strong. His love for his brother is an incredible force. And the book as a whole is a reminder that you shouldn’t judge others based on appearances and first impressions. People can and will surprise you.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Orson Scott Card's Best List

Those who know me know that I absolutely LOVE Orson Scott Card. I not only read his books, but I religiously read his weekly columns. This week Orson Scott Card wrote about some of his favorite books of the year. He included a "Best Books For Teens" section which I've just got to share with you.

Best Teen Novels

Neal Shusterman's Everlost is the story of the spirits of dead children, trapped in this world until they find a way to "get where they were going." Sad and hopeful at the same time, Shusterman turns it into a fantasy adventure with such truth and emotional power that you could safely get this book as a gift for an adult. No better teen novel was published this year.

But don't stop with Everlost. David Lubar's Hidden Talents will make an extraordinarily good gift -- a sort of much-more-believable version of Heroes, starring teenagers trapped in a last-resort high school.

Both these novels are contemporary fantasies; for wonderful fantasies in a medieval setting, Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia series -- The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia -- are a perfect gift set, which will set teen (and younger) readers dreaming.

To read his article in its entirety:

Hatrack: News, Schools, Mimi's, Lids, Christmas Music, Books as Gifts

Dominique Paul

Paul, Dominique. 2006. The Possibility of Fireflies.

2006 seems to be another banner year for troubled teens. I suppose it is the one ‘trend’ in young adult literature that never wavers throughout the decades. Often the ‘trouble’ is the teen rebelling in anger and resentment against parents who are not developed enough to be judged by the reader as worthy or unworthy of such treatment. We don’t know enough to judge if the anger is justified. That is not the case with THE POSSIBILITY OF FIREFLIES. The main character, Ellie Roma, and her sister Gwen are mistreated and abused by a despicable woman who is their mother. She yells. She screams. She hits. She locks her kids out of the house on a regular basis. She neglects them. She doesn’t worry about feeding them. She doesn’t care about them at all. She tells them day in and day out that they ruined her life and she hates them. So it doesn’t come as any surprise when Gwen begins hanging out with the wrong crowd and doing some typical rebelling: smoking, drinking, doing drugs. Ellie’s response may be calmer, but it is equally strong. Silent and angry, Ellie is counting the days until she can make her final escape. THE POSSIBILITY OF FIREFLIES presents two teens, one labeled 'good' and one labeled 'bad', struggling to survive the harshness of their home life. It is an emotionally raw and intense book. I believe the characters are memorable.

Sometimes I think it is okay that my mother doesn’t love me anymore, because she did. And I remember. I only wish I had known it would stop. I would have paid better attention, saved up everything in reserves like when they thought the bomb was coming. But I hadn’t known. I just hadn’t known (91).

Dominique Paul grew up in a Maryland suburb just outside of Washington, D.C., and received her BA in English from the University of Maryland, College Park. Currently she lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a screenwriter. The Possibility of Fireflies is her first novel.

Simon & Schuster: Dominque Paul

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

ABC's of Picture Books

Today I'm bringing you a little something different. Still celebrating my 100th post, I thought I would present a list of some of my favorite picture books. To add a little challenge to my list, it's alphabetical. Although if I'm honest, I must admit I've never read my selection for X. I may do this again another time since the possibilities are practically endless.

The ABC’s of Picture Books

A is for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
B is for Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban
C is for Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
D is for Dog Blue by Polly Dunbar
E is for An Elephant in the Backyard by Richard Sobol
F is for Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss
G is for Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack
H is for The Hungry Thing by Jan Slepian
I is for If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff
J is for Just for You by Mercer Mayer
K is for The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
L is for Lon Po Po by Ed Young
M is for Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco
N is for Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola
O is for Once There Were Giants by Martin Waddell
P is for The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy
Q is for Quick As A Cricket by Audrey Wood
R is for The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
S is for A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson
T is for The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
U is for Umbrella by Taro Yashima
V is for The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
W is for Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
X is for Xavier and the Letter X by Cynthia Fitterer Klingel*
Y is for You Read To Me, I’ll Read To You by Mary Ann Hoberman
Z is for Zoom by Robert Munsch

About the Authors:

Judith Viorst
Judith Viorst is the author of several works of fiction and non-fiction for children as well as adults. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, her most famous children's book, was first published in 1972 and has since sold over two million copies.

Russell Hoban
Russell Hoban, an illustrator and would-be artist, was decorated for bravery against the Nazis. After returning to New York he found success with stories for children. Bedtime for Frances was first published in 1960. It is the first in the Frances series. Others include: A Baby Sister for Frances (1964), A Birthday for Frances (1968), Best Friends for Frances (1969), A Bargain for Frances (1970) and Bread and Jam for Frances (year?)
Biographical Information

Doreen Cronin
Doreen Cronin is a popular children's book author. Her picture books include Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type; Giggle, Giggle, Quack; Duck for President; Click Clack Quackity Quack; Click Clack Splish Splash; Dooby Dooby Moo; Diary of A Spider; Diary of A Worm; Diary of A Fly; and Wiggle.

Polly Dunbar
Polly Dunbar is both a writer and an illustrator. Her books include Dog Blue and Flyaway Katie. She has also illustrated Shoe Baby, Looking After Louis, and A Saucepan on His Head. She lives in London, and her website says that her favorite things to do besides drawing are: "eating chocolate with coffee, singing along to the Beatles, stroking cats, and blue shoes."

Richard Sobol
Richard Sobol is a photographer who also writes picture books (nonfiction picture books) for children.

Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss needs no introduction from me!

Patricia McKissack
Patricia C. and Fredrick L. McKissack have written over one hundred books about the African-American experience. They have won countless awards and received much critical acclaim, all the while bringing enjoyment and information to young readers.
Scholastic's Patricia McKissack's page

Jan Slepian
Jan Slepian began her writing career when she and a colleague, Dr. Ann Seidler, wrote a series of articles devoted to common speech problems. "We wrote about ten of these and sent them off to a syndicated newspaper column called 'Parents Ask.' To our delighted surprise, they were accepted and published.: Thereafter, Slepian and Seidler, collaborated on a a series of picture books called The Listen-Hear Books, all dealing with some aspect of speech. The Hungry Thing from this series, and its sequels, The Hungry Thing Returns and The Hungry Thing Goes to a Restaurant remain popular favorites.
Penguin Group: Author Biography

Laura Numeroff
Laura Numeroff is a prolific writer. From her website: "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was the tenth book I wrote. The idea came to me on a long, boring car trip. On the way from San Francisco to Oregon in the car, I tried to make my friend laugh by telling a story about a mouse nibbling on a cookie. “He'd want some milk to go with it. And then he'd probably need a straw. Then he'd want a napkin . . ." and by the time we reached Oregon, I had told the whole story! If You Give a Mouse a Cookie was turned down nine times — but my motto is “never give up.” I continued to submit it to publishers until it found a home at Harper."
Scholastic's Author Page

Mercer Mayer
Mercer Mayer has written many children's books. But my favorite books are from his Little Critter series. From his website: "I began illustrating books in 1966. Since that time I have published over 300 books. Most of my books are about things that happened to me when I was a little kid. Now I'm a big kid and I write about things that happen now, especially with my own children. They always remind me of what it was like."

Audrey Penn
Penn got the inspiration for The Kissing Hand from something that happened when she was with her daughter in a park near her home, but what's really inspiring is Penn's own story. Working through illness and pain, she has carved out a career for herself as one of our most beloved modern children's book authors while raising three happy, well-adjusted children. Although her own kids are now grown, Penn still sees the world through the eyes of her young readers.
iParenting's article on Audrey Penn

Ed Young
Ed Young is an author and an illustrator. He was the winner of the 1990 Caldecott Medal, and has illustrated over 40 books for children, four of which he has also written. He cites the philosophy of Chinese painting as his inspiration. “A Chinese painting is often accompanied by words,” explainsYoung. “They are complementary. There are things that words do that pictures never can, and likewise, there are images thatwords can never describe.”
Scholastic's Author Page

Patricia Polacco
A prolific children's book writer, Patricia Polacco is an amazing writer. She has written so many wonderful and memorable books such as Thank You Mr. Falker, Pink and Say, Babushka Baba Yaga, Mrs. Katz and Tush, Chicken Sunday, Thunder Cake, and The Keeping Quilt.

Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaola is another prolific writer and illustrator. He's been published for 40 years and has written and/or illustrated over 200 books, including 26 Fairmount Avenue, Strega Nona, and Meet the Barkers. Tomie dePaola and his work have been recognized with the Caldecott Honor Award, the Newbery Honor Award and the New Hampshire Governor's Arts Award of Living Treasure.

Martin Waddell
A master storyteller for children, Martin has won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen award and the Smarties award twice. He is now one of the most prolific and successful of children's writers with well over one hundred books to his name. His books include the popular Little Bear series as well as the unforgettable (at least to me) book When the Teddybears Came.

Valerie Flournoy
The Patchwork Quilt was a Reading Rainbow book

Audrey Wood
A prolific writer, she has written many memorable books such as The Napping House, The Big Hungry Bear, and Silly Sally.

Rafe Martin
From his site: "Stories in words are among our oldest, most powerful, most mysterious tools. Through mere sounds on the air or squiggles on a page, they give us what no other technology can--ourselves."

Angela Johnson
Angela Johnson writes picture books, poems, and novels.

Jon Scieszka
Writer of picture books and author of the Time Warp Trio series. His website says: "I write books because I love to make kids laugh."
Scholastic's Author Page

Taro Yashima
The self-stated theme of his books for children is this: "Let children enjoy living on this earth, let children be strong enough not to be beaten or twisted by evil on this earth."
Brief Biographical Sketch

Eric Carle
Another writer who needs no introduction because his works have become classics and his quality is legendary.

Mem Fox
Mem Fox is an Australian writer. She has written many memorable picture books including Koala Lou.

Mary Ann Hoberman
Mary Ann Hoberman is a poet and the critically acclaimed author of many books for children, including the beloved A House is a House for Me, winner of a National Book Award. Other popular titles include The Seven Silly Eaters and the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series. She recently received the 2003 Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children, given by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Robert Munsch
Robert Munsch is a bestselling, much-loved Canadian author perhaps most famous for his book Love You Forever. He has written other equally great books as well. My favorites include Moira's Birthday; Purple, Green and Yellow; Stephanie's Ponytail; and Thomas' Snowsuit.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Celebrating 100

Today's post is my 100th! I am planning on some other special posts later in the week celebrating my favorite literature. But today I have for you another review.

Armstrong, Jennifer. 2006. The American Story: 100 True Tales From American History

This rather heavy book entitled simply The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History is written by Jennifer Armstrong and illustrated by Roger Roth. It features 100 small portraits of American history from the sixteenth century (1565) to the twentieth century (2000). Some stories are about famous people, places, or events. Other stories are truly unexpected gems highlighting some forgotten heroes and the like. Others highlight some of America's greatest legends. Some stories feature notes that provide more details. It also features Story ARCS (subject guide), bibliography, and index. Readers will find familiar tales about George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, etc. But they will also find unfamiliar tales. Ordinary tales of what makes America great.

Here is just a highlight of what you can find within its pages:

1655 Keeping Watch, Keeping the Faith

New Amsterdam. The governor-general Peter Stuyvesant is unhappy when the first Jewish immigrants fleeing from Catholic Spain (during the Inquisition) arrive. Wanting at first to throw the Jews out of his city altogether, he is refused permission by the Dutch West India Company. But he's a persistent man "determined to place as many restrictions on the Jews as possible. He would not allow them to become burghers, or citizen. They were not to be trusted to keep the watch but instead would have to pay a fee to make up for not performing guard duty" (21). One Jew, Asser Levy was equally persistent. Determined to prove his worth, he refused to pay the tax and began (without permission) to join the other men in guard duty. "He marched with the burghers, kept guard duty with the burghers, and acted like a burgher, until there was no one in New Amsterdam who could honestly say that he was not a burgher. By his unceasing efforts to keep the watch, Asser Levy at last gained the rights of citizenship for all the Jews of New Amsterdam, and there was nothing that Peter Stuyvesant could do about it" (22). Armstrong's note further elaborates: "Asser Levy became the first Jew in North America to own a house and to sit on a jury, and he was a founding member of the first Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel. By 1662, he was one of the wealthiest men in New Amsterdam" (22).

1804 Going Bananas

In this brief story, readers find out the fascinating history of America's importation of bananas. "But possibly the most unusual thing brought into the harbor [of New York City] in 1804 was a shipment of bananas from Cuba" (63). People had no idea what they were or how you ate them. So they rotted. "The next time bananas made an appearance was in 1830, and pushcart vendors at the docks bought the ripening fruit to sell that very day before it spoiled. As the decades wore on, more and more people were introduced to the banana, but for a while it was so exotic that it was reserved for special occasions such as wedding banquets and holiday feasts. In 1876, bananas were sold at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia for a princely ten cents each. By the turn of the century, tropical fruits were so popular that the country was willing to go to war to protect its agricultural business interests in the Caribbean. By 1905, a mere 101 years after its introduction to the United States, the banana was so popular and so easily available that it was known as the 'poor man's fruit.' Today it is the most widely eaten fruit in America" (64).

1812 Uncle Sam

If you're like me you might have always secretly wondered what the deal was with "Uncle Sam" and how "Uncle Sam" became a patriotic symbol in this country...Armstrong presents this fascinating story. In 1812 during the war with Britain, America needed to keep soldiers and sailors well supplied and fed. A meat packer in Troy, New York, Sam Wilson was given a contract to supply soldiers (and sailors) with cured beef in barrels. Since each barrel was intended for the government, it was stamped U.S. But "since Wilson was known locally as Uncle Sam, people began saying 'U.S.' stood for Uncle Sam Wilson" (69). "And as the barrels rolled their way down from New York, the term rolled along with them...eventually the entire nation adopted Uncle Sam as the nickname for the federal government" (70).

1849 This Side Up

Henry Brown's story is a fascinating one. Born a slave on a plantation in Virginia, he remained a slave most of his life until one day while he was praying an idea came to him. "One night while he prayed for deliverance, the word "box" came into his mind. I'll put myself in a box and mail myself to freedom, he thought with wondering awe. He could deliver himself" (99). With help from some local sympathizers, he mailed himself to an abolitionist in Philadelphia. "The box they constructed was just big enough to hold him. It was two and a half feet deep, two feet wide, and three feet long. They lined the rough boards with cloth and drilled airholes for ventilation. Henry packed a canteen of water and supplied himself with some biscuits" (100). Though the box said "This Side Up: Handle With Care," his journey was not easy but when he arrived he was finally free.

1851 Ain't I A Woman

I won't go into too many details here, but I am so glad that Jennifer Armstrong chose to include the story of Sojourner Truth in her collection. Her speech, which Armstrong highlights extensively, is such a powerful piece of literature. I am happy that young readers will discover this story long before they reach college literature classes which is where I discovered this gem.

1884 Hold Your Horses, Here Come The Elephants!

A year after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, people were still fearful that the bridge would collapse. Enter onto the scene P.T. Barnum and his circus, and the crowd need never fear the bridge's stability again: "Barnum would march part of his parade from Manhattan to Brooklyn, across the bridge. The sacred white Incian elephant that had joined Barnum's circus was a celebrity attraction, but no elephant in the world could match the mighty Jumbo in popularity" (161). His circus parade concluded with Jumbo bringing up the rear. "The most prodigious pachyderm in the known world came marching along on ponderous feet, flapping his great ears and tossing his trunk in the air. 'Hooray for Jumbo!' came shouts of delight. Horses reared and snorted at the wild-beast smell of the elephants, and the toll keeper at the end of the bridge let the parade through without asking a nickel: he didn't know what toll to charge an elepant" (162).

1907 The Woeful Plight of Mary Mallon

Typhoid Mary's story told in a kid-friendly style.

1956 All Shook Up

The story of Elvis.

1980 The Fire Mountain

The eruption of Mount Saint Helens.

Each story varies in length between two to five pages, often depending on how large the accompanying illustrations for that particular story are. It concludes with the election of 2000. It is arranged chronologically, but readers will find it easy to browse and scan as well. The subject guide at the back of the book is also convenient for making connections and establishing patterns in history.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Night of the Burning

Wulf, Linda Press. 2006. The Night of the Burning: Devorah's Story.

Linda Press Wulf's first novel is inspired by the childhood of her mother-in-law, Devorah Lehrman. Beautifully written, it is a story about the anguish of losing family and home and the importance of remembering. The novel won the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award and first prize for a juvenile fiction manuscript from the California Writers Club.

Based on a true story, The Night of the Burning, tells the story of two sisters, orphans who at the ages of twelve and nine have witnessed too much already: the death of their uncle, father, mother, aunt, and the destruction of the entire Jewish community where they lived. As their community's sole survivors, the girls are rescued and sent to an orphanage in Pinsk. There the girls are chosen to be part of two hundred children sent to the Jewish community in South Africa. Their leader, a philanthropist, Isaac Ochberg, whom the children call "Daddy Ochberg."

The man patted the bench next to him, and I sat down warily. "I'll explain why I am here," he began. "I've come a long way, from a country called South Africa, down at the tip of Africa. There are Jewish people there, and they're worried about all the children in Europe who have no fathers and mothers because of the Great War. Ant that craziness they call the Russian Revolution." I knew about the Great War and the Russian Revolution, but they meant nothing to me. I only thought about the morning when we tucked Papa's blankets in to try to keep him warm, when he was already dead. And I thought about Mama before she died, calling for more water, more water, as the typhoid burned her from inside. I thought about the flames galloping through our village, the synagogue glowing red against the night. I shook my head to get rid of those thoughts. I needed to concentrate on the strange things Mr. Ochberg was saying. "So they sent me to find two hundred children and bring them back to South Africa. It's a beautiful country and a safe place for Jews. I'll take you and your little sister. But only if you really want to go with me." (7-8)

The story is communicated through a series of flashbacks, juxtaposing her journey to South Africa with her memories of home both pleasant and frightening. Our narrator is Devorah who ages from twelve to fourteen throughout the telling of this story. It is an amazing story of hope and despair, fear and joy, tears and laughter. It is the journey of how two sisters learned to laugh, love, and hope once more.
Isaac Ochberg