Sunday, May 29, 2016

Serafina Summer Tour Coming to Knoxville

Join New York Times bestselling author Robert Beatty to celebrate the release of his new book, Serafina and the Twisted Staff, the highly anticipated sequel to last year's runaway hit set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Published by Disney Hyperion, this exciting mystery-thriller for adults and young readers (8+) follows the story of a brave and deeply unusual girl who lives at Biltmore Estate amidst the opulence of the Gilded Age.

THE 2016 SUMMER TOUR! This special event includes a presentation by the author, Q&A, free food & drink, a book signing, screening of the new book trailer, lots of Serafina giveaways, and the opportunity to meet the author and fans of Disney Hyperion's newest book series.

Early praise from the prestigious Kirkus Reviews says Twisted Staff is “Even better than its predecessor, a sequel that delivers nonstop thrills from beginning to end." (Starred Review)

Since its release last year, the first book, Serafina and the Black Cloak, has been on the New York Times Best Sellers List for 20 weeks. It has also appeared on the best seller lists of Publisher’s Weekly, USA TODAY, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and independent bookstores. It was selected by the Southern Independent Booksellers Association as representing the "best in Southern literature,” and has won many honors Recently, it was named as a finalist for the prestigious 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize. A fast favorite for teachers and students, the book is being taught in hundreds of classrooms across the nation and has appeared on summer reading and Battle of the Books lists.

If you haven't already, be sure to watch the video trailer for Book 1:

Scheduled for nationwide release on July 12, Serafina and the Twisted Staff is available for pre-order now.

Spring Reading 2016 Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars


The lovable duo of Penny and Jelly are back. This time they are excited about a star-viewing sleepover at the community center. They plug in their home planetarium and practice finding constellations together. (The Dog Star, Sirius, is their favorite.)  But as Penny makes a list of everything she needs to pack for the night, she notices that no pets are allowed.  What can she do? With her usual determination and creativity, Penny tries to make a substitute Jelly to take with her. But none of the fake Jellys come out right. Not the one made of a fleece blanket, or cotton balls, or buttons, or... When it is time to leave, her "backpack was full, but Penny felt empty without Jelly." What a perfect description of how it feels to try and do a fun activity without your best friend there with you. As usual, Penny finds the perfect solution, and the night ends with "a constellation of friends, surrounded by a galaxy of Jellys."

Just as in their previous story, The School Show, Penny has enough perseverance and energy for several girls and Jelly is a faithful companion throughout everything. I love the variety of materials that are used to create one substitute Jelly after another. I can picture a class having their own Jelly creation station and then the students having an art show of their efforts. The illustrations are just as wonderful a match for the text as they were in the first book. I'm still amazed at the way Thyra can get Jelly's face to show so much expression. The forlorn look as Penny heads toward the door with her backpack is enough to break my heart (even though I was sure Penny would figure out a solution). And the end papers with the constellations are beautiful.

Highly recommended - a great story about friendship, creativity, and problem-solving. Readers who enjoy stories like Fancy Nancy will find a new favorite in Penny & Jelly.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library.

Spring Reading 2016 Penny & Jelly: The School Show


Anyone who has ever been nervous about the school talent show or had a furry best friend will identify with Penny and Jelly. Penny is a girl who is full of optimism and energy as she tries to decide on an act. Everyone else at school has a talent to demonstrate up on stage, but Penny can't seem to find the one for her. She tries everything from tuba playing to snake charming and through it all, Jelly is right there to support her. Okay, so there was that one time when Jelly hid under the bed while Penny did the cha cha. Don't judge - you wouldn't want your tail or paws stepped on either. And just when it seems that Penny is "untalented," Jelly helps her find the perfect performance idea.

There are so many things to love about this book. The bond between the two friends is so warm and strong. As soon as Penny walks out of the school, Jelly is there waiting on her. Jelly also has remarkable patience as Penny tries out magic tricks like sawing Jelly in half or making her disappear. The doggie fashion design that Penny attempts is a bit over the top, with socks, ribbons, a boa, and gift wrap combined together. The expressions on Jelly's furry face are priceless. Watching her shake, jiggle, and roll until the outfit falls off is almost as funny as the outfit itself. Seeing her lick Penny's hand, lay her head on Penny's lap, and follow her into the closet when she gives up in defeat - you know that this is a faithful friend.

Between the humor and the affection in the story and the lovely illustrations that show the two friends trying time and again, you feel as if you know both girl and dog. And the results of the talent show are a well-deserved reward for all their efforts.

Highly recommended for dog lovers, readers who enjoy school stories, and teachers who are covering topics like perseverance or even list-making.

Check out the great talent show kit from Curious City DPW.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Serafina and the Twisted Staff


For those of us who live in East Tennessee, Biltmore House in North Carolina is a nearby tourist destination. If you visit, you can see the luxuries available for the family and their guests- including a bowling alley and indoor pool, and even some of the servant's quarters and areas like the kitchen. But the areas Serafina and her father are most familiar with down in the basement and mechanical rooms, are places not many tourists have seen. Serafina's father helped to build Biltmore and then stayed to tend the machines that keep it running, like the dynamo that provides electricity for the lights and modern conveniences. Unlike the other workers with families, he has chosen to live down in the boiler room (without permission) and he has his daughter hidden away down there with him. He constantly warns her that she must stay hidden, not draw attention to herself, and stay out of the forest around the estate.

In the first book, Serafina and her friend Braeden (George Vanderbilt's nephew), defeat the villain in the black cloak. This new book takes up the story 3 weeks after those events. Although she no longer has to stay hidden, Sera still tends to nap during the day and stay up at night. She has also been spending time out in the forest with her mother. After one of these visits she is attacked by wolfhounds on her way back to the mansion. The hounds are controlled by a dark figure that arrives in a strange carriage that continues on to the mansions without him. By the time Serafina makes it back to Biltmore, torn and bruised from her fight with the wolfhounds, the horses have been stabled and no one can tell her who arrived in the carriage.

Inexplicable things continue to happen. Animals flee the area in a mass exodus, everything from beavers to moths. The animals that remain begin to act strangely, attacking those they know as if they were dangerous strangers. A detective arrives and questions everyone about the disappearance of Mr. Thorne (a character from the first book). But Serafina is convinced that he is not who he claims to be and has a different purpose for this presence in the house. And a serious accident threatens to end her friendship with Braeden. How can she solve what is going on without any help? As readers make their way through the story, they may begin to notice the clues that point to the villain, but there are several suspicious characters and enough odd occurrences to keep everyone guessing until the very end.

Although most of the action centers in the mansion itself, some scenes take place in the forest around the estate. Descriptions of the trees, the animals, even the rivers and streams conjure up the atmosphere perfectly. If you have ever visited the Appalachian Mountains, you will recognize the scenery right away. There are plenty of details provided about the house and its furnishings, the clothing of the staff and guests, and even examples of the range of people who were invited there. For middle grade readers (or older) who enjoy the world of Downton Abbey, this would be a similar world.

I really enjoyed how the story wove history, period detail, local legends, and fantasy elements together. Serafina is an heroine full of life and courage, even when she is frightened for herself and others. My favorite quote from the first book is, "Our character isn't defined by the battles we win or lose, but by the battles we dare to fight," and it makes an appearance in this story, too. But there is another thought from this book that I hope will stick with young readers. At one point Serafina is trying to decide if she should stay at Biltmore or go and find a different place for herself. "As she tried to envision her future, she realized there were many paths, many different ways to go, and part of growing up, part of living, was choosing which paths to follow."

If you enjoy historical fiction, mysteries, fantasy, or combinations of those themes - you should give this book a try. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Check out the book trailer, or visit the author's website.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Owls! Strange and Wonderful


Last week our school had the Birds of Prey Rescue come do a presentation. They brought in a red-tailed hawk, a kestrel, a screech owl, and a barn owl. It was an amazing learning experience for all of us. So imagine my surprise when I found a copy of this book and saw so many of the same facts in it that I had just learned! Things like - there are owls on every continent but Antarctica and there are around 240 species of owls. He also describes how they make good nocturnal hunters because of their silent flight and keen hearing. The various sizes of owls and the different colorings they have evolved to help them survive in habitats around the world are incredible.

There is plenty of detail in the main text, but the captions for the illustrations add even more. And let me just say, the illustrations are excellent. You can see the feather tufts on the great horned owl, the protective coloration that lets a screech owl blend into the branch it is sitting on, and even the scorpion hanging out of the elf owl's beak. Special physical features such as the talons on an owl's feet that help them grip their prey or the facial disks that direct sound to their ears to make their hearing more acute are all shown and explained.

I also like the way Pringle talks about how owls have been viewed throughout history. Some people, like the Athenians, revered the owl and linked it with their goddess Athena. Other groups like the Mayans considered owls an omen of death. The author even mentions Harry Potter's owl, Hedwig. And in the back matter there are lists of books and websites where you can learn more. There are also a glossary and an index - very helpful for doing research.

If you enjoy this title, you may want to check out the rest of his Strange and Wonderful series, which includes Octopuses, Sharks, and Bats (to name just a few).

Spring Reading 2016 If You Were Me and Lived in...Colonial America


Carole P. Roman's new series on different historical periods throughout the world also includes a book on Colonial America. As usual, there are tons of facts and details, including the clothing, foods, and housing used by the early colonists. Carole describes a typical family, explaining the home they would have lived in, the social customs, and the education the children would receive. She compares the conditions the family has left behind in England to what the new colony had to offer (not much - no stores, no existing houses, etc.). She includes information about how the colonists interacted with the Wampanoag tribe, the signing of the Mayflower Compact to govern the colony, and the first Thanksgiving.

Carole explains the disagreements over religion and how the national religious practices changed depending on the ruling monarch. With a simple description of the major changes brought about by Henry VIII and the later migration of Protestants to the Dutch Netherlands, she leads up to the reasons why many families were willing to take the chance of moving to the North American wilderness. The hardships of that first winter with minimal shelter, then the struggle to grow food and learn to hunt and fish in this new land are included in the narrative.

At the back of the book there is a section with brief descriptions of famous people such as Pocahontas, Myles Standish, and Peter Minuit. And there is a glossary of terms to help out readers who may not be familiar with jerkins, petticoats, or poppets.

A nice introduction to young readers who are curious about the past and important time periods and people. This series gives a broad overview of each period and location, and enough specifics to answer basic questions while also giving facts that can lead to further research. This will fit in well with elementary school social studies lessons on early North American colonists.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 If You Were Me and Lived in...Renaissance Italy


Carole P. Roman continues to expand her new series on different historical periods throughout the world. I just finished the book on Renaissance Italy. As usual, there are tons of facts and details, including the clothing, foods, and recreation enjoyed by the people of Florence during the late fifteenth century. Carole has chosen a merchant family as her example, explaining the home they would have lived in, the social customs, and the education the children would receive. But she also compares that family to their servants, pointing out that cloth merchants would have worn very elaborate clothing to show what their merchandise was like, while their servants would only have one simple set of clothing. She also compares what the family eats to what those less wealthy might have on their table. 

I like how the time period is described. Carole explains that Europe was beginning to move out of the Middle Ages, rediscovering classical scholarship and art. The merchants and wealthy families around Florence were able to enjoy fabrics, spices, and foods imported from other lands. Art, architecture, and other creative pursuits benefited from the classical influences and the wealthy were able to act as patrons for artists of all sorts. The importance of the church is shown by how the cathedral dominates the city's skyline, as well as how many of the statues and paintings showed religious subjects and themes. 

At the back of the book there is a section on why the Renaissance was so important to art. Another section gives brief descriptions of famous people such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Lorenzo de Medici, and Machiavelli. And there is a glossary of terms to help out readers who may not have encountered some of the Italian terms like loggia, or heard of saffron or vermilion.

A nice introduction to young readers who are curious about the past and important time periods and people. This series gives a broad overview of each period and location, and enough specifics to answer basic questions while also giving facts that can lead to further research.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Twenty Yawns


Lucy has a wonderful day at the beach with her parents. She digs in the sand, plays in the waves, and walks all the way to the end of the beach with her mom and dad. By the end of a day filled with sand castles, kites, and rolling down the dunes, everyone is ready for an early bedtime. When her mother falls asleep in the middle of reading her a bedtime story, Lucy decides that she needs her teddy bear. After she gets her bear (Molasses), and all her other animals tucked in, she finally gives one last yawn and falls asleep.

There is so much to enjoy about this book. The cultural diversity of the family is welcome, especially in the current push for more inclusion in media of all sorts. It is nice to see a family enjoying each other and their day together. The illustrations capture the warm golds and browns of the sand and the cool blue of the water. Castillo shows the long walk down the beach by having the family appear several times along the length of the sand. In each appearance they are doing something different - watching Lucy run after a seagull, helping her fly a kite, swinging her between them as they hold her hands. It is easy to see why they are all yawning as they head back home. The beautiful twilight sky with the silhouettes of palm trees will have readers longing for their own trip to the beach. There are wonderful vocabulary words such as horizon, veil, and mysterious. And I love the little details like Lucy putting her pajamas on inside out because she is so tired.

Whether you have beach memories of your own family trip(s), Twenty Yawns is a wonderful bedtime story. Younger children will have fun counting all the yawns throughout the book or helping out with the sound effects. Those who are reading independently will enjoy the humor of parents falling asleep while the child is wide awake, or the idea that a teddy bear looks especially tired. A cozy way to end the day for everyone.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Los Pollitos/Little Chickies


Los Pollitos is based on a very popular nursery rhyme in Spanish about little chickies. The original rhyme in Spanish tells the story of baby chicks hatching out of their eggs, crying because they are cold and hungry, then eating and snuggling up to mama for a nap. The English version tells the same story, also in rhyme. The illustrations are filled with chubby-cheeked yellow chicks and a mama hen in warm browns. I love the way the chickies say "Pio" rather than the "Peep, peep" that is often seen in English language books for young children. 

Families and teachers looking for bilingual books (English/Spanish), have a new resource in Canticos from Susie Jaramillo. Their unique presentation sets them apart from others in that genre. If you have read others, then you are familiar with the different ways the text is arranged. Sometimes the text is written in one language on one page, then in the other language on the facing page. In other books, the languages alternate lines on the page. Both ways can seem a little overwhelming because you feel that you have to read all the words, and that can mean a lot of repetition. But the Canticos books are put together with an accordion fold that lets you read through the story in one language, then flip it and read back through in the other language. There are also interactive elements like flaps to peek beneath and wheels to spin. The text and illustrations form a recipe for fun and educational books for young readers.

I read an ebook provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

"As a Latina mom exposed to songs and traditions from both the US and my native Venezuela, I've had a hard time finding books, apps and videos of the nursery rhymes I grew up with," says Brooklyn-based author-artist Susie Jaramillo. "In talking to people in both Latino and non-Latino communities, I realized this was missing from bookshelves and digital platforms everywhere." Jaramillo recently left the advertising world to apply her brand building and storytelling skills to the children's world. "In addition to promoting bilingual/multilingual learning, we hope the books, apps and videos also promote a sense of community and connect kids, especially Latino kids, to their culture."

Canticos has developed an innovative reversible design that offers the continuous original story in its native Spanish language one one side, and a new rhyming English language version on the other. A reader can read the story through one one side, get to the end, and flip the book to read the story in the second language. The English adaptation of the song is as catchy and lyrical as the Spanish version and sure to enchant new audiences not familiar with the original song.  The book is also interactive, with lift-the-flap and turn-the-wheel novelty features to encourage interaction and fine motor skills.

"A thoroughly engaging, ingeniously designed Latino celebration."
-STARRED review, Kirkus

"Belong[s] on every early reader's bookshelf... Sing your heart out while teaching your little one some Spanish with this adorable, bilingual book!"
-Heather Newman,

"Truly worthy and recommended for the shelves of every
public and school library."
-Luciana Acosta, School Library Journal

Spring Reading 2016 Genius: The Game


The world is growing smaller. Everything and everyone is connected. All those who are marginalized and disenfranchised can now find a voice. Ever hear any of those things? But there are still so many living in countries with limited resources, or living on borrowed time in wealthier countries, or living within the narrow confines of social expectations and cultural roles. A few of those young people are the key players (pun intended), in Genius: The Game. 

Rex Huerta is the son of illegal aliens living in the U.S. and is a massively talented programmer. Tunde is an engineering/repurposing genius whose African village has been threatened by a ruthless warlord. Painted Wolf is an activist from China who specializes in getting proof of corruption and illegal activities. All three wind up in a competition set up by a young multi-millionaire and prodigy, Kiran Biswas. Along with all the other contestants, these friends are brought to the Boston Collective to participate in "The Game." What the other young players don't realize is that the three members of The Lodge are all there for their own reasons. And the closer they get to the final competition, the more complicated and dangerous everything becomes.

If you enjoy conspiracy theories, international intrigues, lots of geek details like - diagrams of solar collector arrays, hardwired Hercules beetles, and spy cams hidden in sunglasses, then you should like this series. Each of the main characters has a mission (finding Rex's brother Teo, saving Tunde's village, and Wolf uncovering secrets while protecting her parents) and we are all along for the ride as they travel from their homes toward Boston and their destinies.

I read an ebook provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spring Reading 2016 Nobody Likes a Goblin


I fell in love with Ben Hatke's illustrations while reading Zita the Spacegirl, and that love has transferred to his amazing picture books like Julia's House for Lost Creatures and now Nobody Likes a Goblin. Not only do the illustrations have the same liveliness and charm, but the story line is wonderful, too. Although the title may lead us to believe that goblins are unlikable, the title character is actually quite nice. He feeds the rats that share the ruins he calls home and he has a friend named Skeleton that he enjoys spending time with. When Skeleton is kidnapped, Goblin must set out to find and rescue his friend. Along the way he does encounter many people who dislike him on first sight, but his persistence pays off in the end

There are so many reasons to love this story (besides the fact that Ben Hatke created it). It is a great tale of friendship and loyalty. It also shows great bravery - after all, Goblin is rather small, but he goes out into the wide world and continues past obstacles until he finds his missing friend. As someone who played hours of D&D and other role-playing games during my school years, I had to laugh at the adventurers who cause all the trouble. It's quite true that adventurers are in it for the gold and glory and rarely stop to think about the lives they are disrupting as they haul off the loot they have found. And it is refreshing to see a goblin going against typecasting and being the good guy.

Readers will enjoy multiple jaunts into this book and notice new details each time (hint - look for the damsel in the wagon). I highly recommend it to all ages. Share it with a friend, because everything is better with a friend. Right, Goblin?

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 The Adventures of Blue Ocean Bob: Into the Lead


This would be a good book to give a young reader who is fascinated with the ocean. Bob is determined to help ocean animals and preserve their habitat. He has ocean friends like Doc (a sea turtle), Al (a dolphin), and Tom (a whale). His constant companion is a hummingbird named Xena. With some supervision by his mentor, Miss Mary Marine, Bob helps to seal a crack in the ocean floor that is causing an oil spill. But when Mary has to leave for Great Lizard Island, Bob must take over his mentor's job and protect the ocean and its creatures. All the responsibilities seem like they might be too much to handle, but Bob takes some good advice and finds a young helper to train. 

Many of the problems that Bob and the others solve actually occur in real life, too. Things like oil spills, dolphins tangled in fishing nets, animals beached and unable to return to the water on their own, and placing trackers on whales are all situations that marine biologists and conservationists face. And, just as in real life, it helps to have friends for support, added muscle power, and wise counsel. I wish that Bob was a bit more confident in his own abilities, but he does not give up or let his fears stop him from helping others. The lessons of perseverance, teamwork, and problem-solving are valuable for young readers.

Those interested in oceanography, ocean animals, or conservation may want to find the rest of the series once they finish this book. The books are written in rhyming text, with colorful illustrations. It is a short book for those just moving into chapter books, or would also make a good read-aloud. 

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Bloom

Who says fairies have to be tiny and delicate? We've all seen "Maleficent," after all. But Bloom isn't that kind of fairy either; no horns, no darkly sinister appearance. Bloom is a powerful fairy that can make wonderful transformations, but she also leaves cracks and mud in her footsteps. And like most wonderful creatures, she eventually is taken for granted by the people who have profited from her magic. When Bloom decides to live in the forest, they are glad to see her go. Well...they are glad until the kingdom begins to fall apart and even the wonders of duct tape can't hold it together much longer. After the king and the queen both fail to find the magical creature and bring her back to save the kingdom, they decide to send someone ordinary instead. Genevieve, the smallest and quietest person in the kingdom is sent into the forest. And Bloom does what she does best, transforms her. The message that is carried back to the castle is perfect, "There is no such thing as an ordinary girl." Perfect book for celebrating girl power!

There is so much about this book to love. Doreen Cronin has a knack for writing stories that readers will return to again and again. David Small's illustrations are enchanting; I especially like the way the watercolors capture the translucent glass castle. The text adds to the fun by changing font and size to emphasize words like mud, beetles, and dirt. When the king addresses Bloom, his words begin with a very gothic letter "I." And the queen's speech begins with an "I" done in lots of flourishes and curlicues. Genevieve's words are in a tiny font to match her tiny voice. (Tiny at first, anyway - but that changes after her return from the forest.)

Besides its message of girl power, there are many other things that readers can learn from this story. There is the idea that everyone, no matter their age or size, can do something important. There is the persistence that Genevieve displays when it takes her 17 attempts to make a perfect brick. And there is the wonderful tie-in to making, with Bloom turning sand to spun glass and mud into bricks. It may be a book that centers on female characters, but everyone will be delighted by it.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.