Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Where's Your Hat, Abe Lincoln?


Wonderful basic intro to characters of the Civil War era. President Lincoln cannot find his hat anywhere, and his friends aren't available to help look for it. They are all busy with their own activities - nursing wounded soldiers, giving lectures, etc. But when he finally tracks his hat down, he makes it to Pennsylvania to speak at Gettysburg. Each two-page spread features a different historical figure, including: Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Sojourner Truth, Ulysses S. Grant, Thaddeus Stevens, and William Seward. On the pages with Grant we also see Robert E. Lee. There are brief biographies of all the characters as well as a timeline of major events from 1845-1881 in the back of the book.

The illustrations show iconic features of the characters - Douglass writing a book, Sojourner Truth's shawl around her shoulders, Grant's uniform and horse, and Tubman with her lantern leading slaves to freedom. Between the images and the brief text for each spread, the book is a quick and easy read - perfect to introduce the historical period, or read just for fun.

I love this book as much as the Ben Franklin title from the series. Everything from the illustrations, to the choice of characters to include, to the back matter makes them great for young history buffs, clever introductions to topics and historical figures in the classroom, and even as mentor texts for students to create their own biographical board books.

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue


Bill the tugboat and Mabel the barge are friends on the Hudson River. The fancier and bigger ships actually insult Mabel, calling her "silly stupid and (gasp!) boring." Even though Mabel and Bill pretend not to hear it, they do. But when Mabel saves a kitten who falls into the river and becomes a hero featured in the newspaper, suddenly those vain ships are wishing they were more like that lowly barge.

This story offers a lesson on appreciating others and about how helping others is a good thing. It could also be used in a lesson on adjectives. The words describing the river, Boris (Bill's sleepy captain), Mabel, and the other ships are great examples to pull from. Of course, the brightly colored illustrations and the successful rescue of the kitten make it a good read-aloud for the very young - especially those already fascinated by boats.

Summer Reading 2017 If I Were a Kangaroo


Fans of Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny will feel right at home in this story. A mother tucking her child in for the night tells what she would do if she were various animals at that time of night. A kangaroo would pop her baby in her pocket, while a mother bat would just be waking up to find her baby some dinner. The animals vary from domesticated to wild, land creatures to sea denizens, and something as tiny as spiders to tall giraffes. The habitat and habits of the different animals are reflected in the text and the illustrations.

I should point out that the illustrations are drawings in pen or pencil and some digital coloring combined with ink washes that give each scene a softness perfect for a bedtime story. Also, the spread showing the mother giraffe and her calf is laid out so that readers must turn the book sideways to view it, a clever touch which emphasizes the height of the giraffe. The back matter, titled "Sleepy Animal Notes," has a paragraph on each animal along with another illustration of the mother and young one(s). Animal lovers will enjoy learning that sea otters use kelp to keep their babies from floating away or that squirrels use their tails as blankets or umbrellas.

Great for bedtimes, nap times, or any other quiet story times.

Summer Reading 2017 My Busy Green Garden


A cumulative tale and a science lesson (cleverly camouflaged) come together with detailed illustrations to show the variety of life in a flower garden. Readers are told there is "a surprise in clever disguise" hanging in the garden. That clue will prompt a search through the scene on the page to locate the surprise. Other residents of the garden are introduced; ladybug, honeybee, hummingbird, inchworm, mantis, dragonfly, ants, grasshopper, and chickadee each appear and engage in their usual behavior. At last, the surprise unwraps itself to reveal... ah, that would be telling!

I will say that other creatures such as beetles, snails, and a chipmunk also move about the garden and many beautiful plants and flowers are shown. For a read-aloud in a one-on-one situation there could be plenty of time spent poring over all the tiny details worked into each spread. The back matter has  a closeup of each of the characters in this tale and a description of their habits. Fittingly, the largest of these entries is saved for the "surprise." Whether you are looking for a gift for a budding young naturalist, adding to a classroom unit on gardens, or even looking for a mentor text to use in a lesson on compound words or verbs, this is a choice that will satisfy all those needs.

Summer Reading 2017 Go for Liftoff! How to Train Like an Astronaut


A perfect addition to any collection of space books, or great as a gift for a future astronaut candidate. Dr. Dave Williams of the Canadian Space Agency has written a guide that covers what to expect if a reader hopes to someday become an astronaut. He details everything from physical training, to how many years of school to complete, to what sorts of experiences ASCANs undergo once they are accepted into the program. Plenty of photos of various astronauts working in simulators, during survival training, or on board the ISS make it a fascinating read. There are several books and online resources recommended in the Further Reading section at the end of the book.

I appreciate that Dr. Dave chose to include not only the STEM topics related to space travel, but he also points out the components of personality and attitude that are essential for success. Curiosity, commitment, passion, and resilience are just as important as medical training or piloting skills. This book covers the process clearly enough to give young readers a good idea of what to expect, but does not bog down with minutiae that would make it a boring read.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Hidden Human Computers


At ALA Midwinter 2017, Duchess Harris spoke to audiences about her book and her legacy as the granddaughter of one of NASA's hidden human computers. Growing up with that story in her family, she was inspired to pursue her own academic and career goals. Now she has co-authored this book that tells the story of those African American women who helped make the Space Race possible. Anyone who has seen the movie "Hidden Figures" has an idea of the prejudice and limitations these women had to deal with, and now this title for young readers makes it an accessible piece of history. Besides the details of the various women who are featured in the account, the archival photos make sure that they are not faceless names in a history book. Sidebars hold numerous extra facts and references.

For classes tracing the history of Civil Rights in the US, this is a book that describes the earliest opportunities for education and advancement from the time of the Civil War up to the opening of NASA's Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity in 2015. Back matter includes a timeline, Essential Facts (key figures, events, and their impact on society), a glossary, and a list of additional resources.

Duchess Harris and I (Jan. 2017)

Summer Reading 2017 Everything's Changed (The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine #3)


If you've enjoyed Sternberg's books such as Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, then you know what to expect. There are plenty of recognizable characters, some of them may even seem to have stepped out of your life and into the book. Celie is dealing with a lot of changes in her own life. Her grandmother's memory is not working well and the family moves to a different apartment so that they will have room for a a nurse to move in and help Granny. The move means a new school, leaving behind her old friends, and trying to make new ones. Unfortunately, one of the friends that Celie makes gets her into a lot of trouble with her sister, her parents...pretty much everyone. Celie will have to decide what is right and wrong and stand up for her beliefs about what makes a good friend.

For those who haven't tried any of the Celie stories yet, the books can be read on their own, or in order - whichever you prefer. No matter how you decide to approach the series, be prepared for some laughs and some moments of sympathy pain. Great realistic fiction for readers moving into chapter books.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Summer Reading 2017 Thunder Underground


Master writer Jane Yolen has done it again. Her collection of poetry about what can be found underground is entertaining and informative. Everything from basements to underground rivers are explored and explained in various poetic forms. Some of the verses are introduced by quotes from other sources, but most leave it up to the reader to delve in and make connections with the meaning. "Thunder Underground," the title of the book, is also the title of a poem that describes the movement of beetles. Josee Masse's illustrations capture the charm and mystery of the poem's subject matter. On a page that deals with spelunking, we can see salamanders, scorpions, and other cave dwellers scampering just out of the light from an explorer's headlamp. "Corny Conversations" shares the news that corn rootlings communicate, and the picture shows rings like sonar radiating out from the plants. Dinosaur lovers will enjoy the variety of skeletal structures depicted on the pages along with the poem "Notes from Some Old Fossils."

Whether your interest is poetry, science, or a love of all things written by Jane Yolen, this book does not disappoint. Perfect to use as examples of how poetry can reflect nature and scientific topics (pair with Joyce Sidman), or to look at poetic language ("skirls of change: lacings of pipes, snorkeling sewers"), and a great addition to collections in elementary school libraries and classrooms.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 The Youngest Marcher


Audrey was a young girl when Mike, Martin Luther King, visited with her family in Birmingham. Listening to the news, hearing the adults talk about all the problems with segregation, Audrey knew she wanted to do something to change things. She became the youngest of the students who participated in the Children's March and were jailed in Birmingham in May 1963. Author Cynthia Levinson was able to speak with Audrey and other marchers, as well as doing other research to prepare her manuscript. Details of the dishes served at her family dinners, the names of stores and ice cream parlors where Audrey wanted to be served equally, and even the name of her teacher make the story come to life. The illustrations show the clothing of the era, the large TV sets, and the signs carried by the marchers, making it easy to imagine Audrey in that time and place.

There are plenty of books about Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks, but there are still many figures from history that need to have their tales shared. Audrey is one of those figures, and now there is this book perfect for elementary school classes and libraries.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Murder, Magic, and What We Wore


If you were a 16-year-old young lady in London in 1818, all you should be worrying about is the social season and whether you have the right gowns for the right occasions. Unfortunately, Annis Whitworth has just received the news that her father is dead and then his lawyer brings the news that all the money from his banking accounts has mysteriously disappeared. Suspecting that her father worked as a spy for the War Department, Annis decides to take up the family trade and use her ability to sew magical glamours to find out who killed her father and where his money went. (BTW - glamours are magical clothing that can disguise someone, even to changing their facial appearance.) If she is lucky, she may even make enough money to prevent her aunt from being hounded by creditors. 

The characters of Annis, her Aunt Cassia, and the redoubtable maid Millie are a pleasure to read about and cheer for. Society of their day may have thought that women were weak and sheltered creatures, but these ladies can use knives, crack ciphers, and mend a ripped seam as well as any male agents. The supporting cast of Miss Spencer (friend and patisserie owner), Mr. Harrington (her father's man of business), and the insufferable society snobs Lord and Lady Prippingforth and their nephew Mr. Hustlesmith, provide plenty of opportunity for our heroine and her allies to use their skills of the verbal, physical, and wardrobe varieties.

A middle grade read-alike for Curtsies and Conspiracies, without the werewolves and vampires, but with magical glamours instead. Annis is sure to become a favorite character and leave readers hoping for a new adventure soon.

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

Summer Reading 2017 Perfecto Pet Show (Bobs and Tweets #2)


In this second of the Bobs and Tweets series, Lou Tweet and Dean Bob are friends and neighbors who attend Bonefish Street School together. As we read, we learn that their families are complete opposites in nature. The Tweets are all neat freaks, while the Bobs are mellow...well, slobs. And the funny thing is that Lou is very loud and messy unlike her family, and Dean is very quiet and neat unlike the rest of the Bobs. (It makes you wonder if the two kids were swapped at the hospital when they were born.) Their characters also have pets with similar outlooks; Lou's cat is outgoing and adventurous, but Dean's dog is shy and doesn't like messes. When their teacher declares a pet talent show, both families offer to help in their own unique ways. Lou and Dean choose to do things on their own, but when disaster strikes on the way to the show, the families have to cooperate despite their differences. Can such opposites really get along well enough to make it to the show on time? 

Obviously this was written with youngsters in mind. The full color illustrations and zany antics will capture the attention of avid and reluctant readers alike. I found the rhyming text a bit much, but it is probably more appealing to the intended audience. Overall it is a good book for those who are transitioning into chapter books but still enjoy the visual interest and support of a heavily illustrated text. Recommended for readers who like school and family stories with plenty of humor.

I won an ARC in a Goodreads giveaway.

Summer Reading 2017 Venturess


In Mechanica we were introduced to a complex world with the kingdoms of Faerie and Esting so different from each other and so intriguing. The folk from the Faerie kingdom are re-imagined in a way that shows them as distinctly nonhuman, however humanoid their appearance can be. The magic of Faerie and the mechanical, gear-driven inventions of Esting are as unlike as their creators. And there is Nicolette, our heroine - intelligent, inventive, and so lonely and mistreated since the deaths of her parents. Our hearts can't help but long for her success and happiness.

Now we have Venturess, the second of Nicolette's adventures. After the events in Mechanica, Nick moves from her childhood home and into the city. She lives near her friends Fin and Caro and has a workshop of her own to make her inventions and sell them. When Fin's father agrees to an attempt to negotiate a peace with Faerie, Nick and Caro climb aboard the airship with Fin and set off for the land across the sea. Incredible sights await them, along with discoveries about Nick's past, but so do danger, treachery, and battle. Can their love and friendship see them through all these hazards and into a future where the two realms are at peace?

The wonderment of all the mechanical gadgets (clockwork and otherwise), and the magic of Faerie will dazzle the imaginations of readers. Familiar characters from the first novel such as Fitz, Bex, Lord Alming, and Mr. Candery appear, along with our trio of heroes and Nick's trusty steed Jules. New personalities include the airship's crew, its captain (Wheelock), and the Faerie ruler Talis. Questions of loyalty, duty, love, friendship, and the meaning of family are all addressed by Nick and her companions, and readers will ponder them as they enjoy the story. After all, every good fairy tale has something to teach us.

I highly recommend this for anyone who enjoys fairy tale reworkings, mixtures of magic and mechanics, and young adults who are brave enough to reach for their dreams.

The publisher was kind enough to supply a galley for me to read and review.