Sunday, September 30, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America


It seems, looking back into the dim recesses of the past, that a language arts teacher played the recording of the Orson Welles radio broadcast for us in class at some point. If you haven't heard it yet, you can find it online in a variety of places from YouTube to Audible. But what Gail Jarrow does in this book is trace the path of Welles to the Mercury Theater's time on air and their performance of The War of the Worlds. An excellent timeline in the back matter covers all the major steps along the way.

The narrative gives details of the major players in the adaptation and performance, the social setting (the Great Depression, the American fascination with radio, and fears based on Hitler's rise in Europe), and the reaction and aftermath of the broadcast. Images show the performers, families listening to their radios, headlines, excerpts from letters and telegrams sent in by listeners, and even a photo of the commemorative plaque from Grovers Mill. Illustrations from a 1906 French version of the H.G. Wells book are used to great effect as the radio broadcast is described.

Back matter has a lot to offer for readers who have their interest piqued. There is a section offering websites, DVDs, and books on the broadcast, Welles, Mars, other famous hoaxes, and related fiction. An author's note explains the process Jarrow used to research and write this account. Source notes, a selected biography, picture credits, and an index round out the helpful material.

In this day of fake news and the need for information users to practice discernment and a healthy level of skepticism, this is an amazing example from American history on what happens when people blindly accept media at face value. This book would be a solid way to launch a unit on vetting information sources and hoaxes in general. It is also a great gift for sci-fi fans or anyone interested in broadcasting and media careers.

I read a review copy provided by the publisher.

Fall Reading 2018 Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968


I've been hearing about this book and couldn't wait to read it myself. The excitement was well-founded, because this is an age-appropriate description of the events in Memphis leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. Duncan uses a mix of prose and poetry and the point of view of a young girl whose father is one of the striking sanitation workers to take readers through that time. Lorraine's descriptions of the piles of trash, rolling pennies to pay the rent, and listening to the words of Dr. King make each scene come to life.

As if the brilliant word choices were not enough, R. Gregory Christie's illustrations show Lorraine in her patent leather shoes and hair-bows, the packed pews of the church as the men listen to union leaders, and the National Guard tanks patrolling the streets. The most heartbreaking scene is Coretta Scott King in her funeral clothes. Duncan writes, "Behind a veil of mourning, she buried her love in Georgia."

Additional features include a timeline of the sanitation strike, information about the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, a list of sources, and source notes. This is a must-have for lessons on the Civil Rights Movement, and especially the Memphis Sanitation Strike and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. The balance of prose and poetry and the atmospheric layering of the illustrations make it adaptable to early elementary grades and up.

I read a review copy provided by the publisher.

Fall Reading 2018 The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat


Laurence Pringle is a well recognized name in the genre of narrative nonfiction (see his previous titles on the red fox and owls for further examples). In this latest title he takes us through a year in the life of a little brown bat, beginning with a summer evening as several young males leave the abandoned barn where they roost and head out to hunt for food. The illustrations throughout the book support details in the text like the meticulous care that bats take of their wings, or the way they use echolocation to navigate and find food in the night. A lovely spread shows Otis as he "zigs and zags, flutter and dives, hovers and swoops, dips and swerves."

Don't get me wrong - this is not a book where the animal is named, prettied up, and humanized. The name Otis is actually "chosen for the bat because of the species' scientific name: Myotis lucifugus." Back matter explains that choice along with more details about the little brown bat, including the danger to their population from white-nose syndrome (WNS). There is also a glossary to help with terms like ultrasonic.

This is a great addition to any elementary school library collection, or a perfect gift for a young reader interested in wild life. For those like the students in my area where there are numbers of little brown bats trying to survive WNS, this is a good choice to use in lessons on threatened wildlife populations in local habitats.

I received a review copy from the publisher.

Fall Reading 2018 A Bunch of Punctuation


Anyone seeing "Poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins" on the cover of this book will know they have a good thing. (Just think back to My AmericaI Am the Book, or School People if you don't remember.) This latest anthology has poems by a baker's dozen of different writers, each taking on a different type of punctuation. Alice Schertle shares the colon's complaint. "I wish to complain of the following: neglect, disrespect, lack of use, abandonment, utter exclusion. I call it colon abuse." Jane Yolen points out that "Period is the point that halts you." And according to Betsy Franco, the semicolon claims that "On the page we're quite friendly; we look like a link." (They actually do look that way when you think about it.) Other authors include Charles Ghigna and J. Patrick Lewis, as well as Hopkins himself. Everything from commas to quotation marks are fair game for their verses, and each type of punctuation comes to unique life in their descriptions. 

The illustrations by Serge Bloch add a visual dimension to the rhymes. Apostrophe walks with an S on a leash to illustrate the possessive use, while below them are various characters balancing contractions and kicking around the letters that the apostrophe has replaced. The ellipsis appear as "three lunar eclipses" floating in space while space ships labeled "missing" and "words" fly past. There is a comic flair in the illustrations that will have readers paying close attention to the details.

Perfect for poetry lovers and for use along with grammar lessons on punctuation. Who wouldn't want to learn about how to use exclamation marks to bring superhero mayhem to life? I read a review copy provided by the publisher.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Monsters & Modules (Secret Coders #6)


Hopper, Eni, and Josh work with Professor Bee in their final showdown with the evil One-Zero. He has come up with another plan to release his dreadful Green Pop, only now he has an airborne variety! To defeat him they will have to travel to the professor's home dimension, Flatland, and retrieve another Turtle of Light to use in their battle with One-Zero. For those who have not heard of it before, the dimension that Professor Bee comes from is inspired by the satirical novel Flatland written by Edwin Abbott in 1884. In the country of Flatland the more sides a shape has, the higher its position in society, and women are only lines and not polygons at all. Professor Bee warns the kids that they will be converted into shapes and lines if they are successful in making the journey to Flatland. The problem with that is their lack of experience in being 2-dimensional beings, or in Hopper's case being a line!

And once they succeed, if they do, they will still have to return to the regular world and take on their nemesis. As if an arch villain isn't enough of a challenge, the kids have other problems. Hopper's father is still unresponsive in the hospital. Her mother is moving the whole family to another town. Eni's parents are sending him to a school that focuses on athletics, hoping to make him focus on basketball. Neither have told Josh about their parents' plans. And Hopper and Eni still haven't recovered from their awkwardness over Eni confessing his crush on Hopper. Things are never simple, are they?

This final book in the series brings all the forces to a head: parental expectations, friendship and crushes, an evil principal using the school to further his nefarious schemes, tyrants from another dimension... Along the way our heroes learn what real courage is all about, as well as coding skills like nesting commands and creating subprograms that can be used with more than one main program.

For those readers who have not tried coding before, Secret Coders is a fun introduction to the basic concepts used in creating computer programs. And for those who have, there are plenty of puzzles to solve as the Coders move from one challenge to the next. Everyone can visit the Secret Coders website to learn more.

Highly recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy graphic novels, school stories, and computers. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Fall Reading 2018 Science Comics: The Brain: The Ultimate Thinking Machine


Wow - the brain is amazing and so is this tour of what it accomplishes for us. Our guides through all that information are two sisters, Nour and Fahama, and a couple of their neighbors, a mad scientist and his assistant. It turns out that these neighbors are brain experts since one is a disembodied brain named Dr. Cerebrum and his assistant is a zombie ("Braaains"). As Fahama tries to keep her own brain inside her skull, she stalls for time by getting Dr. Cerebrum to explain all the intricacies of the brain and everything connected to it or controlled by it.

Topics covered include the evolution of life from single-celled organisms to today's humans with their complex brains, the various types of cells that make up the brain and nervous system, the jobs of those cells, the five senses, memory, and everything else related. The discussion of sight and sound gets into the details of wavelengths and frequencies. The different types of memory are covered and there is even guidance on the best way to study for a test.

One of my favorite sections describes the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. They are illustrated as a Star Trek bridge crew with the reaction to a perceived danger and the fight or flight response embodied by the captain (complete with gold command shirt), and the "chilling system" that helps you calm down when the danger is over portrayed by an ultra-calm crewman in science officer blue. (You gotta love a classic reference like that.)

Although this topic is interesting, it is complex and full of difficult vocabulary - even with the illustrations for support. The several pages of glossary in the back are helpful, but this is not light reading. I would recommend it for middle grades and up.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Giveaway The Friendship Experiment

About the book: Madeline Little is Harriet the Spy with a lab notebook in this debut novel full of heart, humor, and a dash of science. 

Everything has been going wrong for aspiring scientist Madeline Little, and she's dreading the start of sixth grade. Now that her best friend has moved to a private school, Maddie has no one to hang out with except a bunch of middle-school misfits. And if you add Maddie's blood disorder, which causes public humiliation at the very worst times, it's all a formula for disaster. At least she can rely on her standard operating procedures, the observations and step-by-step instructions she writes in her top-secret lab notebook. Procedures for how to escape a conversation with your mother, how to avoid the weirdos at school -- it's all in there. Fortunately, no one will ever read it.

But does science have all the answers? This future scientific genius might have to experiment with kindness, compromise, and new definitions of friendship before middle school starts to make sense.
(from back cover)

- - - I have an advance copy that needs a good home, so please enter.  :-)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 9 From the Nine Worlds

Anyone who has read the Magnus Chase novels will already have an appreciation for the kind of humor that Rick Riordan includes in writing them. For those who decided to try this collection of stories to see if they liked the Nine Worlds, here is a quick taste. Odin begins by sharing with us, "My Einherjar have a saying: Some days you are the ax, some days you are the decapitated head. I like it so much, I'm having T-shirts made for the Hotel Valhalla gift shop." So...yes...that's the All-Father, head of the Norse Pantheon, and ruler of Asgard.

The organization of this anthology includes one story set in each of the nine worlds that are interconnected through the World Tree (Asgard, Midgard, Nidavellir, Alfheim, Jotunheim, Helheim, Niflheim, Vanaheim, and Muspellheim), and each story is told by a different character from the Magnus Chase books. There are beserkers, giants, gods and goddesses (including Thor in leather shorts attempting to rack up enough steps on his fitness tracker to win an appearance on a TV show), and even an honorably dead Union soldier.  Their adventures range from shopping for clothing suitable for a 50th anniversary celebration to checking the condition of an egg containing "the future foul fowl of Helheim." Each story also gives us a little more about each of these characters, who all have followings among readers of the series and those fans will welcome some quality time with their favorite(s).

Whether you are a Magnus Chase aficionado or a newbie, there are plenty of thrills and laughs within these pages to keep you entertained. (I must warn newbies, however - these are not the Norse myths as you may know them from watching Thor movies. Just saying.) I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I Know Exactly What You Are


Take a well known children's song and mix in astronomy facts and what do you have? A picture book tour of space with a rhyming text. The book begins with two children in their bedroom. The girl looks out at the night sky with a telescope while the boy looks through an astronomy book. Their room is decorated with a solar system mobile hanging from the ceiling and a poster of the solar system on the wall - obviously they like learning about space. Constellations, black holes, and the various types of stars are  introduced along with other stellar facts. The illustrations are a mix of watercolor, pencil, and collage that captures the twinkle caused by atmospheric turbulence as well as the beams of light from a pulsing neutron star. They also show those children as they finish their stargazing for the night; the girl snuggles down next to a star projector nightlight while her brother cuddles under the covers with his astronaut teddy bear.

Back matter gives a more detailed explanation of each of the stars mentioned in the book and also shows the image again, making it easy to flip back and forth through the book and connect the larger scale illustration with the extra information. This will be a great gift for any children interested in space and science, and a good addition to classrooms and school libraries for teachers to introduce astronomy.

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

Fall Reading 2018 Misfits (Royal Academy Rebels #1)


Jen Calonita has done it again in this series set in the same kingdom as Fairy Tale Reform School. Every prince and princess is required by law to attend the Royal Academy which is run by Fairy Godmother Olivina. Too bad for Devin, because she doesn't want to leave her home and the woodland animals that she cares for. As she tries to fit in and do what she thinks is right, she is reprimanded again and again by Olivina and warned to act like a true princess. But things at the academy are not what they seem. How do harpies manage to crash the first ball of the year? Why is there a dragon running amok and trying to barbecue students? Events just aren't adding up. Devin will need help from her roommates Sasha and Raina and her friends Heath and Logan to try and get to the bottom of the mystery.

Fans of FTRS will be delighted with this new look at Enchantasia from a young royal perspective. Those readers who haven't met Gilly and the others from Reform School will still be able to plunge right in and cheer for Devin and her classmates as they attend classes while surrounded by pixies, talking mirrors, and all the rules in the school manual.

Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys fairy tale retellings, feisty heroines, and lots of humor to go with the danger and mystery. The characters are all unique -  prince who is allergic to dragons, a princess who writes a tabloid column, etc. and the setting is magical (really). I read an e-book provided by the publisher.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 The Stuff of Stars


"In the dark,
in the dark,
in the deep, deep dark,
a speck floated,"

and so begins an amazing story that spans from the beginning of the universe to the birth of a beloved child. The text is deeply descriptive and poetic as it describes the "BANG!" and everything that follows. First is the collision of matter within clouds of gas, then there are stars, explosions, and the gradual formation of planets. Then come the mitochondria (I feel the presence of Meg and Charles Wallace when I see that word), and daisies. And eventually there is another speck, "invisible as dreams, special as Love." A speck that grows and becomes a child that can take "a big breath of the same air once breathed by woolly mammoths." 

The illustrations by Ekua Holmes capture the beauty and power of the text in amazing hand-marbled paper and collage. The beginning shows the white speck in the vast emptiness of black, grey, and dark purple. The first instant of change fills the page with a violent splash of color in the midst of a yellowy orange like the summer sun. When Marion writes of stars "flinging stardust everywhere," Ekua fills the spread with a fireworks display of reds, oranges, and yellows fanning out. And when we read about - "the singing whales, the larks, the frogs" - we see those shapes circling around a greenish blue ball that seems to be the planet we all share. We are all of us "the stuff of stars."

This book is something that readers of all ages can enjoy. Youngsters may be captivated by the lyrical phrases and the amazing colors, reading and rereading as they look for images of lions and larks. Older students may use this as a mentor text in how to write descriptive phrases that capture the imagination and inspire the reader. Art classes can marvel at the complex arrangement of the elements and the color choices used to mirror the words so well. 

It will also become one of those books that are a go-to gift for baby showers, and perhaps graduation gifts. Who wouldn't be flattered to have their bundle of joy compared to the magnificence of that very first speck of possibility floating in the cosmos?  And what graduate wouldn't love to feel the power of knowing they are a being made of stardust?

I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of the book for review purposes and everyone I know will hear all about it. Highly recommended for all readers!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Summer Reading 2018 The Storm Runner

I have one question. Why aren't there any Mayan ancestors in my family tree? Seriously, they have a goddess of chocolate! Anyway, this latest from Rick Riordan Presents focuses on the story of Zane Obispo and the prophecy that is tied to his fate. It foretells that someone will release the imprisoned god of death. Actually, he is the "lord of three things...Death, disaster, and darkness." So what does one kid with a limp have to do with a conflict between ancient Mayan gods that could destroy the world? Zane himself has no clue, so readers learn about it as he does.

Along the way we meet various members of the Mayan pantheon, as well as demons, seers, giants, and shape-shifters. Zane's mother, his uncle (a huge fan of wrestling), his dog Rosie, and his neighbors Mr. Ortiz and Ms. Cab are the only ones Zane trusts. He has just started a new school and already clashed with bullies and the principal. There is a volcano in his backyard. He sees a plane crash. A mysterious girl shows up and warns him about the prophecy. What would a typical teenage guy do? You guessed it - the opposite of what everyone advises him to do.

So we have deadly chili peppers, magical chocolate drinks, enchanted party wear, giant serpents, jaguars, storms, owl attacks, killer basketball games, and all while our hero tries to survive long enough to either fulfill or fall victim to the prophecy. Which will it be?

For those who loved Percy Jackson and the Kane Chronicles, and have now found the joys of the new imprint with Aru Shah - this is your latest crush to be. Welcome to the incredible world of Mayan mythology. Highly recommended for middle grade readers and up.

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

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Summer Reading 2018 Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist


Anyone who has ever dreamed of accomplishing something important will empathize with Sylvia's life story. Her memoir covers her life from her time before she started school to her work at JPL. The growth of her skills in mathematics began at the same time as her first lessons in English, which her mother arranged for her before she started school. Details about her life (in school and out), show a girl who learned from every experience. She learned to excel in class, to balance the expectations of her parents with their traditional upbringing and what she wanted for herself, and to work toward her goals. Her participation in the Girl Scouts taught her important skills like budgeting, planning, and organization.

Changes over time in gender roles, treatment of minority groups, and other social standards show up in the vignettes from Sylvia's years in school and college. The modified basketball rules for female players is one example; the reluctance of the band director to let her play the timbales is another. Each time she met an obstacle, whether it was her father's demand that she save up $5 before getting a library card (in case she damaged a book), or building up the muscles to carry those drums, Sylvia found a way to succeed.

Personally, even though I am not from the same ethnic background as Sylvia, I identified with so many of the situations she described in this memoir. The drive to attend college, the interest in math and science (even though they were not considered girly subjects), even making new friends in the Brownies was very familiar. And when she talked about reading every biography in her school library and looking up to the famous women she discovered in those books, I nearly jumped out of my seat because I had done the same thing. During fourth grade I read every single book in that Childhoods of Famous Americans series!

This is a wonderful book for anyone interested in biographies/memoirs of successful women and LatinX individuals. Girl Scouts and STEM are also valuable topics that run throughout the story. Sylvia's math and organization skills helped her reach her goals of college, a career in industrial engineering, and the opportunity to work on the Solar Polar Solar Probe and the Voyager mission. Highly recommended for middle grades and up.

I read an advance copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.