Saturday, October 27, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 The Three Rules of Everyday Magic


Kate has a lot going on in her life. Her dad moved out while struggling with depression, her best friend has made a new buddy while rehearsing for a musical, and her grandmother is suffering increasingly from dementia. As she struggles with all of these concerns, Kate also continues her karate classes, works through her recent nervousness around her pal Parker, tries to recover her love of music, and even manages to begin a friendship with her classmate Jane. Can Kate figure out a way to hold onto her father and her friend Sofia, while also letting others into her affection? And is her grandmother right when she says there is such a thing as everyday magic that can help? Kate's sensei tells her, "Do not focus on the pain. Focus only on the next move." He is talking about karate class, but that can be great advice for life in general.

I want to warn you now - by the time I finished this book, I had cried so much that my nose was stuffy and my eyes were red and puffy. Reading "My whole life is like a bike tire with a tiny hole leaking air. But I'm not leaking air. I'm leaking hope..." made my heart ache. There were plenty of lines like that, and they would make wonderful examples for a writing lesson. Here's another, "The truth thuds to the ground, a cement brick, echoing." 

I would recommend this book for readers who enjoy realistic fiction, especially the sort of story that focuses on relationships and how characters work to build and maintain them. Kate is not perfect, but she feels very real for that reason. She will steal your heart - and that makes a magical story.

I read a review copy provided by the publisher.

Fall Reading 2018 Twilight of the Elves (The Adventurers Guild #2)


Zed, Brock, Liza, Micah, and Jett are back to survive dangers and deceptions. Spoiler Alert - At the end of the first book in the series the elves arrived to report that their city had fallen. The town of Freestone allowed the refugees inside its walls, but the situation is uneasy (and that is putting it mildly). The Rangers of the elves have taken shelter with the Adventurers Guild and their youngest member, Fel, has joined the five friends in their training. When a party is sent to scout a possible return to the elven city of Llethanyl, the youngsters find themselves outside the safety of Freestone and in the wilderness where Dangers could be behind every bush or stone.

Besides the creatures who try to kill them(ranging from shapeshifting things with really large teeth to deadly spores and even banshees), there are also plenty of intrigue and cross-purposes to ruin everyone's day. The shadowy figure who wants Brock to discover secrets, Zed's desire to learn more about his elven father, the prejudices within the elven party against some of their own people, the elven queen's true agenda...all of these push and pull at the characters and influence their actions. And within this fantasy setting, there are still everyday themes of friendship, family, belonging, identity, prejudice, and the stirrings of teenage romance as the adventurers make their way toward Llethanyl.

Readers who enjoyed the first outing and have been waiting for the next installment in the series will be glad to reunite with the characters they know and to learn more about the newcomers. Those who are just discovering the Adventurers Guild can jump in and give this a try, and then they will probably want to go back and read about how this crew got their start once they reach the end of the book.

Highly recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy adventure. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Cyrus Field's Big Dream


As the author mentions in the epilogue, "Telegraph cables played an important role in world communication for more than a century. Eventually, radio, telephone cables, satellites, fiber-optic cables, and wireless networks made telegraph cables obsolete." (p.188) It may be very hard for readers today to understand Cyrus Field's determination to lay the first transatlantic telegraph cable, or how many others he was able to convince of the necessity - and to invest large sums of money to make it happen. But anyone reading this book will be convinced of his determination to accomplish his goal.

The book presents all the events in chronological order, beginning with the first meeting where Field heard about the possibility and covering the twelve years it took to successfully connect the United States with Europe with a telegraph cable. The various investors, politicians, and scientists and the roles they played are also discussed, but Cyrus is the main character in this drama. Details of his childhood, family, and other business ventures are woven into the background to complete the portrait of this determined man.

Illustrations show the ships and equipment used, reproductions of telegrams, photos from the time period, even diagrams of the ship's layout. There are numerous quotes from Cyrus and contemporaries, newspaper and magazine coverage, and even songs written about the attempts. Back matter includes an author's note, source notes, timeline, index, connections to make (books videos, and websites on the topic), and a selected bibliography. 

Written for grades 5-9, this is a detailed biography and a story of technology woven together to make a fascinating true story.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 The Secrets of Ninja School

The Secrets of Ninja School by [Pilutti, Deb]

Have young readers who just can't get enough ninja stories? Or perhaps you're looking for a story that shows a character with perseverance, one who hangs in there until she finds her own talents and strengths? Then add Deb Pilutti's tale to your shelves.

Ruby heads off to Master Willow's School for Ninjas, but has some trouble with the lessons. She is not invisible, or patient, or any of the things that all the other students seem to be. More than anything, she wants to discover her secret skill like all the other students. "If Ruby had a secret skill, she did not know how to find it." But Master Willow encourages her to keep trying. And he is right, everyone may despair of Ruby ever mastering how to be a ninja, but the resolution of the story is just right.

The extra special craft activity at the back of the book will be popular with library story-times (and it even has a sew and a no-sew option). Put this into the hands of those who have already finished off all the Mobi Shinobi books,  Wink : The Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed, and Nighttime Ninja

Fall Reading 2018 Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests


When most people see news coverage of a wildfire they automatically assume that there is nothing but destruction and that all fires should be controlled and extinguished. For those living in interface areas where humans have homes and businesses along the edge of the wild areas, that is understandable. No one wants to lose their house or livelihood. But author Sneed Collard shows that wildfires can be good for some of the animals (and plants) within those areas that burn. There are plants that only grow if their seeds are exposed to high temperatures, or that need the access to sunlight that a burn-off creates. And there are creatures such as the birds featured in this book that flourish in those areas of regrowth after the fire has come through.

The photos are clear and captivating. The facts are sure to take many readers by surprise, especially if they have only heard that fire is bad. Back matter includes an "Additional Fire Bird Checklist" with birds not highlighted in the main text, a glossary, an index, and a list of places for "Digging Deeper" into the topic. 

This was also a Junior Library Guild selection.

Fall Reading 2018 The Big Idea Gang

Everybody Needs a Buddy (The Big Idea Gang Book 1) by [Preller, James]

The Worst Mascot Ever (The Big Idea Gang) by [Preller, James]

Worst Mascot Ever: Friends Deon, Kym, Lizzy, and Connor form the Big Idea Gang to work on getting a new school mascot. After all, why would a school in Connecticut have an armadillo for a mascot anyway? Some students push to simply have the raggedy costume replaced and use the argument that the armadillo is a school tradition, but the gang does their research and presents their case in a debate before the whole school. Will the student voting go their way, or does everyone really want to see their principal in another armadillo suit?

Everybody Needs a Buddy: The Big Idea Gang is hard at work again. The sales for spirit items featuring the school mascot have gone so well  that the PTA has extra money to spend. What should it be used for? The gang has several ideas, but Deon is worried about a new student at school who doesn't seem to have any friends. Is there something that can be done about that?

These two titles will be coming out in January 2019, with other books planned for the series. The kids have a mix of interests and abilities, as well as representing boys and girls and several racial/ethnic backgrounds. Author James Preller (of Jigsaw Jones fame, as well as other titles), has created a fun new series for readers in lower elementary.

Fall Reading 2018 The Secret of the Scuba Diving Spider...and More!

Perfect for young readers who enjoy learning cool facts about animals, this book explores five different creatures and amazing details about them. Did you know that some caterpillars have an emergency whistle? (I thought only lost hikers did that, but apparently not.) Along with the stories about each of the featured animals, there is also a hands-on activity to extend the learning. Back matter includes chapter notes, glossary, index, and suggestions for further reading.

Once you have kids hooked on this type of nonfiction, you can direct them to the rest of the series. (Which is always nice for readers who are asking "What else should I read?") This also would be a good title to recommend to those who have just finished Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive and have become fascinated with strange but true animal abilities. They will definitely see the similarity between the zombie ants and the zombie beetles. 

Great for school library and classroom collections, because it can be used for lessons on adaptations - but also just for the fun of it!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Women of the Blue & Gray: True Civil War Stories of Mothers, Medics, Soldiers, and Spies

If you have read Frontier Grit, then you already know that Marianne Monson is an author who enjoys digging into the overlooked stories of history and sharing them with readers. If this is your first encounter with Monson's work, then you will probably want to go back and find other titles by her. In Women of the Blue & Gray, she has gathered multiple female participants across class, race, and political affiliation to show how much women attempted and accomplished during the American Civil War. The book is split into sections featuring the various roles such as soldiers, spies, doctors, abolitionists, etc. Within each section there is general information and also more specific details about several of the women who fall within the category being discussed. 

One of the things I enjoyed about the book was that there was enough general discussion to give the big picture, but then I was able to learn more about some of the remarkable individuals within each chapter. Some names may be familiar to readers - Belle Boyd, Clara Barton, or Harriet Tubman, for example. But others are brought into the spotlight after the author's research uncovered records about them in collections such as the slave narratives housed in the Library of Congress, as well as collections at various museums around the country. Whenever possible, their own words are used to bring these women to life for us; quotes are pulled from diaries, letters, autobiographies and similar sources to flesh out the thoughts and feelings of daughters, mothers, wives, and sweethearts from both sides of the conflict.
The way this book is organized makes it easy to use in a variety of ways. It can be read straight through from beginning to end (as I did), or readers can choose a section that particularly interests them. It also would be a great resource for teachers to read a passage about just one of the characters to illustrate a point being discussed during a unit on the Civil War, or for students to flip through as they try to choose an historical figure about whom to do more in-depth research. All the images and quotations are carefully documented, making it easy to see where to look for more information if it is needed.
This would make a solid addition to school and classroom libraries for grade levels that are planning to cover the time period, or for those discussing women who did not always conform to societal expectations. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through edelweiss.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 When Spring Comes to the DMZ


The beautiful paintings in this book show the variety of wildlife that has made the DMZ into a place of abundant animal life. Scenes from the changing seasons of the year include salmon swimming upstream to spawn, mountain goats clambering over rocks, and water deer and otters in the river. But readers can also see the fences and troops on each side of the zone, and the rusted pieces of equipment and weapons left behind from the Korean War. A grandfather climbs to the observatory and looks out over the land again and again, then dreams of throwing open the gates and going inside.

The juxtaposition of the animals and their families with the fact that the area is only safe for them because humans from both sides are forbidden to cross is very poignant. Some might see it as something positive coming from that military conflict, but others might sympathize with the grandfather in the story and wish that animals and humans could both exist peacefully in that area without the fences and guards.

This would be useful for comparing/contrasting the types of animals shown in the book with animals from other habitats, or as a followup to a unit on the Korean War. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 I Just Like You


Suzanne Bloom (author of books such as A Splendid Friend, Indeed), has created another wonderful story about the bonds of affection. Animals of all kinds notice the similarities and differences between them, but also know that friendship is something they all have in common. Even if they don't walk, talk, dress, or even read in the same way - they just like each other. 

The whimsical pencil and watercolor illustrations really bring the text to life. A pig and a llama both look up at the clouds, but each see different shapes. A hippo wearing a party hat on its nose shares a book with a rhino wearing a party hat on its head. And how can readers not smile when they see a pink flamingo in a pair of rain boots complimenting a rabbit on its flowery flip-flops? Whether they are short or tall, quick or slow, eat the same foods or enjoy the same hobbies - they can all still be friends.

Anyone looking for a book about getting along, making friends, or finding things in common rather than worrying about what makes us different from each other will be glad to have this book on hand. Perfect for guidance lessons with younger grades, or gently helping to teach that diversity doesn't mean we can't find common ground.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution


Many students might be surprised to learn that African Americans played roles on both sides of the American Revolution, sometimes even playing the part of double-agent. This collection of stories shares the experiences of 13 such individuals during those early years of our nation's founding. While some readers may have heard of Phillis Wheatley or Sally Hemings, many of the others will be newly discovered characters in U.S. history.

This is a good introductory collection for social studies units on the time period, or for those who are looking for more information than the usual details covered in a textbook. I would also suggest pairing this with some of the picture book biographies available such as:
- Mumbet's Declaration of Independence by Gretchen Woelfle,
- A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Armistead Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent by Anne F. Rockwell, or
- Phillis Sings Out Freedom: The Story of George Washington and Phillis Wheatley by Ann Malaspina and Susan Keeler.

I love the illustrations by R. Gregory Christie and the way Gretchen Woelfle incorporates quotes from the individuals whenever possible. As Agrippa Hull said, "It is not the cover of the book, but what the book contains [that] is the question. Many a good book has dark covers." Back matter in this particular book includes helpful timelines for the lives of each individual, a selected bibliography of books and websites, source notes, and an index.

A very helpful addition to elementary school library or classroom collections or grade levels studying the period of the American Revolution.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Garbage Island

Imagine "The Odd Couple" with one member an inventive shrew who just can't control himself when he gets an idea, and the other half of the pair a mouse who runs their community and longs for peace and order. Now, take those two tiny creatures (Archibald and Mr. Popli), and locate them with the rest of their neighbors in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. So we have a seagoing survival story, mixed in with the various personalities, the clever inventions that keep the community alive as it drifts in the ocean, and all the perils you can think of. I'm not kidding. All. The. Perils. There are sharks, snakes, spiders, starvation ... has anyone else noticed there are a lot of words that begin with "s" in that list? While we're at it we should probably add stubbornness as a danger factor. (Once you read it, you'll see what I mean.) Come along on this disaster at sea/buddy story and root for the survival and success (at last some positive "s" words) of Archibald and Mr. Popli.

This is a book that would be great for a class or family read-aloud, with plenty of cliffhangers to keep everyone anxious for the next reading session. It could also spawn some great STEAM/makerspace time as readers try to top the amazing inventions that Archibald cobbles together from bits of trash that float by. And looking at how the community cooperates rather than eating each other as some of the animals would do in their natural environment, as well as curiosity about the garbage patch itself, could lead to some independent research. Perfect for readers who enjoy animal based fantasy like The Tale of Despereaux or The Rats of NIMH, and other pint-sized heroes. 

Highly recommended for grades 3 - 7.

Giveaway - A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women's Rights by Kate Hannigan

Please enter for a chance to win a hardback copy of this delightful nonfiction picture book. Good luck!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up


Jen Swanson has taken a look at how advances in the field of nanotechnology have affected sports in recent years, and how they will continue to influence the equipment, uniforms, and even surfaces used in various athletic events. She does a thorough job of explaining what nanotech is and how it is used - nanoparticles, nanowires, carbon nanotubes, and the tools used to work with them like nanotweezers and scanning tunneling microscopes are all defined and illustrated. Then she delves into the way these advances are used in various sports. From super suits that cut down on drag for swimmers and skaters; improvements in baseball bats, golf clubs, and tennis rackets; and even changes to shoes and track surfaces to assist sprinters - all are the results of these scientific breakthroughs.

There is more than just talk about how the technology is used and the ways in which it helps with drag, buoyancy, shock absorption, and other factors. The book also discusses specific athletes and competitions that have seen improved performance and even new records set due to nanotechnology. And the ethical and sportsmanship issues of whether it is fair to allow athletes to use these advances is covered. Back matter includes an author's note, glossary, resource list, source notes, selected bibliography, image credits, and an index.

For anyone interested in sports, the future of how nanotechnology will continue to impact athletics, or the field of nanotech in general - this is a fascinating read.

Fall Reading 2018 Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival


This Junior Library Guild selection has many things to offer readers. Beautiful photos show the animals being studied and the scientists doing the work. There are also maps, graphs, and other information presented visually to support the text. The text itself does an excellent job of describing the studies, the findings, and their importance. Classes studying adaptations, man's impact on the environment, the results of climate change, and other related topics could use this as a jumping off point for discussions and further research.

Explanations of the difference between evolution and adaptation, where the various data sets come from, and how scientists around the world are cooperating in these studies are helpful in putting the big picture together. There is also humor, particularly in the warning sign on the door to the Phenotron - a sign which features the knights in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" running from the killer rabbit. And there is hope in the suggestions for ways humans can reduce the negative impact on global warming and for possibilities of finding ways to help species adjust to the changes in snowfall patterns.

For any intermediate grade readers interested in science and environmental studies, this is a well-written and engaging title.

Fall Reading 2018 Destination: Space: Living on Other Planets

Ever look up at the night sky and wonder what it would be like to live on another planet? Former astronaut Dr. Dave Williams takes readers on a tour of our solar system that points out the major drawbacks or good points for each planet and even a few of the moons. He also talks about how we learned what we know about them, and what the biggest tourist attractions would be for each spot. He even discusses what sort of shelters, transportation, and solutions for food are being created and tested. Photos from various missions and NASA projects, artists' renderings of what probes looked like as they reached various planets, and cartoon illustrations support the text. Back matter includes a list for further reading, image credits, and an index.

Dr. Dave makes sure to point out that space ships might not look like what we see in movies (with an image from Star Trek as an example). He points out that messages from Titan to Earth would take over an hour to arrive; "No hi-speed Wi-Fi here!" Equipment like the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module and various designs for surface rovers are shown, with explanations of where and how they have been/are being tested. A photo of astronauts on the ISS watching "The Last Jedi" proves that there will be a chance for relaxation in space now and then.

Whether young readers simply want to learn more facts about outer space and its exploration, or have a desire to someday join those who are venturing out beyond Earth's atmosphere, this introduction to possibilities of living on another planet is informative and fun. A recommended addition to school library collections for elementary grades.

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

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Catching a Storyfish


For fans of novels in verse like The Crossover or Out of the Dust, you need to take a look at this story of Katharen and her family as they move from Alabama to Illinois. Her nickname has always been Keet, short for parakeet because she is such a talker. But when the kids at her new school tease her about her Southern accent and call her "Bama Mouth," Keet becomes a very quiet girl. The poems show the changes she goes through as she tries to adjust and fit in, the first steps towards making a new friend, and her powerful relationship with her grandfather. Most of the verses are in Keet's voice, but some are also from the perspective of her neighbor and classmate, Allegra.

The tone of the poems ranges from the humorous to the heartbreaking. There is the 10-line list of "Things to Do with a Baby Brother" which has very funny suggestions. But there is also the fear that her grandfather will not recover from his illness and ever be the same again. In "Rainy Days," her mother tells her, "He told me once that his heart was an old tackle box and that you were the best thing in it." And in the poem that gives the books its title, Keet shares her dream of "catching my storyfish and telling a really good story that makes my grandpa smile again."

Author Janice N. Harrington captures so many of the authentic feelings that go with each scene - being the new kid, not fitting in because of an accent (or some other difference), the fear of losing a family member or never having the same relationship with them, the tentative moves of a blossoming friendship - they are all there. A poetry glossary explains the different types of poems used in the book and even names an example for readers to go back and look at again. This feature makes the book an excellent mentor text for a poetry unit.

Highly recommended for grades 3 - 7. I will warn that you may wind up teary-eyed at various points (I certainly did), but it is worth it to see this young storyteller working to rediscover her voice through all the changes she undergoes.

Fall Reading 2018 Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill


Who would ever think that roadkill could be interesting, well - to anyone besides Granny Clampett? But the intrepid Heather L. Montgomery took the time to research, get her hands dirty (and sometimes more than her hands), and put together a fascinating look at what causes roadkill, how people are working to prevent it, how scientists are using data from it, and how some people are using the roadkill itself in various ways.

For instance, did you know that some people collect statistics on what types of roadkill are seen, how often, at what locations, even to the date and time it was seen? Then the numbers are used to help figure out what is causing the collisions between animals and vehicles. Is it low visibility? Are there food sources attracting the wildlife? Is the roadway cutting across a migration path or bisecting a habitat? Once the situation is better understood, sometime there are possible solutions put in place by helpful groups. Bridges or tunnels might give animals a safe path, fences can funnel them toward one of those paths, etc. 

But our daring author also visited museums and wildlife rehabilitation centers to see how rescued animals were cared for, or how scientists study those who were not so lucky. And she even did some study on her own - including getting covered in scent from a skunk. She also contacted individuals who donate roadkill to food banks and use it to help feed the hungry. And she visited with an artist who creates taxidermy pieces with some of the unfortunate animals.

What a weird and wonderfully informative book about a topic that is sure to lure in reluctant readers with its potential gross factor, but can also appeal to those interested in STEM topics in general. Back matter includes a list of books, videos, and Internet sites to find more information; suggestions on science projects to try; and an annotated bibliography.

Highly recommended for middle grade readers and up. I read an advance copy, but it will be released on October 16 - so everyone else doesn't have long to wait.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Bluecrowne: A Greenglass House Story


Lucy Bluecrowne has spent half her life on board her father's ship, the Left-Handed Fate, but now he has decided that Lucy, her half-brother, and stepmother must live on land where it is safe. But is it really safe? As soon as the family begins to explore the city of Nagspeake, they encounter all sorts of odd characters. There is Trigemine, who has come to look for an item his employer Morvengarde is determined to acquire. Blister, a master of pyrotechnics, is assisting Trigemine in locating another person with the gift for explosives (a service for one of Morvengarde's customers). There are sailors and craftsmen, taverns and barkeepers, and lots of decrepit alleyways and ramshackle buildings - just the perfect setting for suspicious deeds.

Lucy and her brother Liao manage to find a small boat for Lucy to sail along the river and Liao has a workshop to experiment with fireworks. But something keeps nagging at everyone's perceptions, giving them suspicious feelings and odd worries that they can't pin down. And when there is a kidnapping attempt, it seems that life on solid ground isn't any safer than life aboard a privateer's vessel. Lucy and Liao are full of life and hidden strengths which can see them through many difficulties and win the admiration of readers.

For those who have already read Greenglass House, this story introduces the first inhabitants and explains why the house was built. Those who have not visited Nagspeake before will be intrigued by the mix of cultures, naval traditions, and magical possibilities. Great for readers in middle grades who enjoy historical fiction/fantasy.

I read an advance copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Fall Reading 2018 Wished (Fairy Tale Reform School #5)


Be careful what you wish for. Everyone has heard that saying, right? Well, evidently Maxine has not - or else she didn't believe it. When she gets the chance to make a magical wish, she wishes for everyone at FTRS to be happy. Suddenly classes are cancelled or postponed, Harlow and Jocelyn are wearing bright colors, the halls are filled with glitter and confetti, and there is a school musical in the works. What about Stiltskin? That's what Gilly wants to know, but none of her friends have time to worry about villains when they are busy practicing for their big performance.

Imagine mermaids doing synchronized dancing and toting waterproof scripts, pixies styling everyone's hair with color and glitter, and Maxine singing a solo! But there are still things happening in the kingdom of Enchantasia that should be causing the teachers to worry. Crops are disappearing or being covered with a strange goo. The weather has gone wild with rain and lightning occurring unexpectedly. And the chief of police suddenly decides to take a vacation. Will things ever get back to normal? Or will the school stay in an enchanted state of happiness forever?

This is a funny break in the action for most of Gilly's friends as they work on sets, costumes, and learning their lines rather than practicing spells and martial arts. Gilly still wants to find Alva and Stiltskin, and she also has a new desire to learn more about her family history after a letter from her mother mentions the grandmother that she has never seen. All the usual characters are present, even though they are not acting in their normal fashion (except Maxine's duck, Peaches, who is still eating all sorts of odd items).

Fairy Tale Reform School fans will laugh out loud at Gilly's growing frustration with everyone's musical preoccupation and the various ways the wish for happiness plays out at the school. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through edelweiss.