Sunday, August 25, 2019

Summer Reading 2019 A Place to Stay

A warm and understanding look at a mother and child who come to stay in a shelter. The book does not explain the  reason for their stay, but focuses on how they help each other make the best of the situation. The mother encourages her daughter to imagine they are someplace exciting and special as they enter the building and are shown to their room. They meet other residents in the dining room and by the time they need to shower and get ready for bed, the child is comfortable enough to take the lead in their game of make-believe about this new home.

Bright, colorful illustrations help to keep the tone upbeat and hopeful. The images show the shelter and, while it is obviously not a traditional family home, readers see some of the services that are offered and what life might be like for the residents. The imagined scenes that the mother and daughter conjure up include a palace, a rocket ship, and an underwater adventure. 

The back matter explains various reasons why families might need the services of a shelter, but the story is open-ended so that it could apply to any of the possible situations. The author wrote the book after working as a child abuse and neglect investigator. Her background shaped the book and makes it an excellent opening for discussions about homelessness.

Highly recommended for school and public libraries, and for use by teachers and counselors working with displaced children and families. I read an e-book provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Summer Reading 2019 Dear Justice League

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Answering fan mail doesn't sound too dangerous compared to a superhero's usual activities, but you would be surprised. Superman actually crashes into a building while reading an email from a fan while flying through the city. Other fans write to Aquaman asking if he smells like a fish, or to Hawkgirl asking if she eats small mammals. Wonder Woman gets invited to a birthday party - and has some memories of her own eleventh birthday. (Warning, don't pig out on the cake.) 

The notes come from kids with a variety of questions - some are worried about fashion, others want to know about how to survive the first day at a new school. (Batman has some great ideas for a school utility belt.) Besides answering their mail, we also see the heroes feeding pets, teasing each other, and battling giant bugs from outer space. Flash even teaches some practical jokers a lesson. The final letter actually addresses the entire League, so they answer it together, rounding off the book with a nice recap of the lessons the heroes have learned. 

With humorous situations and action-filled illustrations, this graphic novel is sure to appeal to DC fans.

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

Summer Reading 2019 Born to Fly: The First Women's Air Race Across America


I could probably stop at - Steve Sheinkin wrote this book - and anyone who has read one of his other works would know what to expect. Sheinkin always tells a full, rich story with tons of details he has learned in his meticulous research about the topic. This time he introduces all the women who participated in the 1929 Air Derby. The one most recognized today would be Amelia Earhart, but there were 20 women in that race across the country. Beginning with their childhood days and their early exploits (jumping off barn roofs, creating their own roller coaster, etc.) the author goes on to tell how each of them entered the field of aviation and make their way to the derby.

Some came from working class families and fell in love with flying after seeing an air show or buying a 5 minute flight over a field near home. Others came from wealthy families and purchased flying lessons and a plane of their own without having to scrimp and save. Whatever their pasts, they all came together to prove that women had the endurance and skills to fly in a cross-country air race just as well as men. And despite the hardships, sabotage, and crashes along the way, they did just that. Sheinkin captures the determination and the inspiration of those amazing women, describing how they pressed on through hardships, mechanical failures, social pressures, and the loss of dear friends in fatal crashes. 

Anyone interested in aviation history, or especially in female pioneers in the field, will enjoy this book. It is written to be age-appropriate for 4th grade and up. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Summer Reading 2019 Don't Let the Beasties Escape This Book!

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A picture book inspired by an exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Don't Let the Beasties Escape This Book! follows a medieval peasant boy named Godfrey through his day. Although his mother gives him a list of chores to do and reminds him that he must not forget any of them, Godfrey is distracted by the book being created for the lady of the castle. He borrows the book to look at the illuminated images inside and begins to make up a story about the beasts in the pictures. Godfrey doesn't realize that saying the names of the beasts will summon them from the book. A lion, unicorn, griffin, bonnacon, and dragon all appear as the tale of "Godfrey the Glorious" becomes more and more elaborate.  Luckily, even though Godfrey is distracted by the adventure he imagines, the creatures manage to complete all his chores for him without his notice - until the dragon lights the fire in the cottage.

Back matter includes an explanation of what a bestiary was, and about how life in a medieval castle worked. Families like Godfrey's would not have their own books, but would hear tales of fantastic beasts.  Those tales were a mix of true facts from distant explorers and myths and legends. Without cameras, television, and other media we are accustomed to today, people had no way of knowing which stories were true or not. Examples of various beasts shown in the books form the exhibit are shared along with descriptions of the beasts and their powers.

This would be a helpful book to use when talking about fake news. The comparison of tales from beastiaries and the incredible stories shared across social media and the Internet could start a discussion about what can be proven and what is only rumor. It is also a fun book just for the glimpse into medieval life and fantastic beasts. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Summer Reading 2019 A Small Zombie Problem


It's bad enough to lose your parents at a very young age and wind up living with your rather odd Aunt Hydrangea. Added to that, she always dresses as if she is participating in a beauty pageant, she is terrified of butterflies, and she won't allow August out of the house. Is it any wonder that he has grown up to be a rather strange boy? He has never played with another child, never attended school, never met anyone bu his aunt. When he finally does leave the house, mayhem ensues.

August ventures out of the dilapidated family home to rescue his favorite snacks when they are dropped in the front yard by the grocery delivery service. And that is when things go sideways. He meets other kids, is followed home by a zombie, and even learns that he has other relatives besides Hydrangea. But is a boy who has never interacted with anyone but his eccentric aunt ready to deal with snobs, unscrupulous adults, and bullying children? Oh...and the small problem of the zombie.

Perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket and Tim Burton, this story has oddball humor, offbeat characters, and perplexing situations.

Summer Reading 2019 Because of the Rabbit


As someone who threw a fit until she was allowed to go to kindergarten, I can't imagine not going to school until the 5th grade. But that is just what our protagonist Emma is dealing with; she has been home-schooled until this year and is nervous about starting public school and making friends. She thinks that the two girls she is sitting with might be her friends, but they pair up for a class project and leave her to work with Jack.

Jack likes science and knows lots of animal facts, so it seems like they would be a good pair. After all, Emma loves animals and her father is a game warden. But Jack is also impulsive, doesn't always get social cues, and there is an assistant in the class to help keep him on track. If Emma is paired up with him, will she ever be able to make other friends?

This is the perfect story to read aloud to a class at the beginning of the school year since it deals with fitting in, first impressions, being open to differences, and friendship. The addition of the cute rabbit, Lapi, increases the appeal for animal lovers in the group. Emma learns a lot of lessons, in and out of school, about friendship and being true to yourself.

Highly recommended for grades 3 and up. Perfect for fans of stories featuring animals like Ben Baglio or Bill Wallace books.

Summer Reading 2019 Ordinary Hazards

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The awesome folks at WordSong gave me an ARC of this book while I was at ALA Midwinter, and warned me that I would probably cry when I read parts of it. I decided right away not to read it on the plane home, to save it for a time and place where I could immerse myself in it and not worry about my reactions and how anyone else would judge them. It turned out that the right time was sitting on the beach with my toes in the warm sand, surrounded by my family and hearing the surf as a calming background noise. So I dived in and read the book, cover to cover, without coming up for air.

That warm sand and the smell of sunscreen faded away as I was transported into the past and the memories of the incomparable Nikki Grimes. She starts by explaining, "I have a PhD in avoidance, which kept me running from my past for my need for light and truth is greater than my fear of murky memories." With her gift of words, Grimes visits those memories and pulls them into the light. There are her mother's schizophrenia, her father's absence, streets filled with gangs and danger, foster care, abuse, all the things that can go wrong in a young life seem to have visited her at least once. But she used her words then to survive, to put her thoughts and feelings down, and stay true to herself.

I did cry throughout the book; when someone else shares their pain so eloquently, it is impossible to hold back the tears. But there were also tears for the strength and resilience that helped her through those years, and for the wonderful Mrs. Wexler who encouraged her. Grimes has accomplished the goal she shared with her teacher all those years ago, "I want to write books about some of the darkness I've seen...But I also want to write about the's not always easy to get to, but it's there."

Highly recommended for YA readers, especially those who aspire to be writers or who are going through their own darkness and need to have the light reaffirmed. "It is there."