Friday, October 11, 2013

A Witness to History

When I first heard about the movie, Lee Daniels' The Butler, I was immediately drawn to the storyline. How fascinating it must have been to be in the presence of such great leaders in time with so much change, excitement, and chaos. I knew this would be a movie I would want to see. Well, I have yet to see the movie, but was thrilled when I saw Wil Haygood's book The Butler: A Witness to History. I knew, based on experience, this book would be so much better than any movie. Again, I have not seen the movie, but I have to say the book did leave me a little disappointed. I guess I have to say this because it was not what I wanted it to be. I wanted the book to be about Mr. Eugene Allen who served under either presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan. Don't get me wrong it was about this man, but it wasn't as much about the stories he could have told, his experiences. I wanted so much more. Who else could say they were in the White House when so many historical events took place - President Eisenhower signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, President Kennedy pledging the United States would land a man on the moon in 1961 and his widows arrival back to the White House after the fateful trip to Dallas.

I would think all of these historical events were well etched in Mr. Allen's mind and in his heart based on his portrayal by Haygood, but his ethical spirit would not allow his personal revelations on these events. Through the pages of the The Butler, Haygood represents Mr. and Mrs. Allen as respectable people. He was a person who wanted to do the very best job he could for the people he served while in the White House. He would not allow himself to be persuaded to reveal any details or accounts of events that took place in his presence. Oh, what a story he could have told. I'm disappointed because I wanted more, but I am happy to know that Mr. Allen was such a dedicated employee that he took his stories to the grave.

I would recommend this book for those who are interested in Mr. Allen and the movie Lee Daniels' The Butler. The second half of the book has a lot of information about the production of the movie. There are also photographs of Mr. Allen and his wife, as well as the Presidents for whom he served.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Atria Press has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Learning Colors with Dorothy and Friends

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum is one of the most beloved children's books ever written. As I have said before my cousin, Charlotte, and I love all things Oz. I have already driven all around my hometown searching for the new McDonald toys for the 75th Anniversary of the movie release. So, you see, I'm a die hard fan.

The Wizard of Oz: Colors
by Jill Kalz and illustrated by Timothy Banks

Every time I see an Oz themed book, I have to grab it up and see if the author has been true to the classic. I have to say Jill Kalz's The Wizard of Oz: Colors illustrated by Timothy Banks does a nice job of presenting the story in a very simplified manner while introducing young children to colors. Through rhyming text and bright colorful illustrations the story is presented in a very child friendly format. Not only is the basic premise maintained, but a plethora of more complex words are used in order to increase the child's listening vocabulary. There is a glossary presented at the end of the book providing a brief definition of some of these words, including bluff, dazzle, and wicked. Also included at the end of this book (which is available in the following formats: library binding, board book, and ebook PDF) is a list of suggested readings and Internet sites, an index, and a synopsis of the actual book, The Wizard of Oz.

This is one of four books in this series published by Capstone Press. Others in the series include : The Wizard of Oz: ABCs, The Wizard of Oz: Counting, and The Wizard of Oz: Shapes. I have not had the opportunity to see these titles, but if they are anything like the Colors book, I would definitely add them to not only my personal collection, but also to my library's collection. Adults who grew up loving The Wizard of Oz will enjoy sharing these concept books with the new generation and continue the love for these classic characters.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Capstone Press has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Is it really the end for Dexter?

I have enjoyed reading suspense novels ever since I read my first mystery. I'm not sure if it is thrill of anticipation, or the suspenseful conclusion that makes my heart race. I also love when the bad guy "gets it in the end". Well, with Dexter Morgan, I had it all rolled into one. Now, I am not saying Dexter is my Knight in Shining Armor, he is more like the Dark Knight watching from around the corner. I found the character of Dexter immediatlely intriguing when I discovered Jeff Lindsay's first novel about the sociopathic vigilante, Darkly Dreaming Dexter. I read this wonderful book soon after it was released in 2004. The very next year I devoured Dearly Devoted Dexter. I was not at all surprised when in 2006 Showtime aired the first season of the series Dexter based on the first book. I have to admit, once I saw Michael C. Hall as Dexter I never veered from his image in my mind while reading. Even though I only watched the first four seasons, I was sitting on the edge of my seat every Sunday to see what injustice Dexter would try to rectify.

A few years ago I found Jeff Lindsay's Facebook page and Liked it, since I actually do love his writing and his characters. Last month Mr. Lindsay posted a link to Doubleday's fan giveaway. They were giving away 25 advanced copies of the newest (and supposedly final) book featuring Dexter, Dexter's Final Cut. I was THRILLED a few weeks after entering the contest to have a copy arrive at my front door. I know the book went on sale almost two weeks ago, so I am not posting any information die-hard fans don't already have access to, however I will not ruin anything for loyal readers or even new recruits.

Dexter's Final Cut
by Jeff Lindsay
Lindsay does not disappoint, well actually ~ he does ~ in the sense this is the FINAL book. I guess it could be considered unnatural to say I love Dexter, but as a character who takes care of those who have performed terrible acts of violence on innocents, he is like a modern day Robin Hood. I know it is a sin to kill, but he justifies his killings based on "Harry's Code" (his father's eye for an eye like theory). I will admit this book is not as graphic as the previous books (or if you have seen the series, not as bloody), but the storyline is suspenseful and hard to put down.

The introduction to the book took me by surprise and I was a bit concerned about Dexter. The first sentence, "It's not that bad being dead." almost caused me to close the book. I just couldn't face the fact that Dexter could be dead! Again, back to the creepy part about me really liking this person who in reality (or literary reality) is a serial killer. These are not the people you are supposed to be drawn to as a normal human, right?!? Thankfully I did not stop reading. I mean, how could Lindsay possibly kill off this iconic character in the first sentence? So, I kept reading.

Come to find out, Dexter and his sister, Deborah become involved in a new police drama which will be filming in Miami. Dexter is going to be shadowed by Robert Chase (a television heart throb - adored by Dexter's wife Rita) while Deborah will be shadowed by Jackie Forrest who will be starring in the drama as a character very much like Deborah - "a hard-as-nails woman detective" (pg. 13).  Being an active police detective and blood-splatter expert, Deborah and Dexter are quickly wrapped up in a murder investigation. This is where the blood and gore is introduced and the action begins.

I felt like I saw a new side to Dexter in this book. I know he has developed over the years from a bachelor, to a husband and instant step-father, but he seemed to show a little more depth and emotion (if you can actually call it that for a sociopath) in this "final cut". The title could be interpreted as a double entendre, which obviously was Lindsay's intent, but ironically Dexter doesn't actually do very much cutting in this book.

Like I said earlier, I did not watch the series after the infamous Trinity Killer, Arthur Mitchell ~ wonderfully portrayed by John Lithgow (who won a Golden Globe and a Primetime Emmy for his character). Since I was a fan of the books, I didn't want the show to take away my desire to read each new book that was released. I guess I was afraid I would be disappointed by the series because it couldn't live up to the movie I had created in my head.

I am not going to say our devilishly, divine Dexter is dead and gone. I am not going to say he is dwelling in Denmark, Dubai, or even one of the Dakotas. All I will say is Lindsay has provide a unique manner in which to create an entirely new series as a spin off. I would love to see how he would develop this daring design. I don't mean to deviate from my devotion to Dexter. Hmmm, I guess you could say I am a fan.

Now that I know the books and the series (which actually veered away from the books and were developed with their own storylines in the seasons following the first) have ended I might decide to go back and watch the four seasons I missed. I guess when you think about it, Dexter is Lindsay's character, and whether the words are written in a book or portrayed on the television by an awesome actor like Hall, I will always remember the thrill of learning about Dexter, especially through his own words, "I am a very neat monster." (Darkly Dreaming Dexter, 2004)

Thank you to Mr. Jeff Lindsay for posting the information about the online contest. Thank you also to Doubleday for sending me a complimentary advanced reader's copy of Dexter's Final Cut.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Doubleday for providing a complimentary electronic copy and paperback advanced reader's copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

Monday, September 23, 2013

America's Gross History

I have been a history enthusiast for quite awhile. I think my love of history developed when I had a wonderful teacher in high school name Coach Zidermanis. I was excited to enter his classroom everyday because I knew he was going to weave fascinating stories into the historical facts he wanted us to remember. In college I continued this love by taking a number of courses, eventually earning a minor in history. To this day I love to read about our history, whether through biographies or historical fiction.

Ick! Yuck! Eew!: Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey peaked my interest immediately. Most of the information in the book I already knew because of Coach Z's stories, my personal readings, or visits to historical locations around the country. My prior knowledge about these disgusting treatments, habits, etc., prepared me for this wonderful non-fiction book which I believe any elementary or middle school student would find fascinating and repugnant at the same time.

Ick! Yuck! Eew!: Our Gross American History
by Lois Miner Huey
Huey includes all of the essentials and more for this non-fiction text: table of contents, glossary, source notes, selected bibliography, further reading (books and websites), places to visit, and an index. In four interesting and informative we are introduced to the vile surroundings and happenings of 1770 North America.

As we are transported through a time machine to 1770, the setting is set for us. We are shifted from present day and time to June 1770 in a "city populated mostly by white settlers". Huey is great about providing additional information concerning aspects of history to which the young readers may not be familiar. Such as the fact there will not be any Native Americans in the city and the "black people were enslaved (to) work as house servants and in shops" (pg. 5). 

We are then plunged head first into "The Awful Smells" of the city. I'm sure most readers will find their habit of tossing the contents of the chamber pot into the street disgusting (and not typically shared in the state history books), but it happened. Some may find this information disturbing, however it can help readers understand certain sayings they may have heard, but never understood - "Don't have a pot to piss in". I know this is a bit crass, but in order to understand the saying, one must understand the conditions from which the early settlers were living in at the time. There was no running water, no toilet. We also learn the people in this time period felt bathing to be unhealthy. It was believed a film of dirt on the body would keep out bad air which could cause diseases. Native American bathed in creeks and streams and felt the Europeans smelled. Women would wear heavy perfumes in order to hide their odor and fan's to keep odor away and to hide their rotting teeth. 

The next chapter takes us to "Creepy, Crawly Bugs". We are told we will be spending the night in a tavern, sharing a bed with two other travelers. Huey's description of the mosquitoes, bedbugs, and head lice made me start to itch while reading. Reading about the flies buzzing around the meat hanging in the streets for sale and the cook killing the flour beetles in the flour (and missing some) before using it to cook will make most readers thankful for pesticides and food regulations. Hook- and Tapeworms are touched upon, but these were bugs the settlers suffered through without knowing they existed.

A few years ago I learned the symbolic representation of the red and white barber pole. Off the top of my head I couldn't say where I learned this, but the barbers "skill with sharp instruments" allowed them to "sometimes perform operations" (p. 27). Now, the pole is not actually mentioned in this book, but the barber's non-hair cutting duties - such as pulling teeth, bloodletting, and some surgeries - are mentioned. Doctors are also shown to create a balance in the body for sick patients through bloodletting and the use of leeches. It was believed the removal of bodily fluids (blood, poop, pus, sweat, urine, and vomit) would remove the imbalance, thus making the person healthy again.

Through television and movies we have seen the early settlers wore an abundance of clothing. In the final chapter of this informative book we learn although they wore many layers, underwear was not part of their wardrobe. We also learn that like taking a bath, washing of clothes was limited to "shifts, shirts, poopy diapers (not urine soaked diapers - which were merely hung to dry), bedsheets, and stockings" (p. 38). The outer garments - "coats, breeches, vests, and gowns" were almost never washed. This reinforces the smell of the time, as well as the spread of germs and disease.

This is a wonderful book for upper elementary and middle school students. I believe high school and adult readers would find the information disturbing, but very interesting. I would highly recommend this book for school and public libraries.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Millbrook Press, has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fairy Tales, In Graphic Format

Fairy Tale Comics
selected by Chris Duffy
I first became familiar with Chris Duffy's work when I received a copy of Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymesf rom 50 Celebrated Cartoonists. I love the book as soon as I read the first few pages. This was back in 2011. I am so glad to see his latest book, which will be released in a few weeks, September 24th, Fairy Tale Comics.

Fairy Tale Comics, selected by Chris Duffy, is exactly what the title implies. It is a wonderful collection of fairy tales illustrated in a graphic format. Duffy spent time reading as many fairy tales as he could and narrowed the selection down to seventeen well known tales. He and his editor did a great job of of choosing a "mix that included a lot of Grimm tales, a majority of well-known stories, a good sampling of non-European traditions, and a balance of boy and girl heroes." I love the fact they made the last balance. So many times boys will not pick up a fairy tale because it is a "girl story". 

The cartoonists selected for this project did a phenomenal job. Each story was illustrated by a different person. 
  • "Sweet Porridge" by Bobby London
  • "The 12 Dancing Princesses" by Emily Carroll
  • "Hansel and Gretel" by Gilbert Hernandez
  • "Puss in Boots" by Vanessa Davis
  • "Little Red Riding Hood" by Gigi D.G.
  • "The Prince and the Tortoise" by Ramona Fradon & Chris Dufy
  • "Snow White" by Jaime Hernandez
  • "The Boy Who Drew Cats" by Luke Pearson
  • "Rumpelstiltskin" by Brett Helquist
  • "Rabbit Will Not Help" by Joseph Lambert
  • "Rapunzel" by Raina Telemeier
  • "The Small Tooth Dog" by Charise Mericle Harper
  • "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" by Graham Annable
  • "Baba Yaga" by Jillian Tamaki
  • "Bremen Town" by Karl Kerschl
  • "Give Me the Shudders" by David Mazzucchelli
  • "Azzolino's Story Wihtout End" by Craig Thompson
The cover illustration is spot on for a library collection. I believe both girls and boys will want to read this fun book. Boys because it has "Comics" in the title and girls because of the "Fairy Tale". Either way, this is a wonderful collection in a graphic novel format. Over the years, the graphic novel has become an increasingly popular format for all genres. In years past the comic book was not considered "real reading", but more and more libraries are purchasing graphic novels to meet the needs of their patrons.

I would highly recommend this book, as well as Nursery Rhyme Comics, for libraries who serve children. Not only are the stories and illustrations charming, but the graphic novel format is perfect for the upper elementary age readers.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, First Second publishers, has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

More Magic from Sylvie Desrosiers

Hocus Pocus Takes the Train
by Sylvie Desrosiers
I have always loved magic and magicians. Two years ago, when I was serving as the chair of the Texas 2x2 Reading List Committee, I remember opening a box of books from Kids Can Press. Inside was a copy of Desrosiers's first Hocus Pocus book. I fell in love with the adorable blue bunny (Hocus Pocus) and the four legged companion to the magician, a grumpy dog. Hocus Pocus lives in the magicians hat and causes quite a fuss when he spies a carrot in a grocery bag. You will have to read Hocus Pocus to enjoy the hillarity yourself.

The same fun can be had in Sylvie Desrosiers latest book Hocus Pocus Takes the Train. You are in luck because this book was released August 1st, so you don't have to wait to pick up this wonderful new graphic novel (wordless picture book) for young children. Non-readers will have a splendid time "reading" the bright pictures by Remy Simard. Once again Hocus Pocus finds himself in a predicament. The magician has purchased a ticket for the train. He has just enough time to grab a cup of coffee for himself and a bone for his dog before boarding. While the magician and his crumugeon canine enjoy a treat, Hocus Pocus is able to escape from his hat home. He quickly spots a stuffed purple rabbit dropped by a toddler at the next table and his adventure begins. Before he knows it the magician is gone and Hocus Pocus has to figure out how to get aboard the train with his new purple friend.

A heartwarming ending allows young children to see the lost can be found. Not only does this book provide a funny story anyone can read and enjoy, it also provides parents an opportunity to talk to their children about holding hands and staying together when out in public. I'm sure it is not the message Desrosiers intended, but one can never err on the side of safety, especially when it comes to our children.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Kids Can Press, has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Money Matters

For those of you who do not know me personally, you may not know that I have been in the education field for twenty years. I have mainly worked with four and five-year-olds. I was a kindergarten teacher for six years and then I was blessed when the position of librarian became available in an early childhood school. So now, I am the librarian for four-year-olds, their parents, and their teachers. It is my dream job.

While working the past fourteen years in this position I have heard all kinds of funny statements come out of the children's mouths. However, one of the statements I have heard over the years has really bothered me. A four-year-old came to the circulation desk with their chosen library book in hand, put the book down on the desk, lifted his name tag to me, and said, "Charge it please." It was very funny at the time and the teacher and I had a great laugh. The issue is I have heard this more than once from the students who come into my library. It seems that more and more children are growing up without a sense of money and how to save.

Now, I am not really one to talk, I guess. I have done my share of charging, but I have also learned my lesson. I think Mr. Greenleaf's book Give, Save, Spend with the Three Little Pigs is a wonderful life lesson for everyone.

Give Save Spend with the Three Little Pigs
by Clint Greenleaf
illustrated by Phil Wilson

We all know the story of the three little pigs. The beginning of the book reminds us how the Big Bad Wolf came to the house of each of the pigs, destroying two of them, but being unsuccessful with the last house - the one of bricks. Since the wolf could no longer terrorize the pigs, he moved on to other animals in the forest. Seeing how the pigs were safe in the brick house the forest animals visited the pigs asking if they could build a house for each of their families. Thus the Pigs and Bricks business begins.

Once the houses are complete the pigs sit down to count their money and begin to dream about how they will spend the profit. The first pig wants to have fun and spend the money on frivolous things, the second pig wants to be philanthropist, while the third pig said they should put their money into the bank in case they needed it for an emergency repair. The pigs decided all three ideas were good and divided the money into three areas: give, save, and spend. The money was then divided equally among the three areas and "from that day forward, every time the Three Little Pigs earned money, they split it among their three banks."

I think this is one of the most creative ways to help children understand the concept of money. Most people put their money into only one category - spend. Then when they no longer have money they charge everything. It is not a healthy way for children to grow up. I plan to share this book with my students in order to help them understand it is okay to spend, but it is also very important to give to others, as well as to save for a rainy day.

This book will be published in March 2014.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Greenleaf Book Group Press has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Conservation Message for Children

Mr. King's Castle
by Genevieve Cote

Mr. King is a cheerful, yellow feline who wears a crown of gold. He was first introduce in 2012 in Genevieve Cote's book Mr. King's Things, where he learned the value of reusing and recycling. Now, Mr. King is once again a very greedy cat. He lives on a BIG hill and wants to build a BIG castle, but when he completes his castle, there is no longer a hill for his friends Bert, Tex, Old Jim Elk, P.J. Skit, Skat, and Harriet to enjoy. Since Mr. King built his castle with a variety of pieces cut from the hill the friends are able to work together to rebuild the hill they all love. A surprise ending shows the power of friendship.

Ms. Cote's has created a beautiful story of friendship that teaches young children a lesson in conservation that is not overwhelming. The wonderful illustrations created with mixed media are bright and cheerful, while allowing the reader to follow along with the demise of the hill and the immensity of the castle Mr. King is building. I love the fact Mr. King's friends do not go to him yelling about their hill. Instead they question each other about the mystery, such as, "Where are the flowers?" and "What happened to my favorite napping spot?" Mr. King's reaction of feeling small when he sees his friend's expressions of sadness is the perfect opportunity to discuss empathy with young children. His immediate reaction to "put everything back" shows his growth and understanding of the mistake he made. I love how the friends work together to complete the puzzle that was the hill with the pieces of the castle fitting perfectly to re-create their favorite place.

This is a wonderful book to share with all age levels and will be especially appropriate during Earth Day celebrations.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Kids Can Press has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Remembering JFK - 50 years later

November 22, 2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. I don't remember the first time I heard about Kennedy, or his assassination.  It is almost like I was born knowing about him because of the stories I heard growing up. I loved hearing my parents tell stories about themselves when they were kids, especially while they were dating in college. One of the stories I remember the most was the day they came to visit my grandmother in Irving and just about scared her to death. It was November 24, 1963, the day Lee Harvey Oswald was shot. My grandmother and a friend were listening to the news. It had just been reported that Oswald had been staying in Irving. My parents came up to the house, grabbed the door, and walked in giving both ladies quite a fright. Like the author's father, my father collected a variety of newspapers in 1963 about the assassination. Since my family is from the Dallas area, my father collected the local papers which included the The Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald.

"The President Has Been Shot!":
the Assassination of John F. Kennedy
by James L. Swanson

The opening pages of the book provide a quick overview of the early years of the President's life in a single chapter which includes the fact that he was one of nine children, his service during World War II as a navy lieutenant, and his marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier.

Following this brief history the author quickly moves on to the 1960 election in which Kennedy defeats Richard Nixon in "one of the closest elections in history." We then move on to January of 1961 for the inauguration and a number of excerpts from the Presidents inaugural address, including his most famous lines
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.
Key elements in Kennedy's administration, including Bay of Pigs operation, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Space Race, the President's speech in Berlin, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the Civil Rights movement are presented in short easy to read chapters. Throughout the book black and white photographs with descriptions are included as half-page or double-page spreads.

Part Two of the book takes the President and First Lady to Texas and the fateful day in Dallas. It is stated Lee Harvey Oswald "would have known from his military training, to hit someone from such a distance, he would have to use a rifle." A brief history of presidential assassinations and attempts is presented to show "no American president had ever been assassinated by a rifle." [67] Swanson's theory is that Oswald had not planned to, nor would he have attempted to assassinate Kennedy had he not come to him, by passing the School Book Depository.

An account of Lee Harvey Oswald's life is portrayed as the youngest of three boys to a single mother. The family was unstable and moved around to a number of different cities and his mother would frequently turn the boys over to relatives or a local orphanage for care. It goes on to tell how he dropped out of school at sixteen, join the United States Marine Corps shortly after and was court-martialed twice. It is during this time Oswald learned his rifle firing accuracy. Oswald's demeanor in the years leading up to November 22nd was one of "a lifelong loser, a high school dropout, a second-rate ex-U.S. Marine, and a malcontent with a chip on his shoulder." [78]

Then with an almost minute by minute account leading up to the assassination, Swanson provides details of the Kennedy's and Oswald's actions. As the president's motorcade approaches Elm Street, Abraham Zapurder's, who's famous footage captured the assassination, movements are revealed. The events and actions of these men are presented in great detail. As you read, you feel that you are there, witnessing the events in the presence of each of the individuals, including the traumatic details and quotes from the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. The perspective of the writing is very well done.

The author then takes the reader through the swearing in of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the flight back to Washington, D.C., Mrs. Kennedy's meticulous planning of her husband's funeral, and the funeral itself. Swanson goes back and forth between Washington, D.C. and Dallas by telling how Mrs. Kennedy prepared for her husband's funeral while the captured assassin was claiming his innocence.

"The President Has Been Shot!": The Assassination of John F. Kennedy is a well researched account of the events of November 22, 1963. It is written for middle and high school age students. I believe, for this age group this is an excellent overview of the life of, presidency, and sacrifice of John F. Kennedy. I would highly recommend this book for all libraries serving teenage patrons.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Scholastic, has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes. My review is in no way influenced by the author or publishing company and is solely my opinion.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Historical Fiction for Middle and High School

I love historical fiction. I have read books from all different places and times, such as the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1483), the Jacobite Rising in Scotland (1745), nineteenth century China, United States Civil War (1861-1865), World War II (1939-1945; from the British perspective), and many others. This is the first time I have read a book set during the French and Indian War (1689-1763).
The Snake Fence
by Janet Kastner Olshewsky

The Snake Fence by Janet Kastner Olshewsky takes place in Pennsylvania and is narrated by a young Quaker boy named Noble. More than anything this book is a coming of age story for Noble and an account of his experiences in helping to bring peace between the Delaware Indians and the British colonies, which concluded on October 26, 1758 by the signing of the Treaty of Easton, but is not mentioned in the book because it ends prior to this time period.

Noble is a sixteen year old boy who has finished an apprenticeship with a carpenter when the story begins. He yearns to be a cabinetmaker, but needs money in order to purchase the tools for this profession. An opportunity arises for Noble to earn money when he sees an advertisement in the paper for volunteers to take supplies to General Braddock at Fort Cumberland. This is when historical information is presented for the first time. Noble sets out and joins the wagon train from Philadelphia to Wills's Creek as advertised by Benjamin Franklin. General Braddock and Mr. Franklin are not the only historical figures to make an appearance in this novel.  Others include the Pemberton family, specifically Israel Pemberton - known as the "King of the Quakers", James and Susannah Wright, and Scarouady - half-king in the Ohio Valley over Iroquois and their allies.

The novel does not end when Noble and the other members of the wagon train arrive at the fort. In fact, this is only the beginning of his journey to manhood. Through the choices he makes on his return home from the fort, Noble begins to establish his own course, not that chosen by his father. In the end it seems appropriate for this young man to have been named for his grandmother's family - Noble - in his deeds and actions. He is certainly a young man with superior character and morals.

One of the characters I was most interested in was John McCowen. He is indeed a real person, as is Noble. I attempted to find out more information about Mr. McCowen because my maiden name is McCown. I was able to find out the McCowen's connected to my family were actually in Tennessee and Kentucky - according to my father who has been doing genealogy for over sixty years. It would have been very ironic had this John McCowen been related to me, but I was still intrigued with him as a character in the book.

The only difficulties some readers may have is in the Quaker "lingo" (as the author states on her website). "By the 18th Century, when The Snake Fence takes place, hardly anyone except Quakers used "thee" and "thy." In fact, if people used those pronouns, others could be pretty sure they were hearing Quakers. Everyone else had gone to "you" and "your."  Now, I don't know if it is because I was born and reared in Texas, but I have never heard the word "mayhap". When I first came across the word, I immediately thought of "perhaps" and learned when looking the word up online that it is indeed "an archaic word for perhaps" according to The Free Dictionary by Farlex.

I believe this would be an excellent novel for students in middle and high school, especially in the area in which this story takes place. The story provides a wonderful mix of historical events in an easy to read story line. I believe students would not only have a better understanding of history, but also more appreciation for our forefathers if they were to read more books like The Snake Fence. The story provides historical information in a manner that is entertaining and informative to the reader. Like I said at the beginning, I have read a lot of historical fiction. It is one of my favorite genres, however this is the first book I have read about the French and Indian War and I learned a great deal. I'm not sure all readers would research the people and places like I did in order to learn more, but the opportunity is there and so is the historical information.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, the author - Janet Kastner Olshewsky, has provided a complimentary copy of her book for review purposes. My review of this book is in no way influenced by the author and is solely my opinion.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Rosh Hashanah Tale

I'm Sorry, Grover: A Rosh Hashanah Tale
by Tilda Balsley & Ellen Fischer
I have always been a great fan of Sesame Street. The program premiered on November 10, 1969, forty-nine weeks before I was born. My mother stayed home from school (she is a retired teacher) that day in order to see the premier episode.

This particular book, I'm Sorry, Grover: A Rosh Hashanah Tale is from the first Israeli co-production of Sesame Street, called Rechov Sumsum. Some of the familiar characters from America's Sesame Street are also seen on Shalom Sesame (the central location for the set of Rechov Sumsum). Grover and Cookie Monster appear in this story as well as Broch, Avigail (a cross between America's Elmo and Abby Cadabby) and Moishe Oofnik (compared to American's Oscar the Grouch).

The story opens with Grover welcoming the reader a Shanah Tovah - "Happy New Year". He explains that he is in Israel and is going to be telling us a story about his friend Brosh. Cookie Monster finds a sad Brosh in a coffee shop. He soon learns Brosh is sad because he has lost his woolly cap. Cookie Monster goes with Brosh in order to help him retrace his steps. He attempts to locate Grover, thinking he took the cap. He then confront Avigail and Moishe Oofnik, neither have his cap. When the cap is finally discovered Brosh must find each of the friends he thought had taken his cap and apologize.

Throughout the book various items used during Rosh Hashanah are mentioned, such as the shofar (a horn blown in long and short staccato blasts), round challah (circular bread to symbolize the cycle of the year), pomegranates (to symbolize being fruitful in the new year), apples and honey (for a sweet new year).  The text of the book is in English. However, there is a Hebrew text in a number of places in the illustrations. Since the book takes place during the High Holidays (the ten day period leading up to Rosh Hashanah) Brosh is given the opportunity to apologize to his friends and begin the new year with a clean slate.

This is one of four books in the Shalom Sesame eBooks available from Kar-Ben Publishing. Other books in the series include : The Count's Hanukkah Countdown, Grover and Big Bird's Passover Celebration, and It's a Mitzvah, Grover!. I would recommend this book for a library serving children in an area with a large Jewish population. I believe it would be a great book to help young children understand Rosh Hashanah and how to ask for forgiveness.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Kar-Ben Publishing, has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes through

Friday, August 2, 2013

From Stinky to Sanitary

Stinky Sanitation Inventions
by Katie Marisco

I know this probably sounds bizarre, but when I saw the cover and title of this book I knew I had to read it.

Have you ever heard of a garderobe? It was the medieval version of a toilet. It featured a small opening which enable the waste to fall down, usually into the moat. Did you know "the average person goes through almost twenty-one thousand sheets of toilet paper each year? How many porta-potties did the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee set up to aid the attendees to the swearing-in ceremony? I'll give you a hint, it was a record-breaker.

These are just a few of the very interesting facts you will learn about the incredible inventions we use every day in order to keep ourselves sanitary, healthy and clean. I know this is a topic most of us would never discuss in public, but this book has been written for children from age eight to eleven. 
I don't think it will stay on the shelf very long. I believe the children will flock to the title and want to know more about the contents (a table of contents, glossary, index and a section for further information is included in the book).
I'm not sure the cover picture was the best choice, it might deter some potential readers. However, once one of the kids at school have checked this book out, they will all want to know about the pooper-scooper, sewers, and landfills.

I would recommend this book for public and school libraries. The colorful photographs with spotlight information across from full-paged text keeps this book from feeling cluttered. The layout of the book is nice and the font is easily read. Some of the background pages for the photographs can be distracting to older readers, but I think the children to whom this book is directed will like the burst of color throughout.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, 21st Century Publishing, has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes through

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Magical, Wonderful Wizard of Oz

It is most appropriate for me to post a review of this particular book today. Not only is this the book's "birthday", but it is also my sweet cousin Charlotte's birthday!

We are Wizard of Oz fanatics. We LOVE everything Oz! Her nickname is WWW (Wicked Witch of the West) and I am WWE (Wicked Witch of the East). Our children are the flying monkeys ~ very appropriate when you actually KNOW our children. Last weekend was our annual family reunion and we were able to spend a great deal of time together laughing, talking, shopping, and taking pictures. We had a blast!
Friday, July 26, 2013

In celebration of the 75th Anniversary of The Wizard of Oz Beth Bracken has presented a wonderful adaptation of this classic story. Using original film stills and portions of dialogue from the screenplay by Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf, Bracken has created a thirty-four page picture book for young children to enjoy over and over again. From the opening black and white photo of Dorothy Gale to the final page showing the beautiful ruby slippers all of the favorite images of the movie have been incorporated into this picture book.
The Wizard of Oz
adapted by Beth Bracken

The only complaint I have about the book is the abrupt ending. If you have seen the movie as many times as I have, you know Dorothy makes it back home to Kansas after repeating, "There's no place like home." However, if this is a child's introduction to this masterpiece you are sadly left wondering. Following this famous statement appears the words, "The End". There are fabulous images of Dorothy reuniting with her family in Kansas that could have easily been used at the end of this book to show she actually does make it back home. I'm sure Bracken had her reasons for not including this important element. Be that as it may, I don't feel this is as reassuring an ending as the original version from the movie where she awakens to find Aunt Em and Uncle Henry by her side or the book where she lands in her stocking feet in the open prairie runs to Aunt Em's welcoming arms.

As an aficionado of all things Oz, overall I like this book. I love the fact the stills from the original movie have been incorporated. It is a nice introduction to one of my all time favorite books. The series of books (fourteen in all) were written for children twelve and over. To have a version that can be enjoyed by younger readers is fantastic, in my opinion. I would hope by reading this adaptation at an early age and having an appreciation for the characters, and not being afraid of the flying monkeys and witches, the children will be more likely to pick up the original at an older age and enjoy the adventure, excitement, and charm of L. Frank Baum's writing.

*To comply with new guidelines introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, Capstone Press, has provided a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review purposes through

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Author Spotlight - Kelly Bingham

A few weeks ago I posted a review of one of my favorite new children's books, Z is for Moose. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview the illustrator of the book, Paul O. Zelinsky, and today I have the pleasure of sharing my interview with the author, Kelly Bingham.

Ms. Bingham is the author of highly acclaimed Shark Girl (2010) and the much anticipated sequel Formerly, Shark Girl (released in May 2013) for young adult readers. She is also the "mother" of Moose, the main character in Z is for Moose!

Z is for Moose
by Kelly Bingham
What made you switch gears and begin writing for young children?

Well, funny enough, I didn't. I wrote Z is for Moose first! I wrote and sold Moose in 2004. I was working on Shark Girl at the time and it was mostly done, but I hadn't submitted it anywhere yet.

I read on your website that you put Shark Girl away following the shark attack on Bethany Hamilton and that Jane's character is not based on anyone. I love how you explain the process of writing for Jane, "Her voice took over and I found myself following her lead." I guess Jane needed to be heard and you were her voice. 
Moose making an appearance
at a book signing in NYC.
How did you come up with the character, Moose? Is he based on anyone?

When my son was three, he was learning his alphabet. We read every ABC book we could find. Back then, there weren't that many. Most of them were pretty straight forward and only a few were funny. He loved the funny ones and asked me to find him a new funny ABC book. By then I had exhausted all the ABC books in our library. The idea for Moose came to me very suddenly and I wrote it all down. I knew I wanted the alphabet to fall apart around the letter M, and I decided that Moose would be a fun character to see go crazy. (As opposed to Mouse, or Monkey, with I also toyed with.)

Moose on vacation
in Cozumel
As for Moose being based on anyone...I think any parent can relate to having children who have a hard time waiting their turn, or who succumb to melt-downs once in a while, or who really just want to be part of the activities going on around them and can't take "no" for an answer. To some degree, Moose is inspired by my kids. But mostly, he is just himself, and came to me with the perky personality he already has.

It's possible that Zebra may be slightly based on all the parents in the world who have their own Moose to deal with. But mostly Zebra is just simply who he is, which is a good friend.

I love this description of Moose. That is exactly what I envisioned, a young child having a meltdown. Being a librarian for over 700 four-year-olds I can completely relate. I have seen many Moose-like meltdowns when all of our copies of Z is for Moose are checked out. Sadly, I can't purchase a copy for all of my students to have their very own.

You have a degree in animation and worked for Disney for twelve years.

Did you ever consider illustrating Z is for Moose?

Not really. I have never been a fine artist with skills that extend to great understanding of design and color and executing artwork much beyond sketching and simple coloring. My comfort zone involves Sharpies and colored pencils, and that's about it.

When I "wrote" Moose, I did so by storyboarding it out, which involved making a small dummy and drawing the pictures and finding my story that way, through making all the visual things happen from page to page. I made that "book" with the sole purpose of reading it to my son at night.

Later on, I showed it to author friends, who encouraged me to submit it as a manuscript. So I typed it up and sent it off. I never showed the dummy to anyone other than friends and family. It's not much to look at and is very rough, but it helped me get the story written.

I have a similar comfort zone with Sharpies and colored pencils. When I am not reading, I like to color. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but it is very relaxing for me. I especially love the color by numbers. Not the really easy ones though. My favorites are Color Counts by Mindware.

What would you want your readers to take away from your books?

Laughter would be nice. And hope. And maybe some personal connection, a moment of "Wow, I've felt that way, too!"

Making a personal connection with a book seems to always keep the book and characters in your heart. When an author develops a character to whom the readers can relate or build a bond with, the author can seem like a friend. One who understands, even if not on a personal level. Characters can take on a life of their own. They can make the reader see events, ideas, even other people in a way no one else could ever personal convey.  

Are there other picture books in your future? How many books do you currently have in the planning stages?

I have several books in the sloppy stages of planning and drafting. There will be at least one more picture book in my future: there is a second Moose book on the way!

Yes, Paul O. Zelinsky, told me in his interview he was "largely done" with the illustrations for the second Moose book. No hints were given by him, and now by you. I guess we are all going to have to wait and see what kind of adventure, or mischief Moose will be involved with in his second book. I can't wait to see it. It will definitely be a book I spotlight on this blog!

Before working on any kind of project, be it writing an article for my blog or lesson plans for teaching my students, I always do some kind of investigating to see exactly what I am getting into with the task. I don't want to go into something without at least an understanding of what I am in for.

What kind of research do you do before beginning work on a project?

It depends on the project. For Moose, I read every ABC book in my local library several times before writing one of my own. And that was not really concentrated research as much as filling a need for my son, and then having our little story evolve into something totally unexpected.

Shark Girl
by Kelly Bingham
Formerly, Shark Girl
by Kelly Bingham
For Shark Girl, I studied tons of poetry, and had to do research on lots of things. I researched shark attacks ad how and where they happen, and looked through many gruesome photographs. I studied a lot of medical facts. I read autobiographies written by people who had had their lives changed by disabling accidents and diseases. I reviewed "the five stages of grief." I interviewed amputees, doctors, physical therapists, and talked to a man who makes prosthetic limbs. All of that was quite educational!

Most readers, I’m sure, would be surprised to learn of all of the research that goes into writing a book. Thank you for sharing these details. I think it is very important for readers to understand authors don't have all of the answers or details when writing. They are, however, able to find the information and pull it all together in order to make a meaningful and entertaining story for the reader.

What do you do to help inspire yourself when you are creatively blocked?

Usually I take a break. I read. I do other things. You can't force solutions to come to you when you need them. And for me, that's what being "creatively blocked" comes down to. I have a situation that needs solving and I don't have an answer.

During those times I try to be patient. I have found that doing things not related to writing are a good way to free up my brain to work on a solution for the story problem I am facing. Often, a solution will come to me while driving, or when I first wake up in the morning.

On rare occasions it helps to talk the story problem over with someone. But mostly I find it unrealistic to present a story problem to someone and expect them to come up immediately with something you haven't already tried and rejected. For the most part, I let things gel and cook, and keep the faith that the block is only temporary.

Also, it helps to start working on something new, even if it's rough and clunky. Sometimes switching gears to a new story will help me figure out the obstacles in another story.

I am a bibliophile and a self-confessed bookworm. I constantly have a book with me so I will never be caught without reading material. It seems people are more influenced today by factors outside of books and reading.

How do you respond to these changes in order to get people back to reading?

Hmmm, what a good question. I have to admit, I haven't given this a lot of thought.

I hope it doesn't sound lazy, but I guess I don't really see myself trying to lure anyone back into reading. I feel that people will read when they want to, or they won't. I am totally out of the loop on all the new animated storybook apps out there, and all the various digital things that combine reading and games, or reading and movement. I am aware there are websites paired with some books that look to get readers reading a certain book, then exploring and socializing and game-playing on a related website. That's a great idea. But that's not me, and that's not my thing right now. I find it hard to write good stories and I continually find writing an enormous challenge. It's enough for me right now to simply focus on creating good books. I sincerely hope readers find them.

I think all authors, to some degree, really look to librarians, booksellers, teachers, and parents to encourage a love of reading in a child, hopefully from an early age, and to match children with books that are just right for them. Without all these team players in place, each doing their part, not only would "traditional books," (for want of a better term) fade away, but readers might fade away, too. There's nothing wrong with the distraction of games, eBooks, animated apps, websites, and even TV and movies. But it's so very critical that we keep our kids readers as well.

Yes, I believe it is a team effort, and extremely critical to keep our children reading. One of my favorite things to do is connect people with books. Reader’s advisory is one of my favorite ways to help people in the library. Learning about their interests and locating the perfect book or author for them always makes you feel like you have handed them the world. I am so thankful to authors for sharing their gift of words in order to bring a smile to the faces of the library patrons, especially the children.

Were you an avid reader growing up? Did reading influence your decision to become an author?

Oh year, I was a huge reader. I read all the time and usually read the same books over and over and over. My friend and I often wrote our own books together, and made illustrations, and stapled them up, and we felt as proudly professional as any eleven-year-old can feel.

There's no question that my love of reading influence me to want to write and to tell stories. From an early age that's all I wanted to be a part of. It was such a joy to work at Disney as a story artist. I was surround by other storytellers and they were all so incredibly talented. To spend all day crafting stories is a pretty special experience. Even on the days we'd shred everything and start over. And I learned so much!

It was a big, scary step for me to leave Disney and set out to write stories on my own, but it was a good choice. I love doing what I do and my work allows me to be home with my kids, too. And I still get to work with amazing, talented people. I would be more than happy to continue working with Paul O. Zelinsky forever! He's amazing.

What was the last book you read?

I recently re-read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, which I love. And I just read Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World'sMost Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin. What an incredible book! I thought it was outstanding.

These are great books. The Scorpio Races was named a 2012 Printz Honor Book and Bomb was a Newbery Honor book for 2013.

This next question is unusual, but I ask it at the end of all of my spotlight interviews just to see who has an inner rock star. Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) loves to sing 80s hair band songs while he does karaoke.

What would be your featured song?

Really? Wow. Good for Jeff! And how daring for anyone to tackle karaoke, in my opinion, since I am the worst singer ever!

Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?

No - I can't think of anything remotely interesting. Thank you so much for this interview. It's been fun.

Well, thank you Kelly. I have enjoyed the insight especially the creation of Moose, your writing through storyboarding, and your research for the Shark Girl book. I truly appreciate the time you took for this interview. I can't wait to see what you have in store for Moose next.

Ms. Bingham has received starred reviews from Booklist, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB), The Horn Book, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, and School Library Journal for her works. Shark Girl was on Oprah Winfrey's Book List for Kids and was nominated for The Inky Award in Australia. From the American Library Association Shark Girl was nominated for a Schneider Family Book Award (ALA - "for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences") and was named an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. It was also nominated for nine state book awards, including: Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Tennessee; and awarded the Iowa Teen Award in 2011 by student readers.

Z is for Moose is an ALA Notable book and was named one of Amazon's Best Books of 2012. It was nominated for the E.B. White Award which “recognize(s) books that reflect the playful, well-paced language, the engaging themes, and the universal appeal to a wide range of ages embodied by E.B. White's collection of beloved books." It has also been named to the 2013 Texas 2x2 Reading List

You can read about Moose's adventures on his blog, Moose on Earth (because Moose travels way more than Mouse) and visit Kelly Bingham's website, sign her guest book and look around.