Thursday, February 26, 2015

Middle grade book recommendations - Echo and Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting

     If you choose books for a middle grade reader, or enjoy reading it yourself, I have two books to recommend.
     This is wild-waving two thumbs up stuff.
     At first glance, the two books are dissimilar . . .

     Pam Munoz Ryan’s Echo is a weighty tome. The ARC I read is 592 pages long. The story spans decades, weaving the individual stories of multiple protagonists together with themes of prejudice, justice (and injustice) and the healing property of music. A lush mash-up of fantasy, fairy-tale, and historical fiction, it reads like Gone With the Wind for middle grade with a brushstroke of magical realism. Stories that cross the globe with elements of family danger, racism and heroism are rendered at a personal level. It’s the kind of book you “experience” as much as you read it. Wondering how it was all going to tie together, the pages flew by (and sleep was lost!). You will want to run out and buy a harmonica, dust off that recorder from grade school, drum on the desk.


      The ARC of Tommy Greenwald’s Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting (and lives to tell about it) clocks in at 227 pages. Not counting the three page forward-looking epilogue, the storyline spans one week. The plot follows a single protagonist who makes the mistake of sending a text about misgivings about her boyfriend to the wrong person—her boyfriend. I began the book thinking the short chapters were the perfect interlude before I needed to go to the grocery store, and we ended up eating leftovers. It was a cover-to-cover single-sitting read. Part of the author's "Charlie Joe Jackson" series, this can be read as a stand alone title. The snappy contemporary first person narrative deals with the issues of honesty, social media, self-discovery and—the healing power of music. 

     Sometimes I wonder why I don’t have the radio on more now. When I was younger I studied to it, partied to it, sang to it every chance I could. While I didn’t personally identify with all of the songs that I heard, I identified with the singers’ angst and contemplation of the emotional journeys they had taken. And music has a way of freeing people up. A way of connecting people. Of making us stop, listen and feel. Going to go turn it on now.
     Other great elements I should highlight. Both books have diverse characters. Both deal with important social issues. Short chapters in both make them easy to dive into.

     I’m not sure about the boy appeal of these books. I’d love to hear from others to hear what you think!
     Echo is published by Scholastic Press and went on sale February 24, 2015
     Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting went on sale February 17th and is published by Roaring Brook Press.


I received a review copy from the publishers. No other compensation was received nor was a review required.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

Lily The Unicorn -- Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

    In honor of Valentine's Day my recommendation today is about friendship. True, it isn't a "Valentine" story but rather a story of the silly, heartwarming moments that make me feel book love. Because the core is about love. Love and acceptance between friends.

TITLE: Lily The Unicorn
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2014  
Intended Age: 3-87
Themes: Friendship, Fears
Synopsis: An exuberant unicorn tries to convince a penguin to go on adventures with her.

What I like about this book: The author nails the voice. She may be drawn as a unicorn, but Lily represents any (well-rested!) preschooler. Full of energy, optimism and viewing life through rose-colored glasses, Lily believes she can do ANYTHING. And that anyone can join her in her fun. She doesn't convince Roger the penguin as much as wear him down! The hand-lettered billowy text and illustrations look as if they could have been drawn by a very talented child. A maze of almost random objects placed next to each other on each page, linked by the vaguest threads just as a child's thoughts bounce from thing to thing. At first, the visual "noise" is a bit overwhelming if you try to read quickly. But the key is to slow down! The overall effect is charming. (I wasn't familiar with his books before, but the author successfully sold 50,000 copies of his self-published picture book, The Awesome Book before hooking up with Harper Collins.)

  • View the first fifteen pages on HarperCollins website.
  •  Watch the video (above) where Clayton tells how he eventually decided to put his first book online for free.
  • Talk about things a child can do. Things they'd like to do. Things they are afraid of. Compare the lists--any similarities?
  • Ask a friend (or or new!) to join you on an adventure.
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, Susanna keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Thanks again for stopping by!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Eastern PA #SCBWI workshop March 7, 2015

     I often blog about writing workshops I’ve attended.
     This time I’m looking forward -- to March 7th.
     I belong to a local critique group with other eastern-PA SCBWI members, and when our RA’s sent out a call for people to host “intimate” workshops (smaller than the 75-150 that show up for the big conferences) we answered. 
     On March 7th you are invited to "Spring into Writing!"
     From 9AM-12:30 at the historic Moland House in Hartsville, PA you can ask ANY question about kidlit to prolific local authors Debbie Dadey and Kay Winters, and agent Marie Lamba. There will be a first page session (get those pages in by Feb 22!), a presentation about what to do and not do, and open informal question time.
     Oh, and you’ll get to talk to me AND have a snack.
     I hope to meet you there! (may the weather be in our favor)
     For more information: check the SCBWI calendar of events for March 7 or just click here.

Friday, February 6, 2015

GRAVITY - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     I look forward to Friday when I have a great book to recommend! TGI Perfect Picture Book Friday. 
     Today's recommendation--

Publisher: Roaring Book Press, 2014
Intended Age: K-3
Themes: Science
Opening lines: The author takes three lush double-spreads to tell us:


Synopsis: The difficult concept of gravity is explained in simple terms with playful illustrations. What would happen if there was no gravity?

What I like about this book: I love science. And I think kids want to understand the world around them. This book does that with humor and color and makes you stop for a minute and think about one of the basic forces that govern our world. The actual theories are mind-blowing in complexity but the tongue-in-cheek illustrations make the basic information fun, and suitable for the youngest in the intended age group. Back matter explains the concepts in more depth. Last week the Center for Children's Books at the University of Illinois named Gravity a Gryphon Honor Book!

     There's only one thing I don't totally love. The cover.
     I get that it incorporates playful elements to mirror the tone of the illustrations. And I adore the way the sun peeks around Earth. And the floating astronaut doll (even though I would prefer a non-stylized doll without the clear fishbowl globe helmet). The floating flotsam just doesn't work as well on the cover for me as it does paired with the text. Space monkeys anyone?
     If you're familiar with this book, I'd love to hear your reactions in the comments!

  • The curriculum guide covers all of the author's books---so go find them at your library. Island: A Story of the Galapagos is another one of my favorites!
  • Last week I stumbled upon the website "Stir the Wonder" that shares ways for kids to explore the world. Last week's post was on --Gravity! Featuring Jason Chin's new book and several ways to have fun while learning.
  • If it's warm enough where you live, get on a swing set. Talk about why you have to work to go up, but not to come down. Play catch. Have fun.
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Thanks again for stopping by!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Princess Sparkle-Heart gets a Makeover - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Do you ever start reading a picture book, having a pretty good idea where the story is going from the very first page but not at all sure HOW the writer is going to pull it off?
The book I selected this week is one of those books. And the writing, the illustrations, the entire package is masterfully done!
I had read one of the author's other titles, Bedtime Monsters, and liked it but it didn't take me to the computer in a 'have to recommend it moment' like this one. My library doesn't have a copy of his Geisel award winning book (gasp, I know) so I am now on the hunt for that.

TITLE: Princess Sparkle-Heart gets a Makeover
Publisher: Clarion Books, 2014
Intended Age: 4-8
Themes: This book has so many layers, it's hard to pigeonhole it.
I'm going to grit my teeth and say: Toys, Accidents, Pets

Opening lines: Amelia and Princess Sparkle-Heart were best friends.
                        GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR (more R's in the original)

Synopsis: A girl's dog is jealous of the girl's new doll.

What I like about this book: SPOILER ALERT-the beauty of this book is hard to talk about without giving away the ending. So, if you don't want to know what happens, don't read. The cover kind-of gives it away . . . .
The story begins on the title page, and continues on the dedication page before you get to the start of the text. The story might seem to begin abruptly if you don't see those illustrations. Perhaps recognizing a bit of myself, I loved the combination of the shoeless girl in overalls and the girly princess doll. (and the girl's crazy fly-away hair although mine was never red!)
The gutter isn't "scary" black in real life
Favorite toys have accidents or wear out. That's life. And the author takes an unflinching view of this event when Princess Sparkle-Heart is torn to shreds. The story is done so well with perfectly understated text, for a moment I had to pause in reading the climactic scene. The girl's mother does play a role in the "solution" but it didn't bother me. What felt genuinely touching is the girl's ultimate satisfaction in the "new" doll with a unstated nod to what makes a toy, or each of us, US. And what makes a princess, a princess. My favorite childhood toy was loved-through several times and reupholstered yet I never remember being upset by this. Just glad that Harry (I named him after the dirty dog) was still with me. And the dog in the text isn't punished for doing what came naturally.

Resources: FYI: There is an American swimmer with the same name as the author, and his information comes up first in google searches.
 Houghton Mifflin, the parent company of publisher Clarion Books, provides an activity page for making your own Princess Sparkle-Heart. I think this is a great way to preserve pieces of outgrown favorite clothing. I made a patchwork bedspread with favorite clothing scraps when I was in 8th grade, and I smile when I recognize the events it represents. Of course, I actually sewed some of my clothing (why I looked so rag-tag!) and sewed clothing for Barbie and trolls and . . .so it helps if you are a sewer to begin with.

You can see Josh thank the committee for his Geisel award in this 24 second video.

For writers/illustrators, Josh doesn't seem to have a website--too busy winning awards--but Houghton Mifflin has a nice author interview and view at his creative process here.

For kids, talk about which toys they'd invite to a tea party and why. Then have a party--YUM!
Talk about taking care of your toys. What can be fixed and what can't? Repair or donate some of the toys at home.

Read the Kirkus review here.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF 

Thanks again for stopping by!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Put Your Hands in the air for Punxsutawney Phyllis' 10th Birthday celebration!

     I missed the Christmas story event (ah, but the vacation was wonderful!) but can not, will not let the tenth anniversary of Punxsutawney Phyllis pass without participating in Susanna Leonard Hill's book birthday poetry extravaganza.

     Now, what to write?
     The ode idea sounded too dark.
     And the video? Well, my phone predates that option.
     So I thought, how can I get ya'll in the party mood without the audio?
    Weird Al Yankovic knows.
     I picked a song I think most of you will know.
     If you've been under a log and don't know Meghan Trainor's tribute to her butt, you can see her sing it with Miranda Lambert at the CMA awards or with Jimmy Fallon.
     Feel free to sing along as you read my poetic contribution to mankind below. "Cause Phyllis' book birthday is THAT important.
    It is an ironic choice of music since the original song is hardly an anthem of female empowerment, mixing a message of self-acceptance with the need for booty-shaking attention. And the original lyrics have a few words not suitable for younger listeners, which doesn't match the demographic for the book celebration. But there you have it. We all need a bit of iron in our diets, n'est ce pas?
     [Note: apologies to Meghan Trainor and Susanna Leonard Hill for this piece of insanity]


Because you know that,
It's all about the rodent
'Bout the rodent named Phyllis
It's all about her brains
'Bout that furry fem'nist
It's all about her brains
'Been ten years, no kidding!
It's all about the rodent
'Bout her brains
'Bout her brains
Hey, hey, ooh
You know you like that rodent.

HAPPY 10th Book Birthday, Phyllis. :)

If you want to join the fun, you can read more about the celebration on Susanna's blog. I don't recall that there were prizes but it's all about the fun (oops, here I go again!)

Friday, January 23, 2015

BEFORE WE EAT - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

 It has been several weeks since I posted. Partly because of the holiday and family vacation to places without internet (ahhhh), partly because I wasn't reading books that zinged enough to make me want to recommend them. But drum roll--a book I read this week is fist-pump worthy..

TITLE: Before We Eat
AUTHOR: Pat Brisson
Publisher: Tilbury House, 2014
Intended Age: 2-5 (publisher says 4-8)
Themes: Gratitude, Food, Farms

Opening lines: As we sit around this table
                        let's give thanks as we are able
                       to all the folks we'll never meet
                       who helped provide this food we eat.

Synopsis: A lyrical look at where our food comes from, for the very young. 

What I like about this book: As the jacket flap says--"Milk doesn't just appear in your refrigerator." It is easy to believe that grocery stores are magical places where food 'appears.' But farming is hard work, involving a lot of people. I like that this book shows a variety of ages, races and genders participating in the process. It is a simple, romanticized, view of the industry, focusing on small farms where fathers (or grandfathers) hand eggs to their young son who carries them in a basket while chicks stroll around their feet. And this may not be an entirely accurate portrait of how the majority of our food gets to the table but it is age appropriate and a wonderful start to the discussion of the origin of the food we eat. Kirkus succinctly described the book as a "secular grace." Mary Azarian's distinctive vibrant wood-cut ink-printed illustrations keep a gentle focus on the people doing the work. My favorite illustration captures the rolling seas around the fisherman. On her website Mary says that this will "probably be my last picture book." Say it ain't so!

Resources: Read the entire Kirkus review for Before We Eat here.
 A Youtube post that I hoped would show you more inside the book was a static image. Skip that.

The Carle museum includes this book in a list of ten wonderful books about food and farms.
I feel lucky that I grew up in a family that grew food in a garden. If you have room outside or in a window box, winter is the time to plan what you want to plant! I have had good luck with lettuce and herbs indoors. If you don't have the space for that, come fall you can go Pick Your Own at a farm in your area.

The treatment of farm animals engenders strong opinions, so be careful what links you let your kids click on. Kenyon College provides an analytic, non-judgmental, view of the milk cow industry.
Many zoos have "petting zoo" areas that feature farm animals like sheep and goats. Be ready to discuss how they get to your plate if you eat these creatures and go for a visit!
If you google "farm themed activities for kids" you are going to get hundreds of results! I'm not a Pinterest person but I was in 4-H (sheep club, cooking and sewing) and I want to make the paper plate and painted cotton sheep shown here.

Tilbury House lists four items that may be of interest to readers. I didn't get a hold of any of these before I posted but they look like some might be a bit intense for some of the youngest readers--for example one is a free teacher's guide for a book titled Everybody's Somebody's Lunch dealing with the predator/prey concept and the death of a pet, and another is a picture book that deals with the issue of hunting.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF 

Thanks again for stopping by!