Thursday, August 20, 2015

LIFE ON THE EDGE : The coming of age of Quantum Biology - Book Review

     I'm a science nerd. 
     I ended up in the legal profession but my first degrees (bachelor's, master's) were in science--my first love-- and I like to follow what's going on on that world. So I was excited to get a copy of the book I'm reviewing today.

Title: Life on the Edge: The coming of age of quantum biology
Authors: Johnjoe McFadden and Jim Al-Khalili
Publisher: Crown Publishing, 2014
Adult Nonfiction
Synopsis: A retrospective on quantum science and it's application in the field of biology, exploring the ways quantum science can answer questions about what it means to be alive.

What I liked about this book:  The authors discuss the mind-bending theories of quantum mechanics using concrete examples of animal behavior and human biology. How do robins migrate? How do enzymes and genes propagate efficiently and error-free? How can photosynthesis proceed as quickly as it does? The field of quantum mechanics is as complex as life itself, and the authors take time to examine how being in two places at once, spooky connections and travel through impenetrable barriers is reality, not science fiction.
     This being said, I wouldn't recommend this book to someone without some background in science or a serious desire to learn more. Despite the use of helpful figures, an overview isn't enough to explain some of the concepts and I found myself needing to reread sections.
     My favorite parts? Contemplating the rearrangement of molecules from tadpole to frog. Envisioning the creative thinking process when Nobel prize-winner Dudley Herschbach asked German researcher Klaus Schulten "where in the bird is the laser?" (p. 190) And most of all the comparison of decoherence dampening in laboratories (reducing noise) as compared to biologic systems (using noise). References to the noise of "crisps bags" in the theater took me fondly back to the time we lived in West Byfleet, Surrey, not far from where these researchers work! It's a small world after all --or perhaps entanglement of a non quantum variety.

If you're interested in learning more, the authors have links to more information and speeches on the subjects covered in the book. I included links to their websites in the author line above.

Note: I received a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  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.”

Thanks for stopping by! I love to know what you think of my selections.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lillian's Right To Vote - picture book review

     Every American should be having a big celebration tomorrow. You probably don't have this marked on your calendar. Go ahead and check. I'll wait . . .
     August 6, 2015 is the fifty-year anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. This Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson, prohibits racial discrimination in voting. And every American should be proud of this historic piece of legislation. Proud because this Act is evidence of the strength of our democratic process. Evidence that EVERY American has a voice. Evidence that when our laws aren't perfect (the 15th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1870 was intended to solve racial voting discrimination)  we improve them. Our country is constantly evolving.
     So what does this have to do with children's books?
     Voting laws don't sound like exciting plot material?
     Read this book.

Title: Lillian's Right to Vote
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Shane W. Evans
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, 2015
Intended Age: 5-9
Themes: Civil Rights, Voting, Diversity
First Lines:  "A very old woman stands at the bottom of a very steep hill. It's Voting Day, she's an American, and by God, she is going to vote. Lillian is her name."
Synopsis: A 100-year old African-American woman recalls her ancestors' stories of discrimination and famous Civil Rights moments as she climbs a hill on her way to cast her vote.

Why I like this book: I am a big humongous fan of Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans work. When I reviewed Shane's book We March I used the word "powerful." And that's what I felt here. The steep hill Lillian climbs is literal, and metaphorical. The reader sees it and feels it and midway through the book I found myself huffing and puffing with imagined exertion, willing Lillian up the climb. The author and illustrator don't shy away from showing the horrible indignities that people suffered from slavery to Selma. Men. Women. Children. Treated as less than others. The muted sketchy-quality used to illustrate the generations past that accompany Lillian feel like present day ghostly figures reminding us not to forget. The illustrator has put Lillian in a vibrant Sunday-best coat and hat with matching high heel shoes, emphasizing the dignity and importance of her personal moment. An unforgettable book. It may be targeted for young readers but I say it is for all ages.
A master class for illustrators, my favorite spread uses the gutter to show Lillian's voting history.

During the 2008 election, I remember reading the story of the real woman, a fellow Pennsylvanian, who inspired the book. In research for this post I was sad to see that Lillian Griffin Allen passed away earlier this year at the age of 107. I hope advance reader copies were passed out in heaven.
Note to parents: the book contains one nude male figure  (the second spread) seen from the back. This slave figure in bondage is the focal point of the illustration. It is not gratuitous. The image, standing next to his wife (wearing a skirt made of burlap-gorgeous mixed-media texture) is concise and powerful.
  • Surfnetkids recommends five websites relating to the Voting Rights Act for parents and children. 
  • For older children (grades 7-12) -The National Archives - Center for Legislative Archives
  • Take your children along with you to vote.
  • Talk about democracy and why you vote. Have mock elections for everyday things - ex. vegetable to be served at dinner! Then talk about how it feels if everyone else in the family gets to vote except one person.
  • Read all of Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans books. Vote on favorites.

Note: I received a review copy from Random House in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  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.”
Thanks for stopping by! I love to know what you think of my selections.

Monday, August 3, 2015


     I have never net Penny Parker Klostermann in person. But I consider her a friend. Why? We belong to several of the same online writing groups, and the writing process is such an intimate one that it engenders feelings of camaraderie that I don't feel in other online relationships.
    My thumbs up for the title today, however, isn't because of any relationship.
     Enjoy this book because it's good fun.

Title: There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight
Author: Penny Parker Klostermann
Illustrator: Ben Mantle
Publisher: Random House
Intended Age: 3-7
Themes: Humor, Gluttony

Opening Line: There was an old dragon who swallowed a knight.
                        I don't know why he swallowed the knight.

Synopsis: A dragon swallows a succession of people and items in this cumulative tale following the structure of "There was an old woman who swallowed a fly."

Why I like this book: The rhyming text is smart and snappy. A great read-along with the refrain: "It's not polite!" The illustrations provide a cutaway view inside the dragon as each new person lands atop the others. While some younger ones may feel sorry for the knight, the illustrator cleverly provided ample warnings to him, so it feels as if the knight got what was coming to him. And all the while the faithful steed keeps "clippity, clippity" clopping--even across the endpapers.
Warning signs aplenty!

Resources/Activities: Random House provided an activity guide.
Susanna Leonard Hill reviewed this book before release in a special Perfect Picture Book Friday post.

Note: I received a review copy from Random House in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  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.”

Thanks for stopping by! I love to know what you think of my selections.

Friday, July 24, 2015

APES A-GO-GO! Picture book review

There's a reason this title is in all caps.
That's the way it's written on the cover.
Also, that's the tone of this book. Big. Raucous. Fun!

Title: APES A-GO-GO!
Author: Roman Milisic
Illustrator: A. Richard Allen
Publisher: Knopf, 2014 (UK), US release 2015
Intended Age: 4-8
Themes: Cleaning, Good Intentions, Community
First Line: "Once upon a time, there was a lovely town. It was so well kept that it was set to win the Tidiest Town Competition for the third year in a row."

Synopsis: When the persnickety mayor notices that one detail is out-of-whack, a series of Great Apes tries to fix it with comical results.

What I like About this Book: There is a even mix of humorous child and parent appeal in this read aloud. The mayor is the stand-in for a parent who wants things done RIGHT. And the apes are the child-like foils who want to fix things, are completely well-intentioned, but don't always understand how their "fix" will have unintended results. It's probably not a spoiler alert to say that things go downhill quickly!
The author uses a fun read aloud (shout aloud!?) refrain - "Bogo! Pogo! Apes A-Go-Go!" that made me want to beat my chest in Tarzan-like fashion. The illustrator's use of black line over scenes washed with color added energy. The yellow, blue and pink skies, and brown, purple, green, orange and blue apes felt genuine and playful. And who can resist an ape in oven mitts! (FUN FACT - the author is a NY fashion designer who has designed for Lady Gaga)

Watch the trailer! Here.

Learn about apes. and Easy Science for Kids have material for this age group.

Is there something at home that needs fixing? Brainstorm solutions and talk about the pros and cons of each suggestion. Try the one deemed best. Do other unexpected problems arise?

Discuss if the town is better at the start of the story, or at the end.

Bake a cake.

For older readers- compare the apes in this book to the ape characters in Furious George Goes Bananas (by Michael Rex), Ding Dong Ding Dong (by Margie Palatini) and Look! (by Jeff Mack).

Note: I received a review copy from Random House in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  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.”

Thanks for stopping by! I love to know what you think of my selections.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Max the Brave

     Summer has swept me away. A combination of chores and fun.
     But here's something A-dorable to get back on track.
     Book trailer time.

Going to try to do some catch-up tomorrow! Stories to highlight from the past month's reading are waiting in the wings. :)

Keep cool until then.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Career Playbook - Recommended Read

 Title: The Career Playbook

Author: James M. Citrin
Publisher: Crown Business
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Theme: Job Search, Job advancement

 For generations, people have been looking for jobs. The subject isn't a new one. And although some of the advice in The Career Playbook isn't "new" either, the author organizes the material in a logical concise, easy-to-read manner using concrete examples to illustrate his points and made this book a two thumbs up read for me.
     The subtitle of the book--Essential Advice for Today's Aspiring Young Professional--is a good description of the content. It's the information that I would want to give my job-seeking kids, but that kids probably don't want to hear from their parents. And because I believe parents shouldn't be involved in their kids' job search, this book is a super stand in.
     The book combines over-arching advice about the power of relationships and tenacity with practical examples of cover letter language and phone interview etiquette for job searchers. Suggestions for those in the early parts of their career such as being "a receiver of information, not a broadcaster." (p 131). Yes, some of this is common sense for many readers but when you are facing job search/job change stresses common sense often goes out the door and this is a good reminder of ways to put your best foot forward. In today's job market nothing is a gimme.
   I suggest skimming the information in Part 1 (pages 1-52) and then a slower read to digest the rest of the book (55-208).
   I can already think of a few people who might enjoy this so I am going to buy another copy of the book to pass on!

Note: I received a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  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.”
Thanks for stopping by! I love to know what you think of my selections.

Friday, June 19, 2015

2015 New Jersey SCBWI Conference

     If kidlit writers had unlimited time and money, we could attend every conference. But we don't. So here's a recap of the sessions I attended at last weekend's NJ SCBWI annual conference that might help you decide if this is something you want to save up for. [Spoiler alert: start saving!]
     Everyone was treated to Denise Fleming's opening keynote.
Fantastic books for gifts!
     Denise is smart. Zany. Generous. And apparently impervious to heat as the room a/c hadn't been turned on before the conference. Think dank, rank men's locker room in the Amazon rain forest to experience it yourself. Despite this hiccup, Denise energized the crowd, sharing images of how her work progressed from merely gorgeous mouse to stylized (publishable!) mouse, reminding us that "good" isn't good enough. Keep exploring and pushing boundaries like the kids we write for.

     I had my critiques during the first session, so I didn't attend anything during that slot. Even if you belong to a zillion peer critique groups, unless your peers are the likes of Jane Yolen and Mac Barnett I recommend hearing what the conference faculty have to say about your work. One of my critiques was with 
fabulous author Ame Dyckman and I got a two-fer surprise with author Adam Lehrhaupt reading and commenting as well. Doesn't get better than that!

     Editor Steve Meltzer taught workshop 2 - Who is going to buy my book? Finding the Right Publisher. (View one of his writing tips on Youtube here)
     I hadn't heard the term "BISAC code" before, but now know to go to the Book Industry Study Group pages for juvenile fiction and nonfiction to see if my book has multiple keyword hooks. Steve's discussion of successful comp titles has me looking for those that got marketing support, second printings, trailers and the like.

     Author Wendy Pfeffer led workshop 3 - Writing Nonfiction and Narrative Nonfiction. Wendy started her career writing educational books and recommended that as a good way to start, learning to work with editors and building a brand name that now allows her pick her own ideas for stories in the trade market. One of her top tips? Don't just get "an expert" for your book. Get "the BEST expert on the subject," noting that these top tier folks are also often the most generous with their time.

     For workshop #4, I attended Scholastic Senior Editor and author Orli Zuravicky's presentation "Developing Picture Book Character." Because picture books have so few words, character development can be tough! And if you're not also an illustrator, you can't rely on the pictures in your head (wouldn't it be nice to have a way to share those "mind pictures" without illo notes!) Orli examined successful classics (Eloise, Clifford, Fancy Nancy, Pete the Cat), noting that while much of your character work won't appear in the pages of your book, it should be done before writing the plot.

     Agent Marie Lamba tackled the topic of "Worthy Picture Books" in workshop #5 by going through examples of what doesn't work. Schtick (jokes, not stories), Poor execution, and Didactic tone led off her list of ten flaws. She used an easel (instead of power point), hugging it at points for emphasis. She had us eating out of her hand! Now I wonder if Dav Pilkey will notice a jump in sales as everyone in attendance scurries to find a copy of one of Marie's favorites, The Hallo-wiener (first published back in 1999, it was new to me!)
     Tired of reading yet? Imagine--this was all day ONE. And I chose to be part of the peer critique groups as well which meant the formal sessions ended for me at 10:30PM. 

     Day two opened with freelance editor and author Harold Underdown's morning keynote. Harold tackled ten things to know about Business Trends. I hadn't considered how reduced library and school sales affected the "BIG" publishing houses' acquisitions, putting the focus on what will 'sell itself' on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble, leaving quieter, quality books for smaller independent publishers. He advised that the material he covered would be delved into in even more depth on his Purple Crayon website. I'm glad to know that e-books have a place in the market, but print still rules as the medium of choice. I like to flip back and forth.
    And you don't need to be on every social media platform, but get a website/blog up!
     My workshop #6 choice was Seven Revision Tips with authors Marcie Colleen and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Didn't want to miss this for two reasons: I've heard the adage that 90% of good writing is re-writing, and I'm lucky to count Marcie as one of my critique partners. Listing specific items to look at in our manuscripts--removing past participles, adjectives, adverbs and thought words from our manuscripts, specific goals to look for such as variety not just in text, but in compositional format--my writer's toolbox was bulging by the session's end. Marcie and Sudipta transitioned seamlessly back and forth, covering a lot of material.

     Author Tammi Sauer kept the picture book mojo going-highlighting her work in Picture Books that Sell, workshop #7. Humor is an integral part of Tammi's work and one of her observations I loved and noted is that sometimes the sadder/bigger/scarier the moment, the more humor you can (and should!) find in it. She finds a way to take familiar topics (monsters, pets) mixed with a
timeless theme (perseverance, friendship) and make a fresh story. And while titles may be changed after acquisition, having a great title is one way to catch an editor's eye. And forget 5-Hour Energy, find out what Tammi is eating because that woman is on fire!

     I finished off the workshops (#8!)with a first page session. I was one of two "readers" which is fun to do. Editors Traci Todd (Abrams) and Shauna Rossano (G.P.Putnam's Sons) responded to each manuscript with lightning speed, giving everyone insight on how fast editors can evaluate our work. They reminded writers not to use words that would date a manuscript (like "dude") and as a result of their feedback I'm going to try my draft in third person instead of first.
     The day ended with agent and author John Cusick's keynote and then a book signing. And he brought home the reminder to enjoy the process. Which is one of the highlights of my conference experience. We're all spinning on the same carousel, working toward the goal of successful careers in the industry, but achieving that goal--that part is out of our control. Connecting with the wonderful people who are on the same journey, learning more about the craft and process, those are their own golden ring. And there are enough rings to go around!
     Grab it at the next SCBWI event.