Friday, February 27, 2015

WALL by Tom Clohosy Cole - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I was prepared to NOT like this one. That's the mind set I had when I brought it home. And so it's a surprise that I find myself writing this post. But doesn't everyone love a surprise?
     Today's recommendation--

GORGEOUS front and back covers
Publisher: Templar Books/Candlewick, 2014
Intended Age: 6-9 (NOT for the youngest)
Themes: Separation from a parent, History
Opening lines

My mom said that while the wall was being made,
our dad got stuck on the other side.

Synopsis: A little boy misses his father and is determined to reunite his family when they are separated by the Wall. (Berlin isn't mentioned in the text, only on the inside back jacket flap)

What I like about this book: I found myself holding my breath as I read. The tension and emotion swept me into the story. The graphic illustrations are eerily dark and foreboding. Perhaps because I'm an adult and I knew the reality of the situation it affected me more, but I think any child will connect with a child's longing to find their parent when forces they can't understand are keeping them apart.

     The book jacket says that the story is based on historical true stories of escape from East Berlin but I agree with the New York Times review that this story feels more like fairy tale. The boy's heroic deed isn't entirely believable, nor the soldier's response at the climax, but it makes a time in history accessible to younger readers and can spark meaningful conversations about freedom and fairness.The emotional core of the story goes well beyond the specific event portrayed. And that's why it earned my personal recommendation. I hope readers SEE the back jacket flap information about Berlin. I think it would have worked better as back matter, but I guess there wasn't room.
     NOTE: The story has powerful imagery. A parent should read the book first to determine if their child is old enough to process and appreciate the story without being upset. The soldiers in the story carry guns (shown in silhouette) and one single page that speaks to those who weren't lucky enough to escape shows the silhouette of a soldier carrying an apparently lifeless body with razor wire in the background. It is included in the CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2015 Preview in the K-2d grade category.

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!

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!