October 23, 2014
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing
by Sheila Turnage
Kathy Dawson Books
When Mo and Dale attend an auction they’re just there to help Miss Lana with the umbrella stand she plans to buy. After all, who in their right mind would buy The Tupelo Inn, a sprawling run down structure that’s been empty for some 70 plus years?
Then Miss Lana does buy it with the help of Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton. And, they buy it on purpose, not at all like when Dale waved at a friend and almost made an outrageous buy.
The two women don’t want the inn. They just want to stop another bidder — a nasty, harsh woman that Mo nicknames Rat Face. They plan to buy the inn and then sell it to someone nicer than Rat Face. What they aren’t counting on is the Ghost in the contract.
Mo and Dale (aka the Desperado Detective Agency) quickly open a paranormal division. It is up to them to identify the ghost who trails the scent of rosemary, often sounds like footsteps and seems attracted to the new boy in town, Harm.
The new boy comes across as arrogant but Mo and Dale can’t help but feel sorry for him when the discover where he is living, with a notorious local moonshiner who just happens to be Harm’s grandfather. He is the only family Harm has but the cops are on his trail. Harm hires the Desperados to find the still first and shut it down.
With more mysteries then they know how to handle, the kids must learn how to track down a ghost, unearth long held secrets and learn how rum runners hide a still.
I loved this, the sequel to Three Times Lucky, even more than the original. Turnage’s characters are well-drawn and three dimensional. The good guys all have flaws — Mo is a bit to curious, strong willed and outspoken, Dale is a bit of a chicken and has truly limited social skills. But even the bad guys often have good traits. The moon shiner gives up his still to keep from loosing the grandson he’s only just met.
As always, Turnage’s plot is full of twists and turns, enough to keep you guessing until the very end.
Although there’s a touch of romance, this is a middle grade novel, perfect for young readers who aren’t ready for teen experiences. Share this with a mystery lover or any other reader who likes stories that are hard to predict.
October 20, 2014
by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Jen Corace
The message starts with a mother pigeon, complete with apron and hot dish, asking a young cardinal to tell Peter that he needs to fly home for dinner. The cardinal repeats the message to a goose who repeats it to an ostrich and so on until it gets to a wise old owl. The problem is that with each repetition, a whole new message is created ranging from “Tell Peter: put your wet socks in the dryer” to “Tell Peter: Something smells like fire.”
The adult reading this story won’t be surprised when the message is garbled. Obviously, this is a game of telephone. With our vast experience, we know that it will only get worse and worse. What we don’t see coming is the surprise ending when the message gets to Owl.
Jen Corace’s illustrations are watercolor, ink, gouache, and pencil on paper. Her birds are easily recognizable — the owl is clearly an owl and no one would mistake the turkey for anything but a turkey. But she also anthropomorphizes them, creating a great sense of fun. Mom Pigeon, in her apron and with dinner in wing, is clearly Mom. In all black and white, the ostrich is a French maid. The mallard is a bit of a good ol’ boy. Each bird transforms the message into something that reflects his or her own interests.
As always Barnett’s text is a little wacky and a lot fun. All of the birds relaying this message are perched on top of the telephone lines.
This story would make a great read aloud for story time or a group. Expect young listeners to call out the original message, or at least their version of the original message, as the birds venture farther and farther from the truth. You could also use this in the classroom for a not-so-subtle lesson on repeating what you hear, or think you heard, but it won’t help that in the end Owl gets the message right – yet another topic for discussion. How could owl get it right when every-bird else got it wrong?
October 13, 2014
Chloe and the Lion
by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Adam Rex
Disney Hyperion Books
Mac is the author of a book about Chloe. All week long Chloe collects coins so that she can pay for a ride on the merry-go-round. On her way there, she encounters a lion. Well, the text says the encounters a lion but the illustration shows a dragon. Why? Because dragons are more interesting.
Who gets to decide what happens in the story? If you are a writer or an illustrator, you know that it takes both top notch writing and amazing drawings to create a winning picture book. The first thing to go when Mac and Adam argue is the dignity as Adam redraws Mac as half ape and much, much more. Mac gets even by drawing his very own lion. After all, how hard can drawing be?
Mac brings in a new illustrator who pulls of an okay lion. The lion isn’t great but he’s pretty good. Then the lion swallows the first illustrator whole. Gulp!
But Mac isn’t off the hook. Mac thinks things will be better with the new illustrator only to discover how good he had it Adam. Adam agrees to help Mac out but first Mac has to get him out of the lion.
This isn’t a book where the reader is simply an observer. Mac makes comments to the reader and Chloe makes eye contact.
Off beat and humorous, this book is a great teaching tool for any group who wants to learn about how picture books are created. My favorite illustration was the one where the lion coughs Adam back up. The look on Adam’s face is pricelss.
Add it to your classroom bookshelf and teach your students about collaboration and creativity.
October 9, 2014
by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Jon Klassen
Balzer + Bray
Annabelle is playing outside in the cold and the snow in her ho-hum black-and-white town. She finds a box of yarn.
First Annabelle knits herself a sweater, bringing a little color into her world. She has plenty of yarn left and knits a sweater for her dog, Nate and his crabby dog, her teacher and her classmates. With each addition, the world is a little brighter.
As Annabelle attracts the attention of those around her, some disapprove claiming that she is distracting. Some are envious and want what she has. When she refuses to sell her seemingly endless box of yarn, the box is stolen. Upon closer inspection, the box is empty until Annabelle gets it back and resumes her knitting to warm and brighten the world.
Klassen’s illustrations are as simple and straightforward as Barnett’s text. Note: Neither one is truly simple or straightforward although this is how they appear after a quick read.
Is this a story about knitting? Or is it a tale of generosity, creativity or hope? It is all of these and so much more.
Klassen’s illustrations combine ink and gouache in a world that starts out in flat back and white before adding color to the stark reality that Annabelle decides she can and will change. Share this magical, elegant story with young readers (1st grade through 3rd grade) and spur discussions about the power of one creative individual to change their world, to brighten it and make it better.
This is significantly more fanciful than Ben Franlin’s Big Splash but the idea that you can do many things with a can-do attitude is much the same.
October 6, 2014
Ben Franklin’s Big Splash:
The Mostly True Story of His First Invention
by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Did you know that Ben Franklin loved to swim? As the mom of a swimmer, this was news to me. He swam in Boston’s Charles River. The thing is that back in the colonial days when Franklin was a boy, people did not swim for fun or for exercise. They actually thought that being too clean would make you sick.
Yet Franklin taught himself to swim. When he was swimming, he spent time watching the fish and noting how much better they could swim. Soon, he was working away in his father’s shop, crafting a pair of swim fins and a pair of paddles. Franklin may not have been the earliest person to invent swim fins, but he was probably the earliest person to do more than draw them. He actually made them, tried them in the river, and then made improvements.
Even at a young age, Franklin was trying to make his world a better place.
This book is an excellent choice for 3rd through 5th graders who are studying history and may have run into Franklin’s name. It is also a good choice for anyone who is studying science because Franklin doesn’t succeed in his first attempt. Instead, he has to rethink his inventions and make improvements.
Why is this book billed as only mostly true? Franlkin’s description of the process he used to make this particular set of inventions is a paragraph long, written in a letter to a friend. Yes, Rosenstock researched Frankin and his times but she didn’t have details about what he was thinking and what specific actions he might have taken, shaking off water or smiling, when he climbed out of the river.
This is a highly realistic book but it is a work of fiction.
Schindler’s ink and watercolor illustrations look old fashioned but do so without dating the book and making it feel out-of-date. Instead, the illustrations ad depth to the story.
Check this one out and share it with the young thinker and do-er in your own life.
October 2, 2014
Top Secret Files: World War II
by Stephanie Bearce
From Josephine Baker to explosive balloons and baseball player Moe Berg. All this and more is in the pages of this book. Bearce has defintely created a series that will hook young readers and make them want to know more about hstory. She’s done it by telling them about the things that aren’t generally covered in history books or lessons.
Each book in this series has five sections: Secrets, Spies, Special Missions, Secret Weapons and Secret Forces. Since I live in St. Louis, I especially enjoyed reading about Baker who is from just across the river. As a female entertainer, she could move about more freely than other people and soldiers, even officers, often spoke freely in front of her. She became a valuable spy for the French.
Bearce has also written about the secret codes, covering both the Nazi’s Enigma machine and the Bletchley Park code breakers who worked so hard to set up a similar device working with a stolen machine. She has also written about a variety of men and women who worked as spies. Many of the successful spies were women simply because soldiers didn’t automatically suspect a house wife or cute girl of being an enemy agent.
Another part that I really enjoyed was reading about two secret cities. One was real and located in Tennessee. The other was a fake, used to hide the facilities where air craft were built.
As with other books in this series, Bearce avoids overwhelming her readers by delivering the information in easy digestible chunks. A reluctant reader can stop after reading about Josephine Baker while a more eager reader can devour the entire section on spies.
Readers who are especially intrigued by the topic will find a list of resources in the back of the book.
Bearce presents a wide variety of information, describing the world of Americans, Candadians, British, French, Germans and Russians. She has even included a princess from India. Bearce is a former teacher and she knows both how to hook her readers and how to deliver the facts.
Pick this one up for history buffs, those who aren’t sure and even adult enthusiasts. Each will find something new in this book.
September 29, 2014
Top Secret Files: The Civil War
by Stephanie Bearce
Getting kids interested in history can be tough if they think it is about nothing more than dates and names and lists of tedious facts. Bearce, on the other hand, has written a book about history that kids will want to read. After all, who doesn’t want to get in on a good secret?
Bearce’s series is all about spies, their missions and the tools they used to get the job done. She writes about plots against Lincoln, slaves acting as spies, women disguised as men, submarines, secret codes and attempts to steal locomotives. Each book in this series has five sections: Secrets, Spies, Special Missions, Secret Weapons and Secret Forces.
Young readers will learn about the part played by the Pinkerton detectives, a woman who used laundry as a code to send messages to Union forces, spy balloons, and the importance of maps. Bright lights were even used as a weapon. That said, not everything Bearce discusses was successful which is fortunate since the Confederacy tried to use germ warfare against the Union.
My favorite section was the one on Ft. Davidson. The fort isn’t far from my home and I’ve seen for myself just how small it is. It is featured in Bearce’s book because the Union Forces stationed there won a decisive victory by sneaking away and blowing the place up.
I also liked the how-to pieces. Readers learn the Confederate Signal Corp alphabet, how to create a scytale and even how to make a working model of a hot air balloon.
With so much information in one place, it might be overwhelming but Bearce has broken each section into easily-digestible chunks. A reluctant reader can easy conquer a section of 2 or 4 pages while more eager readers cna devour much more.
Readers who are especially intrigued by the topic will find a list of resources in the back of the book.
This is a very well balanced look at the Civil War. Bearce shows that the Union and the Confederacy both had successes and failures. She also includes information about men, women and children, slave and free. It isn’t a comprehensive look at the Civil War but it does give young readers information that they aren’t going to find in other books on the topic. Bearce is a former teacher and she knows both how to hook her readers and how to deliver the facts.
Pick this one up for history buffs, those who aren’t sure and even adult enthusiasts. Each will find something knew in this book.
September 25, 2014
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art
by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Mary Grandpre
Alfred A. Knopf
As a boy, Vasya Kandinsky led a very proper life. He studied books full of math, books full of science and books full of history. The regular tic-tic-tac of the metronome guided his practice of piano scales. Dinner was a dress-up affair where he sat compelled to keep a straight spine as the grown-ups talked on and on.
And then, his aunt gave him a box of watercolors. His aunt showed him how to mix colors on the pallette. When he opened the box himself, he hear a hiss and a trill. When he tried to describe the noises to his parents, they shushed him and told him not to be silly.
Vasya wasn’t being silly. He took his work very seriously as he painted the sounds of the colors. A yellow circle. A navy rectangle. Slashes of crimson and so much more.
His family sent Vasya to art class. There he learned to make drawings that looked just like everyone else’s drawings. This wasn’t the art that Vasya loved.
He finished his studies and becames a lawyer but he still noticed the colors and sounds that swirled around him. After attending the opera, he was so inspired that he once again took up his paints.
You’re going to have to read the book to get the rest of the story.
I have to admit that before I read this, I wouldn’t even have recognized Kandinsky’s name. I know I’ve seen his paintings but his name? Not even on the tip of my tongue.
After reading about what inspired him and how he made a place for his own art — unique, vibrant and new — in the art world and in the world in general.
This book isn’t nonfiction because the author created the dailogue herself. This means that although the events in the book are true, she could not find the word-for-word dialgue in the source material.
Her author’s note is a treasure trove of what is fact and what is fiction in The Noisy Paint Box. As I read the story, the idea that sounds had colors seemed familiar. Rosenstock explains that Kandinsky probably had the genetic disorder synesthesia. People with synesthesia process sensory input differently from the rest of us and report hearing colors, seeing music and tasting words. Amazing that something considered abnormal gaves us Kandinsky’s work.
Mary Grandpre, the illustrator of this book, uses a combination of paper collage and acryllic paint to bring Kandinsky’s world and his art to life for the reader.
This book would be a marvelous introduction to a unit on modern art or an inspiration for a young artist whose work may not meet with the complete approval of his teachers.
September 22, 2014
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
by Holly Black
There are predators and there are prey. Turn cold and you are somewhere in between.
Tana lives in a world very like our own. “Reality” shows on television and the internet portray anything but reality. Teens, convinced that what they have seen is true, make life altering decisions based on these facts.
Casper Morales was a vampire who, instead of draining his victims, let them life. He thought he was being merciful, but those he had fed on all carried the virus. As the infection grew within them, they became colder and colder. Soon they were overcome by a thirst for warmth and for blood. People thought they could quarantine their loved ones, keeping them and everyone else safe until the virus no longer coursed through their veins. That’s how Tana came to be bit the first time.
When she wakes up in a bathtub, it takes a few moments to realize why she is there. A party. She came to the farmhouse for a sundown party. In an attempt to avoid her ex-boyfriend, she took refuge in the bathroom and fell into a drunken slumber. The sun is high in the sky as she slowly realizes that someone should have awoken her hours ago in a bid to use the shower. Why is the house deathly quiet?
Soon she finds herself on a drive to the nearest Coldtown. With her in the car are her ex-boyfriend, going cold, a vampire hiding from the sun in the trunk, and, potentially, a virus growing within her veins, a virus that infected her when she was scraped by a vampire’s fangs as she escaped out the window. Tana wonders just how cold and hungry she will be by the time she reaches Coldtown.
I am NOT a fan of vampire books. That’s in caps because it really can’t be emphasized enough. I honestly don’t think that I’ve read 10 in the last 3 years and given the number of books I read, that says a lot.
But I really love Black’s writing. She has a deliciously sarcastic sense of humor and has much to say about our plugged in global society. When a site I read recommended this, I gave in and gave it a chance.
Yes, it is a paranormal romance in that she is human(ish) and he is vampire. But she is not helpless, he is not trying to turn her, and just what a vampire is is called into question in the course of this novel. Are they truly damned and posessed by a supernatural evil that makes them something other than their human selves? Or are they infected by a virus, the symptoms of which drive them to do things they would never contemplate as humans? Or is answer something else? Something less comfortable? Perhaps they are simply removed from the rules and ethics that keep our true selves from shining through.
As always, Black’s characters are wonderfully drawn. Tana, our heroine, is delightfully snarky and doesn’t take anything from anyone — including her ex. Aidan is the bad-boy, or at least the troublesome player, that you just can’t help but love. He’s adorable and irritating and everyone has known a boy just like him, darn it all. Gavriel, the vampire in the trunk, is clever and endearing and crazy – or is he.
Pick this one up for the fast moving plot and keep reading it for the characters, the humor and the social commentary.
September 18, 2014
Lincoln’s Grave Robbers
by Steve Sheinkin
I tend to read before swim meets and when I’m waiting to pick swimmers up from practice. Moms and dads and siblings and I all discuss our books. The funny thing is that everyone saw this cover, read this title and assumed I had to be reading fiction.
Nope. A group of counterfeiters set out to steal Lincoln’s remains on Election night, 1876.
Why? Another counterfeiter, probably the king of them all, had been caught and jailed. Without his work engraving plates, the supply of quality counterfeit was dwindling. Quality goods are necessary so that you don’t get caught. If they didn’t get more of his work soon, they’d all have to find other work. They planned to steal and hide Lincoln’s remains. The brains of the outfit would then “find” the body and return it to the feds. I’m not certain why he tought that this wouldn’t scream “ransom demand” but that was their plan.
And stealing the body shouldn’t have been all that hard. Two doors stood between Lincoln’s sarcophagus and the public. Anyone who could cut through a padlock could gain entrance.
I’m not going to tell you anything more about the story because this is a true crime story and half of the beauty of this type of story well told is the suspense.
For those of you who know Sheinkin’s work, you know that this is going to be one of those stories that is just too crazy to be true . . . but it is. Everything in the book from the setting to the characters to the story to the dialogue has been researched by Sheinkin. The trick in this type of book is puzzling out what really happened. Who is telling the truth and who is making things up?
For the middle grade reader who doesn’t want to read a story that is made up, the fan of true crime and detective stories.