February 22, 2018

Forest World by Margarita Engle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:37 pm by suebe2

Forest World
by Margarita Engle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Hurt and confused, Edver doesn’t know what to expect when his mother ships him off to Cuba.  He knows that the two of them fled the island when he was just a baby and he knows that this is where his father lives, but what is the surprise about which his mother hints?

Before Edver gets on the airplane, his mother loads him down with gifts and warnings.  Don’t boast. Don’t flash around your money. Don’t ask for food. The people in Cuba have very little and she wants to help him fit in and connect with those around him.

But Edver doesn’t understand how he can hope to connect.  Not without the phone that his mother took away.  Sure, he was skateboarding while playing a game but if that biker had been paying more attention the guy wouldn’t have gotten hurt.

In Cuba, Edver discovers that his phone wouldn’t have worked anyway and that no one knows anything about the games he loves.  His grandfather, abuelo, teases Edver about the games but the most clueless of all is the one who was meant to be a pleasant surprise.  His sister.  Edver is only a year younger than Luza, a girl who loves art, magic realism and the forest on the family mountain.  She is proud of the work that their father does to keep the animals safe from poachers.

Not surprisingly, she resents Edver and the relationship he has with their mother.  Edver doesn’t understand her anger but he too wants to lure Mama to Cuba.  But she’s off looking for rare animals in a Southeast Asian jungle.  So the siblings invent a butterfly, never before seen, to lure Mama back to Cuba.  What they don’t expect is that before she arrives they will come face-to-face with someone much more dangerous.

If your young reader has never sampled Engle’s work, this book would make an excellent introduction to the Young People’s Poet Laureate as named by the Poetry Foundation. This book is a novel in verse, fast-paced and accessible.  Poems alternate between the point-of-view of Edver and Luza.  Readers learn about the sibling’s unusual names, how Cuban families were split, and the damage done by poachers who lure people into helping them.

For anyone interested in poetry, Cuba, human rights, or the environment.



February 16, 2018

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 12:55 am by suebe2

The Word Collector
by Peter H. Reynolds
Orchard Books/Scholastic

Collectors collect whatever it is that they are passionate about.  This means that some of them collect stamps.  Others collect coins.  Still others collect art, but that’s not what Jerome collected.  Jerome collected words.

Whenever he heard a word or saw a word that caught his attention, Jerome would write it down. He liked short words and long words.  Some words  sounded like songs.  Others were marvelous to say even if he didn’t know the meaning.  The longer Jerome collected words, the more scrapbooks he filled, each word written on a piece of paper and taped on the larger pages.

One day Jerome was transporting his collection when he tripped. Words flew everywhere.  Now his collection was a jumble with big words next to small words. Jerome looked at what words had landed together and began stringing words together.  Soon he was writing poems and songs and he discovered just how powerful words could be.  In the end, he knew he had to do one more thing…

Ha! I’m not telling you because I refuse to spoil this marvelous aha ending.

If Reynolds’ name sounds familiar, you may recognize it from another of his books – The Dot.  Reynolds plants a reminder of that one in the art work for this book.  When he discusses someone collecting art, the person is gazing on a collection of dots.  I admire Reynolds’ books both as a writer and a reader.  They are astonishingly simple on the surface but simultaneously quite deep.  That’s a hard trick to pull off but Reynolds has done it again just as he did in The Dot. 

In The Word Collector, Reynolds captures all that is amazing both about words themselves but also about sharing them with others.  A top-notch choice to encourage your pre-reader and celebrate the writer in your life no matter their age.




February 5, 2018

Fallingwater by Mark Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:52 pm by suebe2

by Mark Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Roaring Brook Press

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  ~Frank Lloyd Wright

By 1934, it had been years since Frank Lloyd Wright had built anything worth mentioning in the newspaper.  In fact, someone had actually reported that he was dead.

When Wright received a letter from Edgar Kaufmann, owner of a Pittsburgh department store, he accepted the invitation to come discuss a new project.  Kaufmann welcomed Wright to Pittsburgh but then hurried him out to Bear Run. He wanted the architect to see the waterfall and the creek tumbling down the hillside.

Wright had dreamed of building near a waterfall and this was his chance to do even more. He made multiple trips to Bear Run.  He listened to the water.  He examined the rocks and the cliff.

Walking the familiar Wisconsin countryside back at home, Wright thought about the possibilities.  In his workroom, he studied the maps. And he thought some more.

Nine months after his first visit, he got a message from Kaufmann who was eager to see the plans.  He’d be there in two hours.  Wright’s assistants panicked but Wright was ready, finally, to put pencil to paper.  Although the plans had not been started, by the time Kaufman arrived, the house on the waterfall has taken shape on paper.

As a writer, I loved this story.  Sometimes I find myself thinking about a project for weeks or months.  Suddenly, facing a deadline, I sit down to work and things come together.  I know there has been controversy about Wright but this is an excellent book about his creative process. It shows young readers that success can follow a long dry spell.  It depicts the power of inspiration.

Pham’s paintings are watercolor, gauche, and ink.  I have to admit that I admire how nature is a bit dreamy looking while the architecture it inspired is concrete and more solid.  Yet they combine in Pham’s art much as they do in Wright’s architecture – to form an integrated whole.

Share this picture book with young artists and dreamers as well as older fans of Wright’s work.


February 1, 2018

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:21 pm by suebe2

by Kate Milford
Clarion Books

Milo has done his homework and is all ready for a quiet Christmas holiday. After all, this is the off-season for the inn that his parents run. Most of their regular customers are smugglers and winter is the “off-season” for smuggling and staying in the inn both.  So Milo is shocked, surprised would be too mild a word, when the bell rings.  A guest has braved winter cold and snow to stay in the creaky old inn.  Twelve-year-old Milo just gets one settled in when another arrives and another.

Milo’s parents place a call and the cook returns, bringing with her not one but two daughters.  Milo had been expecting the older girl, an accomplished baker, but not Meddy who is about his own age.  Meddy crosses a line with Milo when she pushes him about not looking like his parents.  Since he looks like his Chinese birth parents, Milo isn’t surprised not to mistaken for the Pine’s birth son since they are both Caucasian but he let’s Meddy know just how intrusive her questions are.

And that’s before someone lets themselves into his room and sneaks away with a map he discovered after all the guests arrived. One of them dropped it and Milo was trying to figure out who without having to ask.  He’s still annoyed that they’ve all pushed their way into his home and holiday.

Yes, his parents run an inn but these aren’t their regulars and they all seem to expect something from Milo.  Milo realizes that they all have a connection to the house.  As he’s trying to figure out what, he and Meddy form an uneasy alliance that blossoms into a friendship. I’m not going to say anything more because I really don’t want to give away the mystery – why they are all there and how they are all connected to the house.

I have to admit, I’m not sure why I took so long to pick this one up since the sequel has just come out.  And Greenglass House won an Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery.  And I can see why. Her characters have depth and most are redeemed by the end of the book. I say most because the villain, even after being unveiled, remains a villain.  Milo has warmed up to the other guests, even those who aren’t particularly likable at first.  I believe the reader will as well.  Especially to the house.

Because in this book the setting is so rich that it is truly one of the guests.  Like each of them, it is holding secrets tight.  Some involve heartbreak.  Some hope.

This is definitely a book worth reading.  Share it with your young mystery lover.  I would say this was a bit gothic because the house often has the moody feeling but although it is moody it isn’t consistently dark enough to feel truly gothic.  Fun, fast-paced and with a cast of characters the ready will want to revisit in the next book – Ghosts of Greenglass House.


January 22, 2018

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:43 pm by suebe2

How Mirka Got Her Sword
by Barry Deutsch
Colors by Jake Richmond
Amulet Books

Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl.

First it was a web comic but it is now a graphic novel for young readers.

More than anything Mirka wants to fight dragons.  She longs to be a hero.  She aches for adventure.  Yet her step-mothers insists that Mirka learn to knit, set the table and help with meals like a good girl sure to make a good wife.

But when it comes it isn’t exactly what she expected.  In the woods, Mirka spots a tall house.  Perhaps the woman she sees is a witch. She later heads back to the house with her sisters and brother.  As fourteen year-old Gittel lectures their brother about not stealing one of the enormous grapes, Mirka impulsively pops one off the vine and eats it.

A strange beast confronts them and chases Mirka through the woods.  Only stepsister Rochel, who has lived outside of Orthodox Hereville, recognize the monster as a pig.  The talking, vengeful animal chases Mirka through the woods and eventually she tumbles down a hill only to fall into the neighbor’s back yard where the men are gathered around the grill.

The pig is a reoccuring figure in the story as it chases Mirka again and again until she makes her  peace with the witch.  The witch explains that Mirka can get the sword she wants if she defeats a nearby troll.  But first Mirka must go to her stepmother to find out how to defeat a troll.

I don’t want to give away any more of the story. Suffice it to say that Mirka’s flaws, or at least weaknesses, almost cost her the sword but it is her greatest strength, or at least her strongest talent, that saves the day.

Deutsch has created a graphic novel that is authentically Orthodox (take the word of other reviewers for this) and also a strong fantasy. The interactions of the siblings also ring true.  After all, no one can annoy you quite the way your own sister can.

Mirka is a smart, determined character from a culture that is not often represented in books for young readers.  Add it to your shelf and share it with the young girl in your life who needs a bit of inspiration to go after her own sword, microscope, or fantasy.


January 18, 2018

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:11 pm by suebe2

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!
by Andrea J. Loney
illustrated by Keith Mallett

As a boy, James VanDerZee loved to paint but  he found drawing people incredibly difficult. They never looked quite right.  Then a photographer came through the town of Lenox, Massachusetts. When he returned later with the photo, James was amazed.  It perfectly captured his mother’s smile.  He was determined to learn to take his own photographs.

James worked hard to win a camera in the contest but the camera didn’t fit together right.  This time he worked to earn the money and bought his own camera.  James loved his family, friends and town so when he took and developed photos he worked hard to make people look their best.

At 18, he took this skill to Harlem. Harlem was where things were happening.  He took a job as an assistant photographer at a New Jersey studio. His boss worried that customers wouldn’t want to work with a black photographer so he sent James to the dark room. James knew he could take better photos than his boss and he got his chance when the man left on vacation.

James took his time posing people.  He retouched photos in the dark room.  James was the photographer people wanted! Soon he moved back to New York and opened his own studio in Harlem. Politicians, musicians and athletes came to him for photos.

I have to admit that although I’ve dabbled in photography, this book escaped my notice until someone recommended it to me.  But I’m so glad I picked it up.  In addition to being a ground breaking photographer, VanDerZee restored other people’s photos and captured the Harlem Renaissance on film.  This is what brought him back into the public eye when the Metropolitan Museum of Art put together an exhibit called Harlem On My Mind.  After this exhibit, VanDerZee’s skill as a photographer was once again in demand.

This is a fast-moving, touching slice of American history.  It chronicles African-American history as well as the history of photography. Loney’s text is smooth and flowing.  It is complimented perfectly by Mallett’s paintings.

This book is a must for the classroom and the would be artist.  Share it with the young reader in your life today.



January 9, 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs Inequality by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Stacy Innerst

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:30 pm by suebe2

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
The Case of R.B.G. vs Inequality
by Jonah Winter
illustrated by Stacy Innerst
Abrams Books for Young Readers

When Ruth Bader was growing up in Brooklyn, there were a lot of Jewish families but there was also a lot of hate there and elsewhere in the country.  Once when she and her parents were driving cross-country, they spotted a sign outside a resort.  “No Dogs or Jews Allowed.”

In spite of this, Ruth thrived.  Her father was a hard worker but had never graduated from high school.  Her mother finished high school and was an excellent student.  But because she was a girl she got to help earn money to send her brother to college.  She didn’t complain.  She worked hard, read a lot, and saved money for her daughter to go to college.

At Cornell, Ruth studied hard although at first she hid to study.  A girl who wanted a date couldn’t act too smart.  Fortunately she met Martin Ginsburg who loved her as much for her love of learning as he personality.  On the job, in law school, and even teaching at law school, every where she went Ruth Bader Ginsburg found discrimination.  Sometimes it was because she was Jewish.  Sometimes it was because she was a woman but that’s okay.  Ruth was ready to show them what a Jewish girl from Brooklyn could do. From the court of appeals to the US Supreme Court, Ruth has been speaking out for others, dissenting and leading the way.

What an amazing book.  In addition to the inspiration that is RBG herself, the author does not write down to young readers.  Evidence, dissent, argument, these legal terms and more pepper the text which isn’t preachy but inspirational.  Stacy Innerst illustrations pull the reader in as they search for the tiny figure that is RBG on each and every spread.  I hesitated to use the word tiny but when you see the spread on the Supreme Court . . . tiny but mighty.

A definite must for the classroom.  But expect this book to launch discussions on education, discrimination and everyone who is put down or put in their place.


January 5, 2018

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:38 pm by suebe2

A Different Pond
by Bao Phi
illustrated by Thi Bui
Capstone Young Readers

The sky is still dark when a young boy is awakened by his father.  Together they leave the leave home and head to the bait store, open even though the stars still twinkle in the sky.  The only time to fish is before Dad has to go to work – he’s working two jobs now.

At the pond, they are the only ones there although sometimes other fishermen join them.  Dad sets up their fishing gear.  The boy gathers small sticks for a small camp fire.  While Dad fishes he talks about fishing with his brother when he was a boy.  Sometimes Dad tells about fighting in the war in Vietnam, side-by-side with his brother, but not this time.  And then their bobber dips.

The boy guides the fish on the line, a crappie, into the bucket.  Dad is happy because tonight the family will have a good dinner. As they leave, the boy looks at the trees and wonders what the trees look like around the pond back in Vietnam.

The sun is up by the time they get home.  Time for Mom and Dad to go to work.  The boy thinks about everyone gathered around the table for dinner, laughing and telling stories as they share the fish he helped catch.

Bao Phi has woven together a story of family and working together, of continuity even in the face of change.  Although this is the story of an immigrant family in the 1970s, it is also a story of immigrant families today.  It is a story of hard work, devotion, longing, love, and strength.

That strength is depicted in the bold lines of Thi Bui’s illustrations.  Her art work is reminiscent of the panels of a graphic novel and she shows the night world in bold black lines and strong blues and browns.

This is a heartfelt thought-provoking story that is sure to prompt discussions among young readers and the adults who shape them.



Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:42 am by suebe2

Stolen Words
by Melanie Florence
illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Second Story Press

A little girl is walking home from school with her grandpa when she asks him how to say grandfather in Cree. For several seconds he freezes and then he tells her the story of the boarding schools.  The government took him to live at a school away from his family. They punished children for saying words in their own languages.  Because of this, the children lost their words.  He no longer remembers how to say anything in Cree.

The next day the little girl comes out of school and pulled a small, battered book from her pack.  Introduction to Cree.  

Together they sound out words.  She tells him that her teacher helped her find this book so that she could share it with him.  So that together they could rediscover his beautiful words.

This is one of the sweetest books that I’ve read in a long time.  But not overly sweet.  The story of the boarding schools is harsh and bitter.  It is balanced with the innocence and love that this girl feels.  It is also balanced by contrasting his school experience with hers where she makes a dream catcher at school and brings home a book full of Cree words.

Gabrielle Grimard’s art work helps bring the story to life.  Rich colors depict this girl with raven wing hair and show the life and vibrancy that still exist.  Depictions of past events are created in washed out, weaker colors telling the reader without words that the past may impact the present but clearly this bright little girl is stronger than the heartless past.

This book was written for ages 6 to 9.  Although the boarding school reality is frightening, this retelling is age appropriate. The grandfather’s recollections will form a skeleton on which to hang additional facts at a later date.  Use this book as a jumping off point for discussions in Native Rights, language and culture, and even immigration.

A must read for any diverse classroom.



December 27, 2017

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 9:25 pm by suebe2

An Enchantment of Ravens
by Margaret Rogerson
Margaret K. McElderry Books

We’re used to thinking about artists as being temperamental but Isobel is anything but. A skilled portrait artist, the teen has to keep her wits even when she gets lost in her work because she has a particularly dangerous set of clients.

The fair folk crave things that are crafted – portraits, fancy clothing, jewelry, and sweet cakes.  But they don’t pay for these wares with gold or other coins.  They pay with magical enchantments.  Word the price for your work poorly and you may shorten your life by years or no longer be able to speak any words that begin in vowels.

Isobel is adept at wording the bargains she makes with her fair folk clients.  Her home is layered with protection spells and their hens lay a handy number of eggs on a regular basis. But then she is told that a new client, a prince of the Autumn Court, will be paying her a visit. Isobel begins to worry. Fair folk in general are intimidating with their unreal beauty, inhuman skills, and love of mischief. What will a prince be like?  As much as she fears Rook, the Autumn Prince, his humor and curiosity fascinate her.

It is only after the pair fall in love, a crime punishable by death, that Isobel realizes the client who recommended her to Rook is a prince in his own Spring Court.  Isobel is determined to find a way out, a way that will preserve both their lives and she knows it will have to be a way other than becoming Fair herself.  Because becoming one of the Fair Folk means losing her craft and never again being able to capture someone’s inner likeness in paint.

This may be Rogerson’s first published novel but I suspect it will not be her last.  From Isobel’s home village of Whimsy to the surrounding woods and the Fairy Courts, the setting is created with layer upon layer of detail, just like coats of paint.  The characters are just as complex from Isobel to Rook and even the Fair Folk who seek their deaths.

She has also taken the stories about fairy and created her own world of human and Fair Folk. Themes of family, love, loss, craft and knowledge are woven together in a rich novel.  Although, I will warn you, that it sat unfinished on my bedside table for two weeks.  With just two more chapters to read, I didn’t want the story to end.

Share it with the young fantasy lover in your life.




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