September 30, 2011
Say the name and an image pops into most people’s heads. But is it an accurate image?
Look at portraits of Washington and you’ll find a range of looks. Don’t believe me? Then do a quick Google Image search. You’ll have to disregard the photos of George Washington Carver and the obvious caricatures of the former President, but doesn’t the variety make you wonder? What did he really look like?
Officials at Mount Vernon set out to find the answer when they took a survey and discovered what words the American public thought best described Washington. Their answers? Stiff. Old. Grumpy. Boring.
These answers shocked the officials because, at 6’2″, Washington was a serious outdoors man with a great deal of natural strength and vitality.
To make sure that visitors to Mount Vernon got the real picture, they decided to create three life-sized recreations of the President: one when he was a 19 year-old surveyor, one as 45 year-old General Washington, and one as the 57 year-old President.
The quest to create these likenesses takes readers through the world of art, history and forensic science as experts with a wealth of talent come together to make the impossible possible — bringing Washington back to Mount Vernon.
McClafferty brings the mystery to life for readers, pulling in material from interviews, portraits created when Washington was alive, a mask cast from his face, and more. Her text moves quickly and is sure to hold the interest of fans of the History Detectives and similar programs.
Hats off to McClafferty for a job well done and also to the folks at Mount Vernon who have worked so hard to correct our incorrect assumptions about the man who was our first President.
September 20, 2011
Max Quick is many things — pick pocket, orphan and vagabond. Max knows this much about himself but little more. His past? A complete blank.
After missing the school bus, Max pays a visit to a local museum. Things might have gone differently if Max had gone through the front door like most visitors. But, as so often seems to be the case with Max, he was in a bit of a fix and ducks in the back way. Slipping into a store room to hide, Max discovers a robbery in progress and is surprised when the leader lets him go.
But Max doesn’t have time to ponder why because as he is fleeing the museum, everyone but Max freezes in place. The delivery man Max has just run into doesn’t fall but remains suspended in mid-air. Air planes hang frozen in the sky.
Max soon discovers that this isn’t the only strangeness. He can suddenly run much faster than he ever has before. When he skids to a stop, he actually shoots sparks.
Soon Max meets other kids who can also move about. Some are friends. Other enemies. But does that matter when an alien race appears and they have come to enslave the human race?
Jeffrey has created an amazing middle grade novel with a story based on an imagined mythology that combines elements of Egyptian and Sumerian mythology and possibly others that I don’t know enough about to recognize. Individual characters combine good and bad traits for a believable mix although young readers will definitely be rooting for the good guys.
This book is sure to appeal to the boy reader although there is plenty in here for girls as well. Beauty and brains. Geek and jock. No single trait makes a kid one of the good guys. Anyone can imagine themselves on the winning team.
September 16, 2011
If you have a nonfiction lover on your hands, look into David Harrison’s books and start with Oceans: The Vast, Mysterious Deep. At only 700 words, the text moves fast and covers a wide variety of oceans facts ranging from how much of the Earth is covered by oceans to how the water got there in the first place as well as what lives in the oceans today.
If your nonfiction lover is a little older, don’t worry that this book will be too basic. Although I’m familiar with a variety of marine animals, I learned about how currents are created in addition to the origins of the water itself.
Harrison’s experience writing poetry is evident in the clean, crisp text that would make for an excellent read aloud. Every word counts and this book is information packed.
Suitable for either home reading or introducing a class to the wonders of our oceans, Harrison’s book ends with a call to young activists to care for the oceans and the animals that live there — after all, we take so much from the ocean and our lives will change forever if this resource is not preserved.
The varied colors and textures uses in Cheryl Nathan’s illustrations add visual appeal to an already engaging experience. Though not 100% realistic, the depictions are far from cartoony and lovely enough to hang on any wall.
Harrison and Nathan’s other books in the Earthworks series include Glaciers: Nature’s Icy Caps; Earthquakes: Earth’s Mightiest Moments; Mountains: The Tops of the World; and Volcanoes: Nature’s Incredible Fireworks.
Pick up a great nonfiction read today!
September 8, 2011
Middle school is all about change. Ask any new middle school student and they’ll clue you in. Some of the changes are good (getting to pick some classes and more independence) and some are bad (additional responsibilities and the fact that not everyone matures at the same rate.
So its no surprise that Elise and her best friend Franklin no longer see eye-to-eye. Their games of make-believe seem babyish to Elise and she knows that she doesn’t fit in with the fashion conscious girly-girls. To stem their harassment, Elise distances herself from Franklin, often being quite unkind.
But things aren’t all bad. On Elise’s birthday, she gets one last letter from her deceased father who wrote his daughter, then a toddler, a collection of letters to open one by one on her birthday. The letters and a mysterious key give Elise the clues that she needs to start exploring a series of store rooms in the family barn. Each room contains clues about who she is — one is filled with photos of her mother, another her mother’s book collection and still another items from her father’s childhood. With each addition, Elise begins to realize that she has the ultimate power over what type of person she becomes, shaping her life through who she holds close and who she pushes away.
Admittedly, this was a tough book to get into. Elise is at a difficult age developmentally — not ready to give up on childhood but grown up enough to be embarrassed by Franklin who is less emotionally mature than she is.
The stress of being bullied results in a series of bad decisions that some adults may find “out of character” for Elise, but will be all too familiar to any parent whose child uses passive aggression to cope (you can’t make me catch the bus, do my homework, etc.). Furthermore, though she goes to an adult for help with the bullying, the teacher is kind but useless, an all too real situation, that leads Elise to be ashamed of her inability to cope. This results in her keeping the escalating abuse a secret; again, this situation is real enough to make an adult squirm with discomfort.
But it is all of these uncomfortable moments that make the book real and will ultimately help tweens connect with it. They are, after all, beginning to see how imperfect the world is and how powerless, either by circumstance or by choice, the adults around them often are.
If you have a child who is having a tough time making the jump to middle school, this is a great book to read together. Ditto if you have a child who is coping with bullying or having to decide whether a friendship is worth maintaining.
This book will launch many a thoughtful discussion between maturing tweens and the adults who love them enough to suffer through some discomfort.