May 30, 2013
When We Go Walking
by Cari Best,
illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
Amazon Children’s Publishing
When the young narrator and her family go walking on Rambling Road, everyone in the family goes along even Abby, the cat, and baby Abe. Everyone in the group looks for something different.
Mama has the binoculars that she needs to spot the birds. Papa spies trains and airplanes. Abe points out colors and other things he knows. Our narrator? She carries a treasure sack for a reason. Maybe she’ll find an old bicycle bell or a see-through butterfly that is almost as good as new or a shovel or a beach ball.
Every now and again someone will ask her if she is absolutely certain that she needs all of these amazing things. Like any good treasure hunter, she knows what she knows. These things are great!
One day, their walk is much chillier and everyone has to wear a hat as the snow falls around them. Once they get home, it snows and it snows and no one can go walking on Rambling Road unless someone comes up with a brilliant solution involving a host of found treasures.
Cari Best has created a simply lyrical text that will go straight to the heart of every scavenger. Let’s just say that my husband frequently has to wait while my son and I salvage a crystal or collect the pieces of some wondrous find that now decorates the brick ledge on our front porch.
Kyrsten Booker’s oil paint and collage illustrations are an amazing homage to found art.
Share this one with the imaginative young reader in your life. When you do, don’t be surprised if you have to carry a bag or pull a wagon along on your next outing.
May 27, 2013
A March to the Sea
by Alice B. McGinty
illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
Amazon Children’s Publishing
One more step toward freedom.
That is the refrain that echos throughout this amazing book about Gandhi.
Most of us know of Gandhi as a man of peace. We know that he worked to bring about justice in his homeland of India and to end British rule. He also spoke about how his people treated each other, looking down on people they declared untouchable and the prejudice between Muslim and Hindu.
The march itself was long and difficult. Early on, crowds greeted the marchers, singing songs. But crowds never cheer for long and people began to worry. They knew the British were watching. What if they opened fire on the crowds?
When the marchers reached the sea side village of Dandi, Gandhi reached down and scooped up a handful of damp, muddy salt. With this simple act, he broke a law.
Around India, other people gathered salt. They boiled it and cleaned it. The British arrested them and then they arrested more and more. But so many people broke the law that the British couldn’t arrest them all and the Indian’s had their salt. They had taken one more step toward freedom.
I was captivated start to finish by this simple, straight forward tale. Gandhi led his people into uncertainty and possible violence with a humble, quiet confidence seldom seen today.
Gonzalez’s paintings are powerful, focusing on marching feet, Gandhi’s isolation from this fellow marchers, and his ability to stand up and stand out.
This book would make an excellent talking point for discussions on diversity, justice and how to bring about social and political change. Share it with the young reader in your life.
May 23, 2013
A Place for Bats
by Melissa Stewart,
illustrated by Higgins Bond
Mention bats and you get one of two reactions from people. Cool! or Eww!
I learned I wasn’t alone in thinking they’re awesome on a Scout camp out when I spotted them zipping around the campsite, gobbling up mosquitoes. When another Mom asked me what I was looking at, I just shrugged. “Oh, I thought you might have seen the bats. They’re awesome.”
And they are. Bats pollinate crops (including mangoes), keep pests down, and are part of the food chain for other predators.
Unfortunately, we do many things that can harm bats. In addition to pesticides, Stewarts book taught me that even wind turbines can be harmful. It isn’t because the bats fly into them, but the difference in air pressure actually causes blood vessels to burst. Eww!
Don’t think this is one of those gloom and doom books. Stewart peppers the text with ways that people can help the bats who live around them.
The text is composed of a short main text that gives information on how we share our environment with bats. There is also a sidebar for each spread that talks about a specific type of bat, such as an Indiana Bat or a Western Red Bat, and how it’s struggle to survive can be helped by simple steps taken by caring humans.
Bond’s acrylic paintings show an amazing amount of detail ranging from the finger bones in a Mexican Free-Tailed Bats wings to the amazing ears on the Virginia Big-Eared Bat.
I have been fascinated by bats since I was little and my grandfather would walk me into the mines where I would see wee tiny figures clinging to the walls. Whenever I’m in a cave, I look for bats. And I’ve learned where to spot them in the roofs at Scout camps or soaring around bill boards lit along the highways.
Share this with the young nature lover in your life and spend your evening searching for the swooping, diving figures of the bats that share our world.
May 20, 2013
To Market! To Market!
by Anushka Ravishankar,
illustrated by Emanuele Scaniani
In India, a young girl goes to market with her mother. She has a hand full of coins that she can spend on anything she wants. She immediately considers the possibilities.
Maybe she can get a new pet. It would have to be something small like a fish or a mouse or a bird.
Or maybe something silly like a fake mustache or a mask.
Soon she is exploring stalls all over the market, bangles and flowers, spices and fowl, fish and fabric and fruit. She has so much fun exploring the possibilities that she forgets to actually buy anything at all.
For young American readers who are used to super markets and malls, this book will show them another world. Even readers who are used to farmers markets in the US will have a different experience.
That said, don’t get this book expecting an overt lesson. This is simply a story about a young girl having fun; it just happens to take place in India at an open air market. Truly this is multiculturalism at its finest. It presents a story that couldn’t take place here, but takes places where it does, not to teach a lesson, but because it could happen no place else. It entertains and amuses and tells a slice of this girl’s life. That it also teaches feels like happy coincidence.
Share it with the young reader in your life who is up for new experiences and who likes to see what is in the stall around the corner.
May 16, 2013
The Crown of Embers
by Rae Carson
Elisa is a hero. The young widowed queen led her people to victory vs an army of sorcerers. Even as fires still smolder in damaged parts of the capital city, her people welcome her parade with cheers and song until a sorcerer appears and ignites himself amid a crowd. Terrified citizens flee to the palace only to find themselves locked out.
The Queen and her guards have also been locked out. Fortunately, there is a secret way into the palace.
Where there is one secret there are bound to be many as Elisa discovers after an assassin attacks her where no one else should have been. Then she discovers a failed sorcerer living in a hidden village. And a dinner guest it poisoned at her own table.
Who can she trust? There is Ximena, the nurse who raised her; Mara the maid who was one of the rebels who helped her win the war; and Hector, the captain of her guard. There are also the people she shouldn’t trust yet finds herself relying on more and more — Storm, the failed sorcerer; Belen a young rebel who once betrayed her because he thought he did the will of God; and Tristan, the suitor who lied to her to gain her trust. Indecision and inaction take their toll as Elisa struggles to maintain authority, yet many still believe in her as she learns when Hector, Mara and Ximena commission a special crown, The Crown of Embers, suitable for her and no one else.
When Elisa takes off on a cross country journey, she surprised many with her abilities. Only the rebels she led against the sorcerers know of her skills and comfort in desert survival. If only she could being the same determination to her rule within the city.
I can’t say much more about the plot without giving away far too much. As before, with The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Carson has created a deliciously complicated story. There is romance in abundance as Elisa’s attraction to Hector grows even as she is forced to search out a husband.
The reading level may be easily within the later elementary school range but the story is young adult as Elisa considers what about herself a man might find appealing as well as her hopes for love and happiness, friendship and companions in general.
Can she be true to herself, to her duty as the bearer of a Godstone and those she would gladly give her life to save? You’ll have to read the book to see how it all works out.
May 13, 2013
Looking for Alaska
by John Green
At 16 years-old, Miles Halter’s life has been safe and more than a little bit boring. He’s an excellent student but he has no real friends and his life hold no adventure. Miles’ one hobby is collecting the last words of famous people; this hobby is the one reason that he likes to read biographies. How can you have great words of any kind if you’ve never lived?
Miles transfers to Culver Creek Boarding School where his father went to school. The school in rural Alabama is a world apart from his comfortable Florida home. The majority of the students may be wealthy teens who live there only during the week, but the dorms are unairconditioned even in the worst of the summer heat. The night before classes start, Miles is snatched from his room, mummified in duct-tape and tossed into the lake. He manages to free himself and his roommate helps him plot a prank to get even.
Miles soon finds that the classes at Culver Stockton are much more difficult than his old school so a lot of time is spent studying. His remaining time is spent in planning pranks with his roommate, a brilliant scholarship student and a gorgeous girl named Alaska.
And then something happens that changes their lives forever.
I can’t tell much more about the actual plot without completely spoiling it. This book is true YA. There is alcohol (a lot) and there is sex (two or three scenes).
That said, this is a very powerful book about friendship and trying to find meaning in the meaningless things that happen every day, some having almost no impact at all and some changing more than anyone could possibly imagine. Themes of responsibility, guilt, love and forgiveness pull it all together.
While the reading level is well within the range of a middle schooler, I’m not sure a younger reader would be as interested in this as an early young adult.
May 9, 2013
Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909
by Michelle Markel
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Balzer + Bray
“A steamship pulls into the harbor, carrying hundreds of immigrants — and a surprise for New York City.”
Clara may be only a girl but she is the one to get a job to support her family. Instead of carrying books to school every morning, she carries a sewing machine to work. Yes, she had to supply her own sewing machine. As if that wasn’t bad enough, these girls who make only a few dollars a month are locked into the garment factories all day long. Fines, firings and more. The girls suffer great indignities to hold down a job.
But Clara isn’t like the other girls. She goes to school in the evening. She is full of ideas.
The workers know they are being treated badly, but the few men don’t think the many girls and women could hold up in a strike. They simply aren’t tough enough.
When they are overworked, underpaid and punished for speaking out, Clara encourages the girls to strike and the girls at her factory do.
But owners and police strike back with fists and clubs. Clara is arrested 17 times. They break six of her ribs.
The bosses find other young women to do the jobs for the same low pay. A strike at one factory isn’t enough, but the male union leaders are afraid to call a general strike. It is too dangerous. Instead, Clara gets up at the front of the hall and, speaking in Yiddish, she calls for a strike of every single factory.
The next day thousands of women walk of the job. It doesn’t solve every problem, but it is a beginning.
Michelle Markel has boiled down a complicated, tumultuous period in U. S. history to make a tightly knit picture book story. It is complemented by Melissa Sweet’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations which bring a historic feel to the story which, in many ways, could take place today.
With the collapse of a factory in Bangladesh and the struggle of workers worldwide for safe working conditions, this is a particularly timely book. It would make a strong jumping off point for group discussions on history, current events and human rights.
May 6, 2013
Louisa May’s Battle:
How the Civil War Led to Little Women
by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Carlyn Beccia
Walker Books for Young Readers
So many of our classic books seem to come from a softer, gentler time and the same is true of Little Women. After all, it’s impossible to imagine Meg or Jo or any of the sisters swinging a sword or shooting fellow competitors with a bow and arrow. Yet, this book came to us largely because of the author’s experience in the Civil War.
Before the war, Louise May was a teacher and a writer. Although she had published books, she still got rejection letters including one that said “Stick to your teaching; you can’t write.”
During her time as a nurse, she proved this person wrong.
Louisa wanted to do her part to support her country but she wasn’t a man, so she couldn’t find. Still she could take care of those who had been injured while fighting so she signed on as a nurse. Many of her patients were ill. Others had massive injuries. Louisa change bandages, bathed foreheads and distributed medicine and food. She held men’s hands during surgery and did her best to make them comfortable while they healed or while they died.
When she wasn’t working, she wrote letters home to her family. Eventually these letters would be published as a book. Readers liked the first hand accounts and her ability to see humor even in horrible situations. Shortly after the war, Louisa was asked to write a girl’s book but she wanted to write a book like no one had ever seen.
Krull shows the sincere courage with which Louisa May Alcott lived her life. It is so easy for those of us today too look back and think about the good old days. We tend to romanticize the hardships that these people faced.
Beccia’s art work shows a woman who was both warm and just a bit mischievous.
Share this book with a child who is struggling to meet a goal or even to find just what that goal should be. Fans of Little Women and writers struggling to publish will identify with this book as well.
May 2, 2013
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?
The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell
by Tanya Lee Stone,
illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt
In a place and time when many children have women doctors, it can be hard to imagine a time when this was not possible. Not that Elizabeth Blackwell planned on being a doctor. She was too busy having adventures, arguing with her brother and doing various things to toughen herself up.
Besides, she wasn’t much of a patient and blood? It made her queasy.
Then one day shew as visiting a sick friend and the friend mentioned that she would have been much more comfortable being examined by another woman. She encouraged Elizabeth to consider becoming a doctor. At first, Elizabeth didn’t think much of the idea but she found herself thinking and thinking and thinking about it.
Although some people thought it was an awful idea, Elizabeth’s family supporter her and she started applying to medical schools. Twenty-eight schools said no. And then one said yes. The male students has approved of the idea because they thought it was a joke but the joke was on them. Elizabeth studied hard and graduated at the very top of her class.
Stone anchors Blackwell’s experience in the time in which she lived. Though not everyone agreed that women were too weak or too fragile, enough people did that Blackwell had to fight to become a doctor. Priceman’s illustrations seemed oddly modern for this historic tale but that might be the point. This is a timeless story of one person struggling to do the impossible. The specifics may be historic but it is the kind of thing that is still happening all over the world today as young people fight to realize their dreams and make the world a better place.
Pick up this book and share it with the young dreamer in your own life. It would make a great jumping off point for discussions on the limitations we put on ourselves and others and dreams for a brighter future.