March 31, 2014
Mama Built a Little Nest
by Jennifer Ward
illustrated by Steve Jenkins
Beach Lane Books
Ask your young readers to draw a bird’s nest and chances are that they will draw a classic nest, a cup of twigs small enough to hold in the palms of your hands. While that may be the first thing we think of, it certainly isn’t the last word in nests as author Jennifer Ward shows us in this simple rhyming text.
“Mama built a little nest
inside a sturdy trunk.
She used her beak to tap-tap-tap
the perfect place to bunk.”
The books opens with the tree-hole nest of the woodpecker and continues to introduce one unique structure after another. The material selections range from spider silk to a grouping of stones while the ecosystems span forest, shore and desert.
The main text is styled in a simple rhyme but each facing page has a sidebar insert that goes into more detail including the type of nest (scrape, burrow, etc.) as well as the name of the bird itself.
Steve Jenkins cut paper collage illustrations are a perfect match for this text, bringing visual detail and texture together. No, they aren’t photographs but young readers would definitely be able to tell one bird from another based on these graphics.
This book is suitable for a wide variety of readers. At story time with younger children, focus on the main text. The rhymes are brief, tight and fast-moving for a fun read-aloud experience. For older children, or to help answer younger children’s questions, include the sidebars. If you are studying birds and/or nest, this is an excellent source for young readers. This isn’t a roudy book and ends by tying the nest back into the young readers world — home and bed — making this book excellent for bedtime or cuddle time.
Add this one to your bookshelf for both learning and fun as winter turns into spring.
March 27, 2014
Wake Up Missing
by Kate Messner
Walker Books for Young Readers
Cat just wants to be the person she was before her head injury. Besides? Who falls out of a tree trying to watch birds and gives herself a concussion? Cat. That’s who.
Things were bad enough before she fell out of the tree. Nothing had been said, but she knew she was loosing her best friend who now liked soccer better than camping. She didn’t need to be told.
But now she has headaches all the time. Even when she tries to go to school she often has to come home sick. Not only is Cat falling behind in school, but she’s a total clutz. Yes, even worse. She just gets dizzy and tips over. She can’t focus when she tries to read and clay, which she used to turn into a variety of lifelike birds, is just a cold lump in her hand.
Then her mother hears about a brain injury clinic in Florida. They help gets just like Cat but they take only a few patients at a time and Cat would have to stay there without her parents. Still, it would be worth it if she could just be the girl she was before.
At the clinic, she meets sporty Sarah, a hockey player who fell at a game, football playing Quentin whose inability to do math could cost him a scholarship, and Ben, who was thrown from his horse. As they begin treatments, they are all getting better, no one faster than Ben. But then, when she’s trying to get a look into an osprey’s nest, Cat overhears a phone call. One of her fellow patients has a terrible brain tumor from the treatments. The doctors have decided not to tell anyone because it would jeapordize their program which suddenly sounds altogether sinister.
To find out what is going on, they have to gain access to the computer and make their way through the gator infested Everglades.
As they struggle to help each other, Cat realizes that, with each even she experiences, she is moving farther and farther from the girl she used to be, but that’s okay. As long as she’s the one making the decisions.
As always, Messner’s book is a combination of cutting edge science and a great story. This time the science involves both head injuries and gene therapy. As always, the bad guys are a bunch of misguided adults who start out doing things for all the right reasons but don’t realize who will disappear in the process.
As edgy as this sounds, it is solidly middle grade. There are some hints at romance but it is of the hand-holding variety and the danger is more often an ominous feeling than true danger. Not that the bad guys don’t do bad things, but the majority of it occurs off camera. The one bit of on-screen violence occurs when the bad guy is dealt with in an icky, Everglades kind of way.
An excellent choice for a young reader who wants action, adventure and science but isn’t ready for a young adult or adult novel.
March 24, 2014
by Melody Carson
illustrated by Sophie Allsopp
As the sun sets, a small boy heads home after an evening of play at the park. He knows that it’s time to get ready for bed and, as he does, he says good night to the many things that surround him.
“Goodnight to the bird and the butterfly.
“Goodnight to my friends. I have to say goodbye.
“Goodnight to my wagon, didn’t we have fun?
“Goodnight to the big clouds and the sinking sun.”
A rhyming text of any length can be hard to pull off — near rhyme and forced word order make for a book that is tricky to read aloud. What a relief that this isn’t the case with Carlson’s sweet bed time book.
While she didn’t choose a sleepy pallette of cool colors, Sophie Allsopp’s colorful illustrations add dimension and beauty to this simple book.
If you are looking for a simple bed time story for your toddler or preschooler, this is an excellent choice. It is a sweet, quiet story that you could share after other bed time rituals or even after reading a longer book. That said, any young book lover striving to put off bed time will want to point out the things in the book and tell you what she or he would bid good night.
Putting together a gift for new parents or soon-to-be parents? This book would make a sweet addition to your gift bag.
March 20, 2014
by Mary Cronk Farrell
Abrams Books for Young Readers
Technically, the women in the Army and Navy nursing corps weren’t military. These civilians weren’t allowed into combat.
When these nurses shipped out to the Phillipines, they weren’t in a combat zone. Yes, they treated soldiers but they also treated the wives and children of officers. They assisted in labor and delivery and tonsillectomies, but that was before the Japanese advanced into the Phillipines. That was before the officers’ families shipped out.
Their role as noncombatants became a technicality when the first wounded soldiers arrived. War had come to the Phillipines. Over worked doctors could only do so many surgeries. They didn’t have any time at all for medications. Nurses dispensed medications and took over some procedures normally done only by doctors. None of them were trained in war-time medicine, but they learned on the job. And they were still there when Manilla fell.
Like Louie Zamperini, known since the publication of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, these women became Japanese prisoners. Their families received no word on whether they were still alive and they remained invisible to the outside world for several years. Yet, in spite of the fact that they were prisoners, they continued to treat those in need, providing what medical care they could to not only some soldiers but also the civilian prisoners, women and children, who lived in the camps.
When author Mary Cronk Farrell learned about these amazing women, she knew their story had to be told. Unlike Hillenbrand’s Unbroken which focuses on the plight of Louie Zamperini to illustrate the fate of POWs in general, Farrell pulls back to tell the story of this group. Why? Because they survived as well as they did by sticking together.
That said, Farrell does tell the stories of individual nurses as much as she is able, but initially the nurses had to promise not to discuss what had happened to them. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the Department of Defense recorded oral histories of the nurses who had survived until that time. Unfortunately, not all of the women lived this long.
Pure Grit is suitable for tween and teens (ages 10 and up). This is a story of war and there are a few somewhat gory details (they were doing triage, after all). But there are no stories of rape, because unlike the women of Nanking, none of the military nurses were raped. That said, even many of their own families did not believe them when they said nothing like this had happened.
This is a truly inspirational story of a group of typical American women who did great things when put to the test.
March 17, 2014
by K.L. Armstrong and M. A. Marr
(Little Brown Books for Young Readers)
Matt’s known for as long as he can remember that he is a descendent of Thor. In fact, many of the people in Blackwell, South Dakota are descended from either Thor or Loki. Matt’s glad that he’s one of Thor’s own — because it means that he’s someone the town looks up to. He can also harness his anger and call on Thor’s Hammer, an electric-like blow. But there’s a down side as well. Matt’s always worried that his grades aren’t good enough and that if he does even the smallest thing wrong, someone will call him on it and tell his father, the town’s sheriff. If only he could figure out how to deal with the town’s trouble makers, the descendants of Loki.
Fen and Laurie are two of those descendents. Fen is old enough that he has turned into a wolf which means that he has to join the local pack of raiders or pay dues for himself and for Laurie. Laurie has never changed into a wolf, not all of Loki’s descendents can, so she doesn’t know it’s possible. She also doesn’t know what Fen is or that he is paying dues for both of them.
Then an announcement is made at a town festival. The end of the world, Ragnarök, is coming. Descendents of the gods must ban together to fight the monsters. Matt can’t believe it when he is named for Thor. Why didn’t they pick someone older or bigger or just better? Then he overhears enough to know that no one expects him to survive. His family is sending him off to save the world, yes, but also to die.
The first descendent that he finds is the descendent of Loki. Fen and Laurie are together when Matt finds them and Laurie insists on accompanying the boys. Her problem solving skills immediately prove useful and then they realize that she can also locate the other descendents. Still, everything isn’t as it seems and Matt has some tough decisions to make. Who can he trust? His instincts tell him to trust Fen even if Loki betrayed the gods during the last battle. I’ve only touched on the wide cast of characters. Matt assembles a group of seven characters, just enough for cliques to begin to form.
This story is an amazing blend of Norse myth and contemporary fantasy. With both strong male and female characters it is well suited for both boy and girl readers. Although there are some hints of romance, who likes who, this is solidly a middle grade fantasy suitable for readers from 8 to 12 years old.
I have to admit that half the reason I like this book so much is that all of Loki’s descendents aren’t wicked. I’ve always had a soft spot for Loki because I love trickster characters in general (think Iktomi and Coyote). In Loki’s Wolves, many of the descendents get in trouble with the law and are highly impulsive which often gets them into trouble. They are also capable of siding against other Wolves as Laurie and Fen do when they side with Matt when he first encounters the raiders.
Readers of Rick Riordan’s books will be drawn into this series as well.
March 14, 2014
by Brian Floca
A Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers
It was easy to see why this book one with coveted Caldecott Medal. The Caldecott is given each year by the American Library Association for excellence in illustration. Page through this book and you will be captured by the detailed paintings that Floca created to illustrate this book. Slightly sepia in tone, the artwork gives an old-timey feel to the story of one rail journey across the American West, starting in Omaha, Nebraska and chugging its way across country to SanFrancisco, California.
Floca makes no secret of the fact that this journey was easier than when covered wagons followed a similiar route, having to cross miles of desert without a drop of water in sight. But he doesn’t downplay the dangers of early rail travel either. Boil a locomotive dry, and it will begin to melt before exploding. A careless fireman and engineer might forget to watch for signals and fail to slow the train going into a dangerous curve. Slick rails may need a sprinkling of sand for traction. Rickety wooden bridges require a creeping slow speed.
Younger readers will love the chugging and hissing of the train throughout the text. While not poetry, the text has rhythm and wordplay that will make it fun to read aloud.
Older readers will poor over the details in the illustrations. At approximately 10 1/2 by 12 inches, this book is bigger than many but that gives the illustrations an epic feel and the space to include sweeping panoramas of the western landscape as well as details of the locomotive itself.
Buy this boo for the train enthusiast in your love — young or old, they will relish this journey on one of the first passenger trains to travel the rails that crossed the American West.
March 10, 2014
There’s a Rat in My Soup: Could You Survive Medieval Food?
by Chana Stiefel
illustrated by Gerald Kelley
Picture a medieval feast and you’ve probably imagined a roast pig complete with an apple in its mouth. Potatoes and carrots lay around it on the gigantic platter. In part, that would be right.
Roast meats were a huge part of the medieval diet. So were stewed meats. And cooked meats preserved in gelatin made from hooves (yuck!). And also salted meats. Medieval diners ate all kinds of meats that we would probably not consider including a wide range of birds such as swans, peacocks and even tiny humming birds.
What about the four and twenty black birds baked in a pie?
Medieval cooks would sometimes put live birds between baked crusts. This way, when the king or nobleman cut into the pie, he would break the crust and out would fly a flocks of scolding, squawking birds. It seems that medieval cooks would relieve the tension by playing practical jokes on their employers. Other jokes including plucking a live chicken and painting it brown before stunning it and putting it on a platter. Poke the chicken and it takes off running down the table.
Diners, in turn, would play tricks on the cooks, sneaking into the room to dump frothy soap into a pot of soup.
Food preparation in medieval times was no easy manner because it was so hard to keep food for any length of time. This meant that the diet often consisted mostly of meat and bread. Fruits and vegetables would be eaten in season but they only kept so long into the winter.
In addition to discussing diet, menus and food preparation, Stiefel gives the reader information about health and the treatment of illness.
Gerald Kelley’s colorful paintings enliven the text, making topics such as food spoilage somewhat more palatable.
Although the cover and size of the book look like a picture book, it is too text heavy for an early grade school audience but perfect for the slightly older audience for which it is intended, grades 3 – 5. Pick up this humorous take on medieval dining and open up a discussion about what you eat, what you would be willing to eat and the things we eat that other people might find disgusting.
This funny and informative take on history will pull young readers into the topic and the times.
March 7, 2014
The Genie’s Gift
by Chris Eboch
Thirteen year-old Anise dreads growing up. Her sister seems happy enough marrying the man her father chose for her, but Anise can’t imagine marrying a stranger. Shy and timid, Anise fears she won’t have the courage she needs to live a happy life. What if the man her father choses for her is mean? How will she find the courage to stand up for herself and her children? If only she could be as brave as her friend Cassim.
Then Aunt Farasha arrives at the wedding. A widow, Aunt Farasha has refused to remarry and instead carries on acting as a merchant and trader in her husband’s place. She tells her niece about the genie Shakayak, who gives the Gift of Sweet Speech to those who manage to journey to him atop Mount Quaf, away across the desert.
Anise is convinced that if she had the Gift of Sweet Speech, she would be able to make herself heard and make a good life for herself even if she did have to marry someone chosen by her father. The problem is that as a girl, Anise has seldom ventured beyond her family’s compound. When she does, she is accompanied by male relatives and her mother, all of whom make any decisions for her. If only she could find a way!
Anise convinces Cassim to accompany her to Mount Quaf, thinking that Cassim will handle the many people and situations they will have to deal with. She dresses herself in her brother’s cast off clothing and the pair sets out. Unfortunately, they are soon separated and Anice must decide — will she return to her father in disgrace or journey on alone? She decides to carry on and soon finds saving talking birds, haggling in the market place, and tricking both evil queens and devious genies.
Eboch draws heavily on the traditions that gave rise to One Thousand and One Nights, often known as The Arabian Nights, in writing her story. She has created a young heroine who is both believable for her place and time but also someone that girls today will both identify with and like. In solving her problems, Anise uses her wits intead of the sword she carried at her side and soon readers too will be plotting and considering the options as Anise faces challenge after challenge. Personally, I love a story with a brainy main character.
I wasn’t sure a cross dressing girl in this time and place would be believable — she is so sheltered to be plopped down without help in the larger world. You’ll have to read this to see how Eboch makes it work. I also have to love the range of personalities among her characters — the women are not all weak and sheltered, the men not all harsh or demanding. Even if her “bad guys” have good qualities although that doesn’t stop them from getting in Anise’s way.
Eboch lived in Saudi Arabia and has visited Egypt, Bahrain and Turkey. Her love of the desert and the people complete with their fanciful stories shines through in this middle grade fantasy.
This book is available through Amazon; my Kindle copy was provided by Eboch.
March 3, 2014
by Holly Black
Zach gets it. He’s growing up. But he and Alice and Poppy have been friends ever since they were little kids. And that whole time they’ve been telling stories, using a wide variety of action figures and dolls as characters. The scariest character of all is the Queen, a palid china doll locked in a glass cabinet at Poppy’s house. They aren’t allowed to touch the expensive antique, but they still work her into their stories.
Zach knows it looks babyish, like they’re playing with dolls. And he doesn’t want the guys on his middle school basketball team to know anything about it. But he loves the excitement of not only finding out what happens next but sometimes being the one to make it happen. He loves the thrill of being able to break the rules and save the day.
Then he gets home from school and can’t find his backpack full of figures. His father has decided he is too old for them and thrown them away. He didn’t mean it in a bad way. He says he’s just trying to help Zach out, but it doesn’t feel like help.
Hurt and confused, Zach starts avoiding the girls. Then one night they come knocking at his window. They’re carrying the Queen and they’ve come with a story Poppy swears is true. This isn’t just a china doll but a bone china doll and the bone used to make the china strong were those of a girl their own age who was murdered and baked into china. She has been haunting Poppy’s dreams and she isn’t going to stop until they find out what happened and place her in her grave which has been lying empty for over 100 years.
Zack isn’t sure if he believes Poppy but this is their chance. Finally, they can have the kind of adventure they are always telling stories about. This is their chance to save the day if only they can find the nerve to do it.
As popular as this book is, I have to admit that it took me a while to get into it. Why? Because we spend a great deal of time with the Zach, Poppy and Alice in their regular routine before the adventure begins. And, as we all know, the regular routine really isn’t all that exciting. That’s what makes telling their stories so much fun.
But without this foundation, what happens later would be much less creepy and the plight of the little girl from long ago would seem much less plausible except we are able to trace elements of her story through the lives of the three friends. And I had to laugh at how difficult they found certain aspects of a real adventure vs all of the books they had read — Percy Jackson and Legolas don’t need to remember to pack sunscreen.
This is a fun middle grade adventure and the creepy isn’t too terribly creepy. My one concern is that with the china doll on the cover, it will be difficult to get your boys to pick it up. With Zach as the main character, the book will work for them if only you can get them to give it a try. Once the adventure takes off, it drags the reader along for the ride.