August 31, 2016

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:19 am by suebe2

Image result for how it went downHow It Went Down
by Kekla Magoon
Henry Holt

The store owner steps onto the sidewalk and calls for Tariq Johnson, who is hurrying away, to stop.  Everyone who was out on the sidewalk is sure that they know what is going on. First is the man who sees another street punk whose surely just robbed the store and tries to stop him. But there were also members of the local gang, some of whom know he was armed while others are just as sure he wasn’t.  him a young man who has robbed the store. Then there was the man driving through the neighborhood who sees Tariq tussling with the man who tried to stop him.  This man steps out of his car and puts a stop to the nonsense once and for all with two quick shots from the gun he is licensed to carry.

Confused?  That’s the point.

When street crime happens, it happens fast.  People make snap decisions.  Then they are left trying to unravel what happened.

The events that set it all in motion are fairly clear-cut.  Tariq went to the store to buy groceries for his mother.  He forgot to wait for the change.  The store owner knows his mom and dashed out onto the sidewalk to try to catch Tariq and hand over the money.  As he called out to Tariq the first assumption was made and things spiraled out of control.

But just what happened?  Several characters swear he was armed.  Others are equally certain that he wasn’t.  Person by person, characters throughout the neighborhood tell their part of the story.  We hear from Tariq’s best friend, the shooter, the store owner and even the girl who performed CPR. He is described as a good son, a good brother, an amazing friend, a street punk, a would-be gang member, and more.  As the characters talk, they start to question “Did I know the real Tariq?”

While Magoon never comes out and says “Tariq was not a gangster” or “Tariq was a gangster,” I know what I think.  That said, I’m sure another reader could come to a different conclusion.  And I think that’s a lot of what makes this book essential.  There’s just enough space for each reader to bring their own interpretation to the story.

This is definitely a book that deserves a place in the modern classroom.  It is sure to spark discussions and, hopefully, more than a little thought.  It is a book about today’s headlines, what we know, who we are and what we can be. It isn’t overly optimistic but it does end on a note of hope for Tariq’s friends and family if not his neighborhood.  Add this book to your shelf today.


August 25, 2016

Project Seahorse by Pamela S. Turner

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:52 pm by suebe2

project_seahorse_final_smlProject Seahorse
by Pamela S. Turner
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Digoy swims across the reef.  He uses no scuba tank or snorkel.  The only light comes from the kerosene lantern on his boat.  He is looking for sea horses.

For years fisherman in the Philipines have searched out hard-to-find sea horses.  While people don’t eat these curious animals, they want them for other reasons. Some people want to keep them in home aquariums, gathering round to gaze at the prehistoric looking animals.  Others wear them in jewelry and display them in decorations.  Still others grind them up and use them in medicines.

But Digoy doesn’t keep the seahorse.  He is one of the fisherman working to preserve the world’s reefs and the many fish these habitats support.

Turner shares a wealth of seahorse information for curious young readers (males are the ones that carry the unborn fish) but the book is so much more.  It describes Project Seahorse a conservation effort that encourages local people to preserve reefs.  Coral reefs provide shelter for many ocean fish.  Save the reef and the fish that live around it in one area and soon nearby areas also benefit.

But Amanda Vincent and Heather Koldeway, the scientists working on this project aren’t naive.  They know that the people need to support their families.  They don’t want them to stop fishing altogether but instead help develop guidelines that allow the people to make a living while also preserving the wildlife.  Through this project, local people replant mangrove trees which provide shelter for young fish.

Most of the books in this series, Scientists in the Field, focus on the animal in question. While Turners book gives plenty of information about sea horses, it also gives information on the complex web of environments and natural resources that impact the lives of the sea horses, other marine life and even the people who live in the Philippines.

This books makes an excellent stepping off point for conversations about ecology and preservation as well as the animals themselves.  Be prepared for some lengthy conversations.


August 23, 2016

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:54 pm by suebe2

Terrible Typhoid MaryTerrible Typhoid Mary:
A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
HMH Books for Young Readers

Mary Mallon was an excellent cook — her employers especially loved the ice cream that she made during the hot summer months. But then 9-year-old Margaret fell ill.  Soon she was running a raging fever.  Typhoid!  Eventually six people, including the gardener, would fall ill.  As soon as the family returned to the city, Mallon left them to find a new job with a family that wasn’t sick.  She was healthy and strong but typhoid was a killer fever.

The people who owned the house where Mallon had worked rented it out every summer.  They wanted to make sure that they didn’t own a “sick house” so they hired George Soper.  Soper was considered an expert in epidemiology (the study of epidemics).  He checked the homes water.  He checked the local produce and shell-fish, all of which could transmit the typhoid bacteria.  Nothing.  The house and the local environment were fine.  The cause had to be a human carrier.  By tracing other cases of typhoid, he eventually traced it back to one cook — Mary Mallone.

Mary made history because she was the first healthy carrier known to live in New York City or the US.  I don’t want to give many more details because I want you to read the book.  Written as a medical thriller or mystery, it traces the steps that community health experts went through first to identify Typhoid Mary but also in attempting to deal with her.  It is worth nothing here that Soper, the expert, wasn’t a doctor but a sanitary engineer.  But he still had enough power to have Mary imprisoned on a hospital island because of the fear that people had of typhoid.

Mary developed the reputation of being an irrational killer.  Why not just have surgery?  Why didn’t she trust Soper or the doctors? You’ll have to read the book to find out.  And it really is a book you should read because it is a telling story.  Not only does it trace the development of public health but it also delineates the differences between how the New York City health department dealt with a female carrier and male carrier.  Night and day, people.  Night and day.

Bartoletti has written an engaging book that reads like a medical thriller.  Whether your young reader likes “true stories,” mysteries, science or history, this book will pull them in. This is definitely a book that I would recommend experiencing in print vs an audio book so that you get to see the period graphics.


August 18, 2016

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:19 am by suebe2

CharmedChildrencover-1The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
by Janet Fox

Just so everyone doesn’t think that I review nothing but nonfiction, today’s book is not only fiction but fantasy.

Father has just been called away and the German’s are bombing London.  Kat wants nothing more than time to work with her father who has been teaching her to repair clocks.  It’s their time together, but, more than that, Kat is good at it.  But Father has other skills and he’s been called away to put those skills to use.  Before he leaves he arranges for Kat and her siblings to move to the countryside.  That isn’t unusual, not in Britain during World War II, but they are going to a boarding school in a castle that belongs to one of Father’s cousins.

When they arrive, there is no cousin to meet them.  Just his tall, beautiful, somehow threatening wife.  The boys are all charmed but Kat knows that something is up.  So does her sister although the younger girl insists that it involves magic. Kat finds a secret door and behind it a short wave radio.  She recognizes the radio and knows immediately that there is a spy somewhere in the castle.

There are strange noises and Kat has nightmares.  Then her classmates begin to disappear.  Kat allies herself with the only American student at the school and she and Peter work to solve the mystery before they too slip away.

This is fantasy but codes and history also play a part.  The books themes also give young readers a lot to think about.  What makes a person good or bad?  Is it their skills and talents?  Or is it how they apply them?

Solidly middle grade, this book isn’t a quick read at 388 pages. That said, it is a solid book with no fluff to be cut.  Give this to your young reader who needs something of a challenge but isn’t ready for young adult.  This book is thoroughly entertaining but will also make them think.



August 16, 2016

Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 4:42 pm by suebe2

Claudette Colvin
by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Mention the Montgomery Bus Boycott and people automatically think of Rosa Parks, the neatly dressed woman who was led from a bus by white police for refusing to give up her seat.  Very few people recall that the first woman to be arrested for the same thing was Claudette Colvin, a high school student.

Claudette has been studying the constitution in high school.  She also new the law.  There were rows of black seats.  There were rows of white seats.  A black rider could be told by the driver to give up their seat as long as there was another black seat farther back.  When four girls in Claudette’s row were told to get up to make way for a lone white woman, there were no other seats available.  Claudette was tired of being pushed around and intimidated.  Two policemen were called and they dragged her backwards off the bus, sending her school books flying  and delivering at least one kick.

In spite of the fact that Claudette was scared for her safety,  she refused to back down.  Because of this, she wasn’t simply fined.  She was charged.

Why is it that no one knows her name?  In part, it was because Montgomery’s black leadership did not see this young girl as a viable face for their movement.  They wanted a bus boycott and they needed someone to rally around.  Colvin had cried at her sentencing so they wrote her off as flighty and emotional.  They did remember her later when they filed the class action law suit that eventually ended the boycott.

This is a must read.  It provides background to the current civil rights struggle including why organizers hold protests vs talks (talks didn’t work in Montgomery).  The book also shows, without directly pointing out, the marginalization of black women in the early movement.

The author did extensive interviews with Colvin and often the text is first person in her voice.  Additional historical notes are given as sidebars throughout the book.

In truth, everyone studying 20th century US history should know this story.



August 11, 2016

Sitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People by S. D. Nelson

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:41 am by suebe2

Ssitting bullitting Bull: Lakota Warrior and Defender of His People
by S. D. Nelson
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Sitting Bull grew up among the Hunkpapa people, one of several bands that the whites later named the Sioux.  He grew up on buffalo hunts and counting coup but he also grew up at a time when whites were pushing their way into Sioux territory.  Once they arrived, they never left.  It was the beginning of the end for the Sioux way of life.

That said, this isn’t a depressing book.  Nelson has written a biography of Sitting Bull, the only Sioux to lead all seven Lakota tribes.  He fought against Custer and was even credited by some with killing the soldier although the Lakota believed that he committed suicide rather than be taken in battle.

Nelson wrote this biography as if Sitting Bull is speaking to the reader.  Thus it is written in first person and tells about the Lakota way of life both on the plains and on the reservations.  It tells of Sitting Bulls time with Buffalo Bill Cody, whom he respected greatly, and his death at the hands of tribal police.

The book is designed to look like a series of ledger drawings.  Native Americans often drew on the paper found in ledger books, bound books of blank pages that merchants used to keep track of what they had sold.  Colorful horses galloped across the pages of lined ledger pages and the art work has a very distinct look.  This book has that same look.  In addition to Nelson’s drawings are a number of historic photographs.

I grew up hearing stories about Native American leaders long before diversity was something that many people talked about.  In spite of this, there was plenty of information in this book that I didn’t know although I did recognize many of the photographs.

Although the book looks like a picture book it is text dense and suitable for readers grades 4 through 6.  This is a must for those interested in US history and should be in the classroom library.


August 9, 2016

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 8:47 pm by suebe2

JumbiesThe Jumbies
by Tracey Baptiste
Algonquin Young Readers

Corinne isn’t afraid of anything so when the pesky brothers who live nearby tie her necklace to an agouti she chases the animal into the mahogany forest. When she leaves, she doesn’t see it, but she is followed by a jumbie.

Jumbie is the island word that means something like faerie but these aren’t the faeries of Europe.  These are the spooks and haunts and things that go bump in the night in Trinidad.  Author Tracey Baptiste grew up hearing stories about jumbies but reading European fairy tales. She wished that she could read about jumbies too and this is her attempt to fill in what was lacking.

At the market, Corinne sells oranges from the tree planted by her Mama.  Mama is dead but Corinne still has the tree and it grows the sweetest oranges on the entire island.  At the market, Corinne is taken under the wing of another seller and makes friends with the woman’s daughter.  Together, they spot a beautiful woman talking to the local witch.  No one knows who the woman is but soon she is at Corinne’s house, talking to her Papa.  Before long, Papa is seeing storms that aren’t there and no longer answers when his daugther calls him.

It doesn’t take long for Corinne to realize that this beautiful woman is a jumbie but in the jumbie Corinne sees something familiar. Soon she is trying to figure out what ties her mama and she herself have to these frightening creatures.  It takes three days for jumbie magic to become permanent and Corinne and her friends must race to save their village before it is too late.

Sue here.  At first, I didn’t love this story as much as I might.  This is definitely early middle grade, for 2nd and 3rd graders.  Why had Baptiste written a book that read something like horror for readers so young?  Then I made the fairy tale connection and all fell into place. No, I’m not saying it is gory.  In fact, it isn’t.  But it is atmospheric and spooky the way many fairy tales are spooky.

Young readers will enjoy reading about strange creatures and watching a peer save the day even as the adults fall prey to the jumbies.


August 4, 2016

Living Fossils: Clues to the Past by Caroline Arnold, illustrated by Andrew Plant

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:55 pm by suebe2

29342642Living Fossils:
Clues to the Past
by Caroline Arnold
illustrated by Andrew Plant

In 1938, a South African fisherman pulled a strange looking fish out of the sea.  About five feet long, it was pale blue and had a blunt tail without the large fins of many fish.  He gave the fish to a museum curator who sent a sketch of it to a professor who was an expert on fish. He was shocked.  This catch looked very like a prehistoric ceolacanth, a fish that scientists believed had died out 65 million years earlier. He realized that the fish was a “living fossil.”

Arnold explains to readers that some scientists dislike the term, living fossil.  The worry that people like you and I will think that this means that the animal or plant has not changed, that it is exactly like its prehistoric ancestor.

Throughout the book, Arnold writes up first the ancient animal, such as a horseshoe crab, and then the modern version.  Although she doesn’t go into great detail about how they have changed, she does mention some details such as the modern dragonfly’s smaller size when compared to its prehistoric ancestor.

Added to the text are Plant’s illustration which show other changes such as the lack of dorsal spines on the modern horseshoe crab. Arnold’s acrylic paintings bring to life both the ancient world of the ancestral animals and the modern habitats of those on Earth today.  From prey animals to habitat, the art expands on Arnold’s text by feeding the reader more information.

The backmatter of the book includes both a timelines of the Earth’s past as well as additional information about each animal depicted.  In addition to coelacanth, horseshoe crabs and dragonflies, there are tuatra, chambered nautilus and the Hula painted frog.  The one thing that I would have liked to see was information on plants, such as the ginko tree and cypress tree, that are also living fossils.

I would recommend this book both for the home library and for classroom use.  It will appeal to young animal lovers as well as junior scientists and is sure to spark a wide range of discussions on habitat, evolution and prehistory.


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