Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Vera Rubin, The Stuff Between the Stars, and a Giveaway!

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe, by Sandra Nickel/Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro, (March 2021, Abrams Books for Young Reader), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419736261

Ages 6-9

The Stuff Between the Stars is the picture book biography of Vera Rubin, the astronomer who discovered and named dark matter. It also touches on the sexism and ignorance she encountered from the male scientists in her field who called her ideas “ridiculous” and “outlandish”; she persisted, taking pictures of galaxies in motion, proving her groundbreaking theory and forcing the men in her field to admit she was right and concede that they had only been studying a fraction of the actual universe. A vanguard whose time has come, this biography is best for early grade schoolers. Watercolor, ink, and charcoal artwork bring the magic of the night sky to life, with colorful endpapers and artwork throughout. The images of Vera Rubin standing alone against a group of men helps readers feel the intimidation Vera Rubin must have fought off every day of her career, but she stands firm. Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline of Vera Rubin’s life, notes, and a bibliography. Read this with Marion Dane Bauer’s The Stuff of Stars (2018) for a beautiful perspective on our connection to the universe.

 

Sandra Nickel says that story ideas are everywhere; you just have to reach out and grab them.  She holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her first book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack, was a Golden Kite Award finalist. Sandra lives in Chexbres, Switzerland, where she blogs about children’s book writers and illustrators at whatwason.com. To learn more, visit https://sandranickel.com/.

Twitter:  @senickel

Facebook: @sandranickelbooks

Instagram: @sandranickelbooks

 

Aimée Sicuro is an illustrator, picture book maker, and surface pattern designer who received a BFA in Illustration from Columbus College of Art and Design. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and young sons. Visit her website to learn more.

Twitter: @aimeesicuro

Instagram: @aimeesicuro

One lucky winner will receive a copy of The Stuff Between the Stars courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers (U.S. addresses). Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

A touching tribute to the fallen and those who stand guard: Twenty-One Steps

Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, by Jeff Gottesfeld/Illustrated by Matt Tavares, (March 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536201482

Ages 7-10

Told in the quiet, poetic voice of the Unknown Soldier, Twenty-One Steps is the story of the Unknown Soldier and of the soldiers who guard the Tomb through sun and rain. It is the most difficult post to earn, and the highest privilege for those who do. Every bit of each soldier’s appearance, every step they take, is in service to the Unknown Soldier. Jeff Gottesfeld and Matt Tavares create a moving tribute to the soldiers who have paid the ultimate price, and those who guard them in this flawless work. An afterword about Arlington National Cemetery concludes the book. The first soldier, a World War I veteran, was interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 100 years ago this coming November; make sure to have this in your collections.

Twenty-One Steps has starred reviews from The Horn Book and Kirkus.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction, picture books

Codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman gets a book and a giveaway for Women’s History Month!

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, by Laurie Wallmark/Illustrated by Brooke Smart, (March 2021, Abrams), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419739637

Ages 7-9

This picture book biography on code breaker Elizebeth Friedman is a great way to kick off Women’s History Month!  Beginning with her early years as a Shakespeare-loving student and working for an eccentric millionaire, she meets fellow code aficionado and scientist, William Friedman. The two marry, and their expertise in codes and ciphers led to their groundbreaking work in cryptology during World War I. Friedman traveled two worlds, raising her family away from the city and answering the government’s call for help, whether it was to break smuggler’s codes during Prohibition or ferreting out Nazi spies and Japanese spies during World War II. The FBI took credit for the work she and her team did, and she was sworn to secrecy. Her secrets were declassified 35 years after her death in 2015. Laurie Wallmark, a STEM/STEAM biographer for women in STEM, has written several books I’ve brought to my Girls Who Code sessions, including Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (2017) and Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (2015). She has a great way of factual storytelling that show each of her heroines breaking barriers while juggling the weight of societal expectations. Ms. Wallmark does Elizebeth Friedman a great justice and brings her story to a new generation of girls.

Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache paintings sprinkle Friedman quotes throughout and have humorous moments, including a page where a line of coded language wraps itself around an angry group of Nazis as Friedman gazes off sagely on the companion page; one spread has Friedman leading a team of young men through ticker tapes, curling all over the page, likely pointing out how to break codes. She combines the realistic with the imaginative, encouraging readers to let their minds go where coding takes them. Back matter includes an explanation on codes and ciphers, cryptography, and a crack the code exercise, along with a bibliography and timeline of Friedman’s life. An excellent biography on a ’til-now virtually unknown figure in history.

Check out the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter book page on author Laurie Wallmark’s webpage where you’ll find a trailer, cool activity sheets, and more!

 

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. You can find her at lauriewallmark.com.

On Twitter: @lauriewallmark

Facebook: @lauriewallmarkauthor

Instagram: @lauriewallmark

 

Brooke Smart loves telling stories through her illustrations, especially stories about brave women from history. She has always loved to read, and growing up she could be found nightly falling asleep with a book on her chest. Illustrating books as a professional artist is a lifelong dream come true. She is living the busy, tired, happy, wonderful dream in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, their three kids, and their naughty cat named Sunshine. Learn more about her at brooke-smart.com.

Instagram: @bookesmartillustration

 

 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers (U.S. addresses). Enter this Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

New chapter book series: Twig and Turtle

I received review copies of the first two books in the new chapter book series, Twig and Turtle, from Pixel+Ink toward the end of last year and just sat down to read them, as I get my TBR self together. They are SO much fun! You don’t need to read them in order, but you’ll certainly want to read them all.

Twig and Turtle: Big Move to a Tiny House (Twig and Turtle #1), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Oct. 2020, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950226

Ages 5-7

Sisters Twig and Turtle were living with their parents in a big home in Boston, but their parents decided to live more authentically, so they sold everything and moved their family to a tiny house in Colorado, where they can pursue their real interests. Dad’s a comic book artist, mom’s a photographer, and Twig and Turtle are navigating their new lives in a tiny home. In this first Twig and Turtle adventure, the sisters are adjusting to a new school and making new friends, but Twig is also worried about Bo, her uncle’s dog who’s been living with her grandmother. She loves Bo, but Bo – a great dane – has been making a ruckus and the neighbors are getting fed up, so she may need to rehome Bo – and Twig is so upset! Mom and Dad say there’s no room for Bo in their tiny new home, but maybe another solution will present itself? Twig and Turtle presents an interesting new take on moving and settling into a new home, new school, and new neighborhood. Twig is a third grader, Turtle is a first grader, and Turtle seems easier and quicker to acclimate than does Twig. The relationships between the girls and the girls and their parents is positive and optimistic. A fun new series; I’m always on the lookout for good chapter books for my intermediate readers and this fits the bill nicely. With Ivy and Bean coming to an end, this will be a nice new realistic fiction series to booktalk.

 

Twig and Turtle: Toy Store Trouble (Twig and Turtle #2), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Oct. 2020, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950257

Ages 5-7

The second Twig and Turtle story centers on the new toy store opening in the neighborhood, which gets the kids all excited: especially since there’s a contest to name the new store, and the grand prize winner will also get to choose a toy of their own! Twig and Turtle are excited to win: they were only allowed to pick five toys each to take with them when they moved, but Twig is worried; Mom has already told them that for every new toy they receive, they need to choose one to part with. What if Twig doesn’t want to part with any of them? Toy Store Trouble looks at tough decisions kids have to make, and the solutions they can come up with when given time to think things through. The book also features thrift store shopping and trade-ins, so it’s a nice nod to stepping away from “fast fashion” and consumer culture.

 

Twig and Turtle: Quiet Please! (Twig and Turtle #3), by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, (Feb. 2021, Pixel+Ink), $6.99, ISBN: 9781645950455

Ages 5-7

Full disclosure: I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s just come out, so I wanted to make sure to include it here. The family is starting to chafe against tiny house living, especially when Twig is participating in a school read-a-thon while the rest of the family is living in the same space! One of Twig’s classmates is able to log more reading time, so she starts staying up way past her bedtime to keep up, making Mom and Dad realize that there need to be some changes made.

The Twig and Turtle series has black and white illustrations throughout, and is a nicely written series that looks at a different way of living than we normally see. I think the kids will enjoy this one.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Fill a Bucket with smiles and kind words

Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness: Three Rules for a Happier Life (10th Anniversary Edition), by Carol McCloud/Illustrated by Penny Weber, (Aug. 2020, Bucket Fillosophy), $9.95, ISBN: 9780996099998

Ages 7-12

When my older kids were in elementary school, their schoolwide book club read a book called Have You Filled a Bucket Today?, and they came home talking about filling buckets and being bucket fillers. When I went into the school, there were bucket-filling pictures hanging up outside the classrooms, and I thought, “Wow, this is really something”. Flash forward 10 years, and I’ve finally read the 10th Anniversary copy of the book in the bucket filler series, this one for intermediate and middle grade readers, Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness. It’s a series of rules for living kindly, and there are three: Be a Bucket Filler, Don’t Dip, and Use Your Lid. The premise is smart: we all have buckets in which we carry our good thoughts and happy feelings, and when we fill other people’s buckets through kind words and good deeds, we fill our own buckets. People who hurt others and are disrespectful are bucket dippers – they take from your bucket and in doing so, take from their own buckets. If you are about to react to someone hurting your feelings, they suggest using a lid to remind you that you can control how you react to someone, but you can’t control their actions. The book is straightforward, with tips and encouraging ways to live kindly, ending with a pledge and journaling/discussion questions. Colorful artwork throughout features illustrations of kids and adults being kind – or unkind – to one another to emphasize the text. It’s something to keep in mind and on your shelves for kids to discover, and to talk about if you have a book group reading nonfiction. We’ve seen enough rampant unkindness over the last few years that maybe it’s time to concentrate on being bucket fillers again. The Bucket Fillers website has free activities to download, including crafts and activities, to help.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Little Kid, Big City: a kids’ guide to New York!

Little Kid, Big City: New York, by Beth Beckman/Illustrated by Holly Maher, (Feb. 2021, Quirk Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781683692447

Ages 7-12

A travel book for kids that includes tips and tricks for navigating New York City, Little Kid, Big City: New York is set up like a choose-your-own-adventure book – just like New York! Most of the action is concentrated in Manhattan, but there are highlights in the outer boroughs, like Rockaway Beach and the Unisphere in my ‘hood, Queens; Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Coney Island in Brooklyn, and so much more! There are great little inside secrets to New York, too: what makes our bagels taste so good? The water! The pizza? Foldable! Underground art galleries? Check the subways! Read the book straight through, or follow the prompts that give you a choice to wander all over the city. Colorful illustrations capture the buzz of New York by day, and the rhyming text lets little readers enjoy a story about New York City! The book is a spin-off of the Little Kid Big City website, which also has a wealth of information perfect for families traveling to New York, London, Amsterdam, and Washington, DC, and the Instagram account, which has gorgeous photos, guides, and reels.

Let the kids plan the next adventure when we can travel again – many of these sites are still closed at the moment – and you can’t go wrong. Until then, download a free Travel from Home Activity Kit. Back matter includes an “Adventure Index” that provides more in-depth detail about each of the sites visited in the book, and there’s a fold-out map of New York and the boroughs to hang up. Bundle this with Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez’s graphic novel, Lost in NYC, for a full New York experience.

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

A puppy searches for his “yip” in a new series

Finding My Yip (Boomers Tales, Book 1), by Christine Isley-Farmer/Illustrated by Taylor Bills, (March 2021, Wandering in the Words Press), $8.95, ISBN: 978-1733212663

Ages 7-10

Boomer is a young Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, adopted by Nana Weathers and her nine-year-old orphaned granddaughter, Chloe. Chloe has a stutter and wants to sing like her Nana, a music teacher, and Nana is confident that Boomer – a puppy who can’t “yip!” just yet – and Chloe can help one another. Chloe and Boomer quickly bond and discover other friends at dog obedience classes. Nana’s magic ring helps her communicate with Boomer, and Chloe’s love encourages Boomer to keep trying and find his Yip; Boomer’s and Nana’s love and encouragement help Chloe find the confidence to be part of the school talent show. Narrated by Boomer, the story is a cute intermediate read for animal lovers with likable characters. Black and white illustrations are cartoony, cute, and will keep readers turning pages.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

So You Want to Be an Owl? Here’s a crash course!

So You Want to Be an Owl?: Everything There is to Know About Owls!, by Jane Porter/Illustrated by Maddie Frost, (Jan. 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536215212

Ages 5-9

Picture book nonfiction at its most fun! Professor Olaf Owl is here to show you, new Owl recruit, how to be an owl, as concerned as he is about your lack of feathers, inability to fly, and lack of more than one set off eyelids. Can you cut it as a member of Team Owl? So You Want to Be an Owl? is loaded with facts about owls, with bold, mixed media artwork that readers will love. Organized into nine lessons, readers will learn about an owl’s feathers (not waterproof!), how they camouflage, hunt and eat, and the different sounds they make: it’s not just “Hoot”! Professor Owl is a fun, slightly snarky, guide through the book, adding amusing commentary and despairing over whether a human student could possibly match up to the superior owl. It’s fun, it’s funny, and the artwork is bright and cheery. Absolutely fun, and begging to be matched up with one of my favorite owl crafts from my Harry Potter program; this owl treat bag craft is adorable, too! Pair with some of my favorite owl stories, like This is Owl by Libby Walden and Divya Srinivasan’s Owl books, for a fun owl storytime.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Award winner: All the Way to the Top!

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for American with Disabilities Changed Everything, by Annette Bay Pimentel/Illustrated by Nabi H. Ali, (March 2020, Sourcebooks Explore), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492688976

Ages 4-8

A Schneider Family Book Award Honoree, All the Way to the Top is activist Jennifer Keelan’s story. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, Jennifer used a wheelchair to get around, but found that “buses, museums, libraries, and even schools that were accessible to my able-bodied peers were not accessible to me because there were no wheelchair ramps”. Becoming an activist at age 6, Jennifer found her voice when her family brought her to strategy meetings and protests for the right to access and to push for the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA). Most of All the Way to the Top takes place in Jennifer’s early childhood, leading up to her history-making moment in 1990, when, at the age of 9, she took part in the Capitol Crawl, where protestors left their wheelchairs and mobility aids aside and crawled up the Capitol steps to demonstrate the need for accessible architecture. All the Way to the Top is a powerful story about a major moment in history, and illustrates how important it is that children are invited to discussions about policies that affect them. Back matter includes information about activism, the access, the life before and after the ADA, timeline for both the Disability Rights Movement and Jennifer Keelan-Chaffin’s life, and a bibliography. Nabi Ali’s illustrations show expressive, diverse groups of people assembling to discuss and advocate for themselves and others. Jennifer and her younger sister, who attended protests with her, stand out in crowd scenes, with the sisters rendered in full color and the crowd in various monochromatic shades.

Britannica Kids has an entry on the ADA for students, and readers can learn more about Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins at her website. Publisher Sourcebooks has a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide available, and the book detail page has an interview with author Annette Bay Pimentel and more.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Independently Published Spotlight: Intermediate and Middle Grade

One thing I did do this year was make progress on my TBR, and concentrated on those indie and small press submissions I’ve received over the last few years. Here are two novels I’ve read and want to share. I’ll be reading and reviewing more, whittling down that TBR, into next year, so if you’ve asked me to review a book of yours and I haven’t gotten to it yet, please be patient!

Gregory and the Grimbockle, by Melanie Schubert/Illustrated by Abigail Kraft, Book Soundtrack by Jared Kraft (Nov. 2017, New Wrinkle Publishing), $14.94, ISBN: 978-0991110933

Ages 8-11

Gregory is a 10-year old with a giant mole beneath his nose. The creepy neighbor lady always tries to rip it off his face, but when she finally manages to snag a bit of it, Gregory discovers a BIG surprise: the mole is a hiding place and portal into our world for a tiny creature called a Grimbockle. The Grimbockle belongs to a group of creatures called Bockles, and they oversee Exoodles, the invisible threads that connect humans to one another. When affections and feelings are loving and strong, the threads are strong, but when those threads fray or break, they can cause heartbreak and strife. Gregory accompanies the Grimbockle on his nightly rounds and finds himself on an adventure as he attempts to reconnect exoodles and relationships. The story is a nice statement on how our feelings affect those around us and how we are connected by our relationships and emotions. The storytelling moves at a decent pace and the characters are cute; black and white illustrations throughout keep the reader’s interest. A good additional middle grader/intermediate book.

 

Whiz Bang and Amelia the Adventure Bear: The Jade Dragon, by Forrest Helvie and Michelle Lodge, (Oct. 2016, Independently Published), $1.99, Kindle ASIN: B01MDP3D3M

Ages 7-10

A quick read, this 31-page adventure is about Whiz Bang, a robot, and his friend Amelia, a bear. They’re martial arts students who have to learn that self-control, discipline, and the ability to show respect are the most important skills to learn in their quest to progress through their belts. Their sensei uses the story of a former student and the school’s mascot, a jade dragon, to communicate his message. There’s one other book in the series and another forthcoming; to get the Whiz Bang and Amelia newsletter and find out more about the books, visit the Whiz Bang and Amelia webpage.