Posted in Post-apocalyptic/Dystopian, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Dust Bowl Post-Cataclysm! Elysium Girls ride to battle

When you have a cover this amazing, you need to go full size.

Elysium Girls, by Kate Pentecost, (Apr. 2020, Little Brown),
$17.99, ISBN: 9781368041867
Ages 12+

When I was at a Book Buzz where this book came up, the publisher rep said, “I love this book! It’s hard to describe, but it’s so good! It’s so weird!” And really, that was all I needed to hear: I wanted to read a book with a big steampunk horse on the cover. I was not disappointed.

Elysium Girls is Dust Bowl-era dystopian fiction. In 1935, while America is in the grips of the Great Depression, a giant dust cloud rolls over Oklahoma. The goddesses of Life and Death have taken this little chunk of America and placed it in its own space and time, a chessboard for their own game. The survivors of the storm have 10 years to maintain order and set aside a third of their crops as a sacrifice for a chance to survive. Mother Morevna, an ailing witch in charge of a settlement called Elysium, takes on Sal, a teenaged apprentice, when a stranger calling himself Asa Skander arrives with supplies and a knack for magic himself. Sal and Asa are exiled from Elysium following a duel, where they meet a group of young women who have their own histories with Elysium and beyond. Facing the final days of the contest, a rising death toll, and plummeting spirits, Elysium and the group of women – and Asa – join forces once more to face the coming Dust Soldiers and attempt to break the game in order to win it.

This book is AMAZING. A dystopian historical fiction piece placing readers in Depression-Era Dust Bowl America? It’s a great concept, and Kate Pentecost touches on the endemic racism that endures even among the survivors; her description of the Dust Sickness that eats away at the populace is so gritty and raw that you’ll want a sip of water and to clear your throat as you read. Sal emerges as a smart heroine that comes into her confidence as a magic user, and Asa, who could easily have been sidelined as a cardboard supporting character, has a good backstory and has a character arc that really develops him nicely. Supporting characters all get fleshed out nicely, and should easily get reader investment.

The shifting perspective, from Sal’s first-person narration to third-person narration, takes a little getting used to, but I feel into the rhythm pretty quickly. The action is fast-paced, and dialogue will keep readers turning pages as different plots and subplots become revealed. I loved this one, and really, REALLY, want my own metal horse now.

Give this one to your new generation of post-cataclysm readers. (I can’t believe there’s a new generation of them, but wow: Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent are all a decade old, and then some. Wow.)

 

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

More Weird But True Facts for all those barbecue conversations!

Weird But True! USA: 300 Fascinating Facts About the 50 States, by National Geographic Kids, (March 2019, National Geographic Kids), $8.99, ISBN: 9781426333712

Ages 7-12

You’ve got a lot of barbecues to hit this summer. Family, friends, someone’s having a BBQ, somewhere, and you’re invited. What better way to keep a conversation going than to bust out some weird – but true! – facts about the US of A? NatGeo Kids has kids (and grownups, too: you know you love these books) covered with their latest digest-sized Weird But True facts, easily carried in your favorite tote.

Dazzle friends and family with goodies about our states! Did you know that the average driver in New York City spends more than 100 hours a year looking for a parking spot? (I did, just ask my husband.) Or the Pledge of Allegiance was written for a magazine to help sell subscriptions? How about one of my favorites: the Washington National Cathedral has a Darth Vader gargoyle? Seriously, this this knowledge has made my day.

The NatGeo books just get better. Where do they find all these wacky facts? I hope they keep doing whatever they’re doing, because I love them, my own kids love them, and the kids in my library can’t get enough of them. Add these to your NatGeo collections and just sit at the reference desk and wait for them to come at you with their favorite facts.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Dinosaurs books for the arts and sciences!

The 50 State Fossils: A Guidebook for Aspiring Paleontologists, by Yinan Wang/Illustrations by Jane Levy, (Sept. 2018, Schiffer Publishing), $18.99, ISBN: 9780764355578

Ages 7-12

You know that states have their own flags. You probably even knew that states have their own trees, foods, and animals, but did you know that most states have their own fossils? It’s true! 50 State Fossils give readers a state-by-state look at each one. Maryland’s state fossil, for instance, is a Sea Snail, while Michigan’s is a Mastodon – a mammal similar to elephants and mammoths. Some state fossils are plants: Oregon’s is a Dawn Redwood, while North Dakota’s is Shipworm-Bored Petrified Wood. Each entry includes a photo and illustration of the fossil (or proposed fossil, for those states that don’t have a state fossil); a state map with a designated area where fossils can be found in that state; and a brief notation on the fossil: when the fossil dates from, when it was designated a state fossil, scientific names, and a paragraph or two about the fossil.

The State Fossils are the meat of the book, but this slim volume is packed with information for budding paleontologists: there are sections on how fossils form, how a state fossil is designated, dating fossils and the geologic time scale, and taxonomic rank.  There’s a glossary, a state-by-state breakdown of where to see fossils, and further reading. Endpapers are a colorful mix of various flora and fauna that can be found in the book.

50 State Fossils is one of those books a kid will carry to the museum to refer to while wandering through exhibits (I know I used to) and makes for a great book to give dino fans. It’s a nice add to nonfiction collections and a good gift idea.

 

If da Vinci Painted a Dinosaur, by Amy Newbold/Illustrated by Greg Newbold, (Oct. 2018, Tilbury House), $17.95, ISBN: 9780884486671

Ages 4-8

This follow up to 2017’s If Picasso Painted a Snowman is an enjoyable look at dinosaurs and art history. The hamster guide is back, escorting readers through an art gallery of different artists’ takes on dinosaurs, from a da Vinci-esque Virtruvian Dino, through Katusushika Hokusai’s giant wave (with dinosaurs wave surfing), and itty bitty dinosaurs hiding in Diego Rivera’s lilies. Who would da Vinci really paint, though, if he were painting dinosaurs? Why, Dino Lisa, of course! Readers are encouraged to copy a page sporting a blank easel and make their own dinosaur artwork, and featured artists get capsule biographies at the end, along with the dinosaur species designated to their paintings. A word from artist Greg Newbold encourages readers to draw, explore, and have fun on their own artist journeys. Endpapers inspired by Henri Matisse’s paper cutouts lead the reader in and usher them out, hopefully with a head full of ideas.

This book is just too much fun! It’s a great way to introduce art and science to kids, and begs for a program where kids can learn about artists and create their own dinosaurs. I’d have used this in my art storytime, for sure. (So maybe I need to dust that storytime off and revisit it.) Booktalk and feature in an art storytime with Lucy Volpin’s Crocdali; David Wiesner’s Art & Max; My Museum by Joanne Liu, and Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter. This one’s an absolute add to collections.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, picture books, Teen, Toddler Reads, Tween Reads

Need a gift? Give a book!

Now that the discount coupons are hitting inboxes, it’s a great time to stock up on books to give for the holidays. Here’s a look at some more books that will delight the readers in your life!

For the Little Ones:

Baby’s First Cloth Book: Christmas, Ilustrated by Lisa Jones & Edward Underwood, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $18, ISBN: 978-1-5362-0275-5

Ages 0-2

It’s Baby Boo’s first Christmas! This 8-page book is soft and squishy, perfect for exploring little hands and mouths. Baby Boo enjoys the snow, builds a snowman with Daddy, goes back inside to warm up by the fire and gaze at the Christmas tree, and at night, Santa drops off presents! The plush book is soft, and the page featuring the snowman is crinkly; perfect for play time and engaging your little one’s senses. The colors are bright, with gentle-faced animals and people. The book comes in its on add Park, Farm, and Zoo to the list.

 

Ten Horse Farm, by Robert Sabuda, (Apr. 2018, Candlewick Press), $29.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-6398-8

Ages 5+

You don’t have to be a kid to love Robert Sabuda; his paper engineering is stunning to see. Ten Horse Farm is a full-color, pop-up counting book where each spread stars a different horse engaging in some kind of activity: racing, resting, jumping, or bucking. Let your kiddos count the horses as you go, and use this book in storytime to bring wonder and surprise to your readers. This fits in nicely with a horse storytime, farm storytime, animal storytime… any time storytime. Inspired by rural America, Robert Sabuda even named his upstate New York art studio Ten Horse Farm. Sabuda books are timeless gifts.

Ten Horse Farm has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

For the Dinosaur fan:

Dragon Post, by Emma Yarlett, (Dec. 2018, Kane Miller), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-818-6

Ages 6-10

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I LOVE Emma Yarlett. Her Nibbles the Book Monster books are required reading in my home, and the kids at my library and my son’s Kindergarten class can’t get enough Nibbles. Dragon Post has the same fun spirit as we meet Alexander, a young boy who finds a dragon in his home. He’s excited, naturally, but he’s also a little concerned about fire safety. So he writes a series of letters, as different questions pop up for him. The best part? We get to read the letters!

This is an interactive book, with envelopes (lightly toasted) and letters you can pull up and read for yourself. The story is hilarious as Alexander’s predicament grows, and just when it takes a bittersweet turn, we get the hope of a sequel. The laser-cut correspondence is a fun addition to the story, and the full-color, cartoony artwork will appeal to readers. The scrawled black text reminds me of Oliver Jeffers’ lettering. Absolute fun for the holidays. If you’re buying this for your library, put it an extra copy in your storytime reference to keep one safe. This one will be loved quite a bit.

For the adventure seeker:

Atlas Obscura: Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid, by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco/Illustrated by Joy Ang, (Sept. 2018, Workman), $19.95, ISBN: 978-1-5235-0354-4

Ages 8-12

Here’s one for the kids who love the offbeat, quirky, and awe-inspiring things in life: Atlas Obscura is the kids’ companion to the website and adult guide book and is all about 100 of the most “weird but true” places on earth. Discover the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan (it’s a drilling accident gone terribly wrong), then head to Germany to ride a rollercoaster in the Wunderland Kalkar – an abandoned nuclear power plant. Check out the world’s seed bank in Norway, or visit an underwater museum near the Canary Islands.

Full-color illustrations offer an incredible point of view, and each site includes a locator globe and longitude and latitude (ahem… program in a book). A packing list – in case you’re so motivated – and explorer’s tips, along with alternate travel routes, methods of travel by speed, and height comparisons of attractions from biggest to smallest help with travel planning, and a list of further reading will have your world explorers putting up maps and pins in their rooms. This is just way too much fun. Give this to all the kids you normally hand your National Geographic gifts to, and you’ll be the favorite for another year running.

A World of Cities: From Paris to Tokyo and beyond, a celebration of the world’s most famous cities, by James Brown, (July 2018, Candlewick Studios), $25, ISBN: 9780763698799

Ages 8-12

Visit 30 of the world’s most famous cities with this book as your guide! It’s an oversize book with two- or 3-color tourism poster artwork and facts on each spread. Did you know Dubai has its own archipelago of artificial islands? Or that Albert Einstein’s eyeballs are stored in a safe-deposit box in New York City? There are tons of fun facts here, all assembled to create a stylized art book that takes armchair travelers to the bright lights and big cities of the world.

This is a follow-up to James Brown’s A World of Information, for anyone who’s a fan of infographics style information delivery.

 

For the animal lovers:

Heroes: Incredible True Stories of Courageous Animals, by David Long/Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman, (Nov. 2018, Faber & Faber), $22.95, ISBN: 978-0-5713-4210-5

Ages 9-13

I loved the companion series to this book, the more human-focused Survivors, that came out earlier this year, so I dove into Heroes when the publisher sent me a copy. If you and your kids loved Survivors, you’re going to love Heroes, with 33 stories of courageous animals (and an epilogue about London’s Animals in War Memorial). It’s more than an “I Survived” starring animals; these are stories about how we rely on animals to survive and to thrive. There’s Rip, the terrier who rescued people trapped in the rubble of the London Blitz during World War II: “…somehow having Rip around made things more bearable… if Rip could cope with the war, so they [the people]”; and Mary of Exeter, a messenger pigeon who spent five years carrying messages back and forth between England and France during World War II and who’s buried alongside Rip and Beauty, another WWII hero dog profiled here. Kerry Hyndman’s illustrations are all at once intense and beautiful, and David Long’s tributes are filled with respect for these companions. Read with a box of tissues nearby. Give to your animal fans and your adventure story fans.

 

Fly With  Me: A Celebration of Birds Through Pictures, Poems, and Stories, by Jane Yolen, Heidi EY Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple, (Oct. 2018, NatGeo Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-3181-7

Ages 8+

A compendium of all things bird for your bird-readers and watchers, Fly With Me has everything you’d want to know about birds: the physical characteristics, history (dino birds!), state bird profiles, songs, migration, and birding in your own backyard are just a few areas. There’s an emphasis on conservation and activism, and the section on birds in the arts is fantastic for your budding artists. The photos are jaw-dropping, with colors that burst off the page, and gorgeous illustrations. Endpapers are loaded with bird-related quotes, including one of my favorites: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like  duck, it must be a duck”. Back matter is loaded with additional resources. Pull some of the poems out and use them in your storytimes!

 

For the poetry reader:

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year, selected by Fiona Waters/Illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon, (Oct. 2018, Nosy Crow), $40, ISBN: 9781536202472

All Ages

There’s a poem for every single day of the year in this book. From January 1st through December 31st, greet each day with a poem and a beautiful illustration. Poets include Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Frost, Ogden Nash, ee cummings, and John Updike, and poems are indexed by poet name, poem title, and first lines. This is a gorgeous gift: the illustrations are absolutely beautiful, with cold winter scenes, green fall forests, and colorful, shell-covered beaches. Start the day off, or end a day, snuggled up with a poem.

This one’s a great gift for grownups, too – librarians and teachers, put this on your wish list and you’ll be thrilled to add new poems and fingerplays to your storytimes. I’m currently trying to think of hand movements to add to Alastair Reid’s “Squishy Words (To Be Said When Wet)” (August 4th).

Sing a Song of Seasons has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

The Poetry of US: More Than 200 poems that celebrate the people, places, and passions of the United States, Edited by J. Patrick Lewis, former US Children’s Poet Laureate, (Sept. 2018, NatGeo Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-3185-5

All Ages

This is another incredible poetry volume, all celebrating the United States: it’s a love letter to the country, compiled by former US Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. Organized by region: New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Great Plains, Rocky Mountain West, Pacific Coast, and Territories, over 200 poems celebrate the natural beauty of our lands and our rich cultural and diverse history. “Never Say No” by Laurie Purdie Salas is all about the perfection of a Philly cheesesteak, while Linda Sue Park’s “Asian Market” – showcased here in both English and Korean –  is a tantalizing tribute to the smells and sights of eating at an Asian food market. Reuben Jackson’s haunting “For Trayvon Martin” is side by side with J. Patrick Lewis’ “The Innocent”, a poem for Emmett Till. “Spelling Bee”, an acrostic by Avis Harley, is a nod to the Scripps Spelling Bee, and Allan Wolf’s “Champion Betty” celebrates a competitor at the Westminster Kennell Club Dog Show. There are poems about beaches and forests, Disney and weddings; there are poems in Korean and Spanish, and poems that shine a light on how far we have to go. It’s America, and these voices are why it’s beautiful.

For your reader who loves the classics:

Into the Jungle: Stories for Mowgli, by Katherine Rundell/Illustrated by Kristjana S. Williams, (Oct. 2018, Walker Books), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536205275

Ages 8-12

The flap of Into the Jungle says it best: “To turn the page of The Jungle Book is to long for more tales of Mowgli the man-cub, Baheera the panther, Baloo the bear, and Kaa the python”. Into the Jungle is a companion to the classic Rudyard Kipling book, enriching readers with five more stories about Mowgli and his companions: “Before Mother Wolf Was a Mother, She Was a Fighter”; “Bagheera’s Cage”; “Baloo’s Courage”; “Kaa’s Dance”, and “Mowgli” all bring back fan favorite characters and deliver themes of empathy, kindness, and understanding across species, cultures, and genders. Katherine Rundell has given Kipling’s classic – and, by extension, his fans – new life, and new relevance in a world very different – and sadly, not so different – from 1894.

Illustrations are full-color and created in collage, using Victorian engravings, to give an historical feel with incredible texture. Humans and animals alike share expressive faces and body language, and the lush Indian jungle unfurls itself to readers, beckoning them to join them in the pages. A gorgeous gift book.

I hope that helps with some shopping lists! Happy Holidays, all!
Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Dusti Bowling spends 24 Hours in Nowhere

24 Hours in Nowhere, by Dusti Bowling, (Sept. 2018, Sterling), $14.95, ISBN: 9781454929246

Ages 9-12

Gus is a 13-year-old kid, abandoned by his parents, living with his grandmother in Nowhere, Arizona. When Bo Taylor, the worst bully in town, tries to force him to eat a spiny cactus, Rossi Scott interferes. She’s one of the best dirt bike racers in nowhere, and she’s got designs on winning the big race the next day – until she gives up her bike to save Gus. Now Bo has the bike, and Gus heads to Dead Frenchman’s Mine in the hopes of finding a piece of gold to get the bike back. Matthew, one of Bo’s cronies, is along for the trip, making sure Gus doesn’t spray paint a rock; Jessie, Gus’ former best friend, and Rossi show up to talk some sense into Gus, but a cave-in traps the four friends, leaving them to seek a way out and avoid mountain lions.

I loved Dusti Bowling’s fantastic debut, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), so I immediately requested the ARC for 24 Hours in Nowhere. I am happy to say, there’s no sophomore slump here! Dusti Bowling continues writing smart, empathetic books about kids who are just doing the best they can in the face of everyday life. The teens share stories about their Worst Day Ever, giving us a glimpse into poverty, abuse, neglect, abandonment, race, (Jessie is Mexican-American, and Rossi is Native American, from the Tohono O’odham Nation) and white privilege, all within the greater examination of life in poor, rural America. Gus is a first-person narrator and alternately has moments of introspection, empathy, and humor. There’s a little bit of Goonies, a little bit of Holes, and a lot of great storytelling to be found here. Psst… teachers… put this one on next year’s Summer Reading lists, please?

Check out Dusti Bowling’s author website for extras (just Cactus for now, but sure to be updated with 24 Hours shortly) and school visit info, including free Skype visits! 24 Hours in Nowhere has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

NatGeo Kids sends kids back to school ready for everything!

I am an unabashed fan of NatGeo for my nonfiction sections. They have books on EVERYTHING, and the kids love it. They also make every single thing they cover amazing, hilarious, or both, which makes my life a lot easier when I have kids trudging into my children’s room, moaning that they have to read more nonfiction. Excuse me, do you see the GIANT WATER FAUCET on the cover of this book? Guess what? Nonfiction. Suddenly, they’re a lot more amenable to what I have to offer.

Let’s start with the backpack essential: The Weird But True Planner ($12.99, ISBN: 978-1426327933). The Weird But True books come in second only to the NatGeo Kids joke books when it comes to demand in my children’s room. It’s got the planner essentials: it’s spiral bound and sturdy, so kids can use it and it will hold up. It’s got paper that won’t tear when you turn a page. You know that paper; it’s usually the one that flies away and has the details of your homework on it. The space is smartly laid out, with NatGeo’s trademark gorgeous photos sharing space with planning and goal pages that help your kids keep it together during the school year. And because it’s NatGeo, it’s got the fun, weird holidays, crazy facts, pages for scribbling areas where you need homework help, little writing prompts, and an overall fun vibe that demands you embrace your weirdness. I have a copy that I desperately want to keep for my own library notes, programs, and scheduling the lives of my weird family; now, the key is making sure the kids don’t take mine off my desk at work OR at home.

Let’s be clear: this is not a library book; it’s a book meant to be written in, used, and yeah, even a little abused. But it IS an essential buy.

Next up is the NatGeo Kids 2018 Almanac ($14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2772-8). Updated for 2018, this is another go-to for my library kids. There are 12 sections – up from last year’s 10 – and cover current events, life science, engineering and technology, space and earth, and more. The fun and games section is still here, and the overall fun spirit of discovery runs through the book. A spread in life science tells readers “18 Fantastic Facts About Fungi”, with facts about cheese mold, to mushrooms, to athlete’s foot (it’s just a photo of a bare foot). Feel bad for the Ugly Food, but rejoice in reading how being ugly doesn’t mean being garbage – make banana bread with those brown bananas (that’s when they’re the best), or make a smoothie using that bruised peach. A companion page on the time it takes different types of trash to decompose is a powerful call to action for recycling and re-purposing our trash. Homework help tips, quizzes, jokes, fun facts, and breathtaking photos make this Almanac a keeper.
Atlases are always handy to have around, especially with increased importance on understanding global affairs and cultures. The United States Atlas (Fifth Edition, $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2831-2) gives readers a literal lay of the land, with political and physical maps by territory: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West. There are maps and statistics for each state within the territories; economy symbols to illustrate local economies like crops and industries. Photos and infographics round out each state’s profile. The atlas also includes U.S. territories, a glossary, postal abbreviations, and additional web resources.
The Ultimate Space Atlas ($12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2802-2) is a handy guide to what’s “up there”: phases of the moon, seasonal constellation maps for each hemisphere, what’s new in space exploration. “Digital Traveler” boxes help readers expand their learning by using going online. There are fun facts, amazing photos, diagrams, and Space Travel Attractions to visit… you know, from here. Earth. There’s a section with some fun activities at the end, and a glossary and index complete this handy astronomy desk reference. Both atlases will be helfpul during the school year, so load up your bookshelves if you’re in a library, or consider these when you’re buying school supplies.
CHOMP!: Fierce Facts About the Bite Force, Crushing Jaws, and Mighty Teeth of Earth’s Champion Chewers ($12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2839-8) has been on my shelves since this summer, and I see it wandering around the tables at the library (meaning, the kids are reading it while they’re in the library during the day) pretty regularly. Written by “Extreme Animal Explorer” Brady Barr, CHOMP! has a lot of pictures of a lot of big, mean teeth. The first page has a hippo, jaws open wide, greeting readers, and those choppers are intimidating! Barr organizes his chompers into four groups: the grippers, slicers, crushers, and gulpers; bite force and preferred menu for each animal profiled appear on each page. Barr jumps in with his own entertaining anecdotes, Brady’s Bite Stories, that will make kids squeal and cringe all at once; I’m thinking of reading the one about Barr squeezing a live otter out of a gator the next time I have a class visit. I like to be memorable. Further resources, a glossary and an index, make this a good companion guide for animal reports and fun reading for animal fans.
Last but never least, What Would Happen? Serious Answers to Silly Questions ($14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2770-4) looks at the logic and science behind some wild, weird questions. Starting with questions like, “What if you ate nothing but ice cream?” (short answer: DON’T) and working their way up to “What if you could wield The Force?” (You may call me Lady Vader), questions are organized into areas covering humans, space, nature, time, technology, natural wonders, worst-case scenarios, and just plain surreal. Each question is examined by giving readers a background on the deeper question (ice cream tastes great, but without protein and fiber, you’re in for some problems); primary repercussions (those problems could include going to the bathroom, no matter how much you love butter pecan); side effects (you’ll get weak and possibly develop scurvy from lack of Vitamin C); and finally, could it happen (unless you’re putting chunks of chicken or tofu, plus some broccoli and tomato on that ice cream, probably not)? This is going to move right along with my Weird Facts books. Heck, I may just turn this one into a program – write your own What Would Happen? and let’s swap; research it and find out the answer. But I’m totally developing The Force.
Go forth and fill up backpacks, and have a great school year!
Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Road Trip! Ranger Rick’s Travels: National Parks

ranger-rickRanger Rick’s Travels: National Parks!, by Stacy Tornio & Ken Keffer, (Aug. 2016, Muddy Boots), $14.95, ISBN: 9781630762308

Recommended for ages 8+

In a fabulous love letter to the National Parks of America and the National Park Service, the folks at Ranger Rick Magazine – remember them? They have books now! – put together this beautiful book, featuring each one of the 58 National parks across America. Ranger Rick and his best friend, Deputy Scarlett, appear throughout the book to join readers on a countrywide sightseeing tour.

The book opens with a map of the United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, and the US Virgin Islands. Each park is numbered and corresponds to the Table of Contents, which organizes the parks into 9 groups: Eastern Parks, Midwest Parks, Mountain West Parks, Southwest Parks, Utah and Nevada Parks, California Parks, Pacific Northwest Parks, Pacific Island Parks, and Alaska Parks. Each park’s profile includes stunning photos and facts that will make readers want to pack their bags and take a month or six off from work or school!

rangerrick-rickandscarlettEach park feature provides information in quick bites that read like a tourism guide. About the Park provides a quick overview and basic facts; What to Watch For are Ranger Rick’s top nature picks on what plants and animals to keep an eye out for. Ranger Rick’s Top Things To Do is a bucket list for each park – don’t leave without seeing Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park, naturally, but also make sure not to miss out on a hike through the park! Finally, Ranger Rick’s Amazing Facts are the “WOW” factor for each park: did you know that you can only reach Northwest Alaska’s Kobuk Valley National Park by foot, dogsled, snowmobile, or air taxi? Now you do!

This is a great book to have in collections and to have available when you’re talking about the U.S. There’s 100 years of history in the National Parks Service, but there are far more years in the history of these parks; there are petrified trees, dinosaur footprints and bones, and formations carved out of rock thousands of years ago, here for all to enjoy. Families planning a vacation or two can use this as a jumping off point (I know I am).

Don’t forget to head to the Ranger Rick website, where kids can read more about nature and the environment, play some games, and get craft ideas. Educator resources included lesson plans and webinars.

Ranger Rick and Scarlett image courtesy of Photobucket.
Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Teen

The Scarlet Letter (Manga Classics) makes another classic more accessible to readers

cover57424-mediumThe Scarlet Letter (Manga Classics), by Nathaniel Hawthorne/adapted by Crystal Chan/illustrated by SunNeko Lee (2014, Udon Entertainment/Morpheus Publishing), $19.99, ISBN: 9781927925331

Recommended for ages 13+

Reading the story of Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter is a rite of passage in high school, but that doesn’t always make it an accessible book. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale of adultery and a small New England Puritan town can be difficult for reluctant or struggling readers. Udon Entertainment’s Manga Classics line reaches out to those readers with beautiful art and drills the story down to the main points and action, drawing a reader in and, in essence, teaching them how to read the novel.

As with Udon’s manga adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the main story is faithfully intact, merely abridged for easier storytelling. This is by no means a replacement for the novel, but it serves two tremendous purposes: 1) to bring new readers to the story who may never have picked the book up before, and 2) to serve as a companion read to readers who have trouble with the novel. Manga is a popular art medium that’s been reaching beyond purely Japanese titles and finding a firm audience in American adaptations, from popular YA series like Twilight and Beautiful Creatures to classics like Les Miserables, Pride and Prejudice, and now, The Scarlet Letter.

I will be adding this book to my burgeoning manga classics collection. It would a fun display idea to feature the original and its manga adaptation side by side – I’d love to see how it affects my circulation.

The Scarlet Letter will be out in March, but you can pick up copies of Udon’s manga adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Les Miserables right now.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: Donner Dinner Party, by Nathan Hale (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales), Abrams, 2013

Recommended for ages 8-13

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Colonial spy Nathan Hale is sentenced to death by hanging – but WAIT! He’s got stories to tell! His executioner and the British soldier standing guard are intrigued. Off he goes into yet another Hazardous Tale from history, this time, about the infamous Donner Party.

You’ve heard of the Donner Party, if only as a horrific joke. During the Westward Expanion, they were a group of pioneers headed for California who got caught in the brutal winter of 1846 and resorted to cannibalism to survive. Nathan Hale’s book tells the story of the Donner-Reed party, focusing primarily on James Reed, whose “shortcut” caused the doomed wagon train to stray off course into brutal territory.

Written as a graphic novel, this book is a great read for middle schoolers and even the reluctant high schooler. The story cuts between Nathan Hale, the British soldier and the executioner as Hale tells the story, and the story of the Donner-Reed party. The characters are detailed, and kids will love the executioner, who really, REALLY doesn’t want to hear bad news about any of the animals in the story. There are well-drawn diagrams and graphics teaching readers about the members of the party, maps of the territory traveled, and informational bits that enhance the story for all.

Hale doesn’t shy away from the more brutal aspects of this story, but he doesn’t glorify them, either. He presents the facts, even illustrating a specter of death coming for the travelers, with their names, as they pass away, listed on Death’s cloak.

This was my first Hazardous Tale from Mr. Hale, but it certainly won’t be my last. Stock this book in your bookshelves, teachers and parents, and watch kids scramble to learn about history.

Mr. Hale’s website offers information about his other books, his blog (which includes sneak peeks at his artwork for future books!), and a section dedicated to Correction Baby, who helps edit all of his books. Check it out!

DonnerSpread

Posted in Historical Fiction, Tween Reads

Book Review: My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier & Christopher Collier (Scholastic, 1974)

Recommended for ages 12+

My Brother Sam is Dead is a look at the Revolutionary War that readers don’t normally get: like the Civil War, this war divided families. We also see a side of the American soldiers that we don’t usually hear about in History class – “our” soldiers weren’t always acting like the good guys, especially to their own countrymen if they weren’t supporters of the cause.

We hear about the Tories and they are demonized. We laugh at stories of them being tarred and feathered, but what My Brother Sam brings home is that Tories were the same Americans that the Revolutionaries were, but they just believed in a different ideal. To the Tories, there was no reason to split with Mother England, who provided for them and protected them. Taxes were a fact of life. Quartering soldiers was a fact of life. To rebel was treason and it was just wrong. When looking at the acts of the Revolutionaries – stealing from, kidnapping and murdering fellow Americans who were Tories – it is difficult to say anyone involved was 100 percent right or wrong. We learn that the Revolution was a black and white issue; My Brother Sam goes beyond that thinking and shows readers that the War was made up of many, many shades of grey.

Tim Meeker is the son of a Connecticut tavern owner whose older brother, Sam, joins the Revolutionary Army under Benedict Arnold while away at college. The relationship between Sam and their father appears to have been conflicted to begin with, as both are stubborn men with strong opinions, and this act leads to a schism within the family that leaves Tim wondering who’s right and who’s wrong Torn between his love for his brother and his love and loyalty to his family, he finds himself stuck in the middle of a far larger conflict when he’s asked to keep secrets about Sam and when his battalion is in the area. Tim sees firsthand the brutality of the American soldiers to his Tory neighbors and he sees the cruelty of the British soldiers. Is there a right or wrong?

My Brother Sam is Dead won the 1975 Newbery Honor and was nominated for a National Book Award that same year. It has also been designated as an ALA Notable Children’s book and was the twelfth most frequently challenged book from 1990-2000 (ALA).

The History of Redding website has extensive information about the novel; Redding, Connecticut is the setting for the story. A 2005 Scholastic edition of the book has an AfterWords bonus feature which includes an interview with the authors, where they compare their story to fellow Newbery winner and Revolutionary War story Johnny Tremain, and discuss parallels between their work, written after the VietNam conflict, and Johnny Tremain, written after World War II.