Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Three by Zetta Elliott

The Magic Mirror by Zetta Elliott. Illustrations by Paul Melecky. Rosetta Press, 2014. Review copy. Kamara suffers from the mean words of a boy at school until her Gramma comforts her and shows her the ancient mirror kept in a back bedroom of her old house. Kamara willingly cleans Gramma's mirror and discovers a magical storytelling window into her own family history. Generations of brave, heroic women have found the courage and determination to survive and overcome kidnapping, slavery,  oppression, discrimination and segregation. They fight for freedom, create communities, promote a renaissance of art, music and literature, contribute to building the American economy, support the war effort, struggle for Civil Rights, pursue education, and insist on dignity and freedom. Kamara is amazed and invigorated in the discovery of her history and her inheritance. Through the passing on of her family's stories, saved and treasured in the magic mirror, Kamara finds a way to value her own beauty and inherent worth. This is a delightful story perfect for middle grade readers eager to learn about history, culture, and the social power of discovering one's own strength through the network of family.

The Boy in the Bubble by Zetta Elliot. Illustrated by Nguyen Le Vu. Rosetta Press, 21014. Review copy. A Once Upon a Time story of friendship, loneliness, bravery, kindness and beauty. An unusual girl lives under a rock and wakes each morning to go out and discover beauty. A mysterious boy in a large, glistening bubble floats down out of the sky and starts up a conversation. The two explore the valley together as the boy asks the girl to describe how things feel, how they taste, how they smell. Of course, inevitably they have an argument followed by a sulky, sad separation. Then the boy comes back and heals the break. He finally has the courage to ask her to help him pop out of his lonesome bubble so they can travel and make music together. A very sweet story for young lovers of fairy tales.

The Girl Who Swallowed the Sun by Zetta Elliott. Illustrated by Bek Millhouse. Rosetta Press, 2014. Review copy. This one is a little more sad, and set in current history. Zoe and her daddy play a game each day, pretending that she swallowed the sun before he goes to work. He would tickle her until she laughed and let the sun back out to shine out from behind the clouds. "You're my sunshine and I love you," Daddy would always say." Then one day while daddy is at work in NYC the grownups at home start acting weird. Mama and Nana are listening to the news and the phone and crying SweetJesusSweetJesusSweetJesus. No one tells her what is wrong, they just tell her to go play. She thinks maybe she swallowed the sun for real. Her neighborhood is full of flags but no one is celebrating, and it is cloudy all the time. Daddy doesn't come home. At last her Mama pulls her into her lap and tells her the truth - about the terrible day thousands of people lost their lives, and Daddy was one of those people. They mourn together, and try to put the sun back in the sky. Mama says it is going to take a while, but everything will be alright. The story ends with comforting hugs between mother and child, and a hopeful note. A difficult subject but one that children need to bring us through and move us forward. Elliot shares on her blog her memories of hearing the news on 9/11, of the towers falling and the planes crashing. She stopped writing her dissertation and started reading stories for children. In the weeks that followed she wrote this story.

These three short early chapter books are perfect for primary and middle grade children, offering elements of fantasy and history with compelling characters and vivid descriptions of place and setting. Readers are quickly drawn into the story, the pacing is quick and the resolutions satisfying. Diverse characters are embraced in warm families as they work on building friendships and dealing with familiar challenges.

I nominated The Boy in the Bubble for a Cybils award in the Short Chapter Books category. The other two are still awaiting someone to nominate them!

Tomorrow, Oct. 15 2014 is the last day that Cybils nominations are open for the season. Have you checked to see if your favorites are on the lists? There are seven categories of the very best children's books published in the U.S. in 2014. This is your chance to make your nominations!! Round one judges (I am one!!) will select the top five to seven books in each category by Dec. 1, and then the Final judging selects just one winner in each, to be announced in February. Go check it out!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Josephine; The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

by Patricia Hruby Powell, pictures by Christian Robinson. Chronicle books, 2014. Review copy. This adorable 8" x 10" full color hardback book is a treasure trove of inspiration and information on the glorious life of Josephine Baker. Baker was born in a hard scrabble life in East St. Louis in 1906. Growing up with poverty, discrimination, race riots, and a family that loved ragtime music and dancing away your troubles, Josephine learned to triumph with pizzazz. Nothing kept her down and she never took No for an answer. She ended up owning the stage from New York to New Orleans to Paris, France. She won hearts with her wild style and flashing joy. She learned to fly and became a stunt pilot. During WWII she joined the Red Cross and worked as a spy for the resistance.  She was awarded France's highest honor, the Legion d/Honneur. After the war she remarried and adopted 12 children from different countries and races, bringing them up in their own religions. She called her family her "Rainbow Tribe". Due to her generosity and extravagance she ran out of money, in spite of continuing to travel and perform for adoring crowds. She was struggling financially at the end of her life, but still performing at Carnegie Hall right before she died.

Powell and Robinson have done extensive research to support telling and showing this amazing story of a heroic, trailblazing American wonder woman. Children and adults alike will delight in the free verse celebration of her speaking out for justice, her charm and her creative bursts of dance and comedy in the face of seething segregation. Powell and Robinson have selected particularly interesting and stimulating aspects of Josephine's life, such as her passion to dance and her delight in flamboyant costume. She had a pet leopard while living in Paris, for example, and took "Chiquita" for walks in a diamond collar. The illustrations are bold and dramatic, with simple figures expressing intense expressions of Josephine's joie de vive.

See a trailer for the book and read exerpts at the publisher Chronicle Book's page. Read an interview with author Patricia Hruby Powell at Michelle Markel's blog The Cat and the Fiddle. Powell blogs "What Would Josephine Do?" at the Nerdy Book Club blog. And check out Jule's post at Seven Impossible Things for more artwork from Robinson, including some exploritory cover designs.

Poetry Friday this week is hosted by Trisha at Miss Rumphius. Take a moment to enjoy some delights!


Don't forget to go over the the Cybils blog this week and nominate your favorite new children's books (books published between Oct. 16, 2013 through Oct. 15, 2014). Nominations are only open until Oct. 15!!! There are seven categories of books. I nominated Josephine for the Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction category. There are still some excellent books that haven't been nominated yet!! Check out the lists here. Semifinalists will be announced in January, and the winner in each category is announced in February. Previous winners are listed at the Cybils blog.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Game World

by Christopher John Farley. Black Sheep, 2014. Middle grade fantasy with an inclusive cast of characters. Sixth grade gamers are sucked into their favorite video game and have the chance to become heroes battling giant spiders, evil hummingbirds, and plant people. Heavily drawn from Jamaican culture and video game story lines. Farley's children and their friends read the drafts and gave editorial advice, which gives it a genuine kid voice. My own two sons age 9 and 12 loved the book. I read it to them at bedtime over a couple weeks and they were begging for more at the end of every chapter. I had a little bit of a hard time getting into the story myself because it is so much like a video game, and I am not a gamer. During the same time we were reading it I started playing Pokemon with my 9 year old and after that the book made more sense to me and I enjoyed it more. It's definitely a book kids will connect with and get into. Recommended to middle grade readers, fantasy lovers, and gamers.

Publisher's site for the book with links to features and interviews with the author. He has a lot to say about inclusion and getting kids more into reading.

Kirkus Review

Interview with the author, who speaks about bullying, gaming, and integrating fantasy worlds:

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Upsidedown in the Middle of Nowhere

by Julie T. Lamana. Chronicle Books, 2014. Every time I think about Katrina now, I think about this book. Armani lives in the Ninth Wards of New Orleans with her family. She's looking forward to celebrating her 10th birthday with a big party, cake and presents, when Katrina hits. Her party is canceled and her family is rocked by the storm that brings tragedy and intense challenge for all of them. This gripping story will never leave you. Young people in grades 4 - 7 (and older) will experience the heartbreak of these events from a vivid, down to earth telling that makes it more real than any news story. Even as an adult I understood the catastrophe more deeply after reading this absorbing account. Descriptions are clear and crisp and emotions are raw and tender. I love this book. It would make such a fantastic read aloud for middle grades, engendering great discussions. The only hesitation I had with the book is the ending, which I thought tied up loose ends a little too neatly. I can forgive that because the reality of the central drama was so poignant and disturbing.

Kirkus review

Book trailer


Sunday, June 08, 2014

48 Hours Later...

I have finished the 48 Hour Book Challenge 2014! I read from Friday, June 6, 7am to Sunday, June 8, 7am. I read 8.5 hours on Friday, 8.25 hours on Sat., and 2.25 hours on Sunday morning, for a total of 19.25 hours. That is the most I have read in one weekend in over 11 years!! My eyes are tired but I am happy. I am looking forward to spending today and tomorrow reading all the blogs of other participants (starting line list of bloggers@ Mother Reader's).

The theme this year was diversity, so I chose my titles accordingly. I was moved and delighted by all of them. Here's the list of titles for me:

Sarah by Marek Halter

Gameworld by C. J. Farley

Upside Down In The Middle Of Nowhere  by Julie T. Lamana

Summer on the Short Bus by Bethany Crandell

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson

Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah

I am still in the middle of a couple of them, and more reviews will follow on the blog in the coming days. This has been a great experience and I hope everyone else who spent time reading enjoyed it as well! Hop over to Mother Reader's on Monday to see how everyone did. I understand there will be prizes awarded....

Summer of the Short Bus

by Bethany Crandell. Running Press Teens, 2014. Review copy.  Cricket Montgomery, a teen used to a privileged life, is sent to work at a summer camp for special needs middle schoolers. She can't be more dismayed and disgusted, until she meets the hottie who becomes her summer love. This is a fun, fast read that reveals healing and a hopeful, empathetic turn around for our princess. The language is a little salty for my ears,
but perhaps that is a plus in a YA title.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Great Greene Heist

by Varian Johnson. Arthur A Levine / Scholastic. 2014, Review copy. This is a fun read about a crew of Middle School kids trying to win a Student Council election. The have a history of pranking and conning the adults at school, but are determined to reform their ways and play by their own version of an honor code called "Rules of Conduct". It's a fast and clever story full of fun and games. A diverse set of characters with a wide range of talents and quick wit. Recommended for Middle School or Upper Elementary.

Sarah by Marek Halter

Translated into English, Three Rivers Press, New York, 2004. Originally published in France by Robert Laffont, Paris 2003. This is a fascinating re telling of the life of Biblical Sarah, wife of Abraham. She was born to a wealthy merchant in the Sumerian city of Ur, fell in love with Abram as a young girl, and followed him all over the Middle East in a series of adventures. I gained a great deal of insight into what their cultures must have been like and marveled over the intersection of beliefs, hopes and passions that shaped their lives. This is a great read for lovers of historical fiction and family saga. Adult or YA crossover. 

I started it last week and finished the last third as part of the Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge this weekend. This is a weekend set aside for consent rated reading binging. Haven't done this in years, but my kids are finally old enough I think I can try it!

Friday, June 06, 2014

48 Hour Book Challenge: And We're Off!

Mother Reader's Starting Line Post

This is my starting line for Mother Reader's  Ninth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge 2014!  I am going to spend as much time reading as possible in the next 2 days. I've already blocked off my calendar and prepped my kids. I can't wait to dig in!

Here's my TBR book pile:

 And here's my spot:

What are you doing this weekend? It's not too late to Drop. Everything. And. Read!!