Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) by Julie Bowe

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BIG & LITTLE QUESTIONS
(ACCORDING TO WREN JO BYRD)
Written by Julie Bowe
(Kathy Dawson Books; $16.99, Ages 7-9)

 

Big & Little Questions book cover image

 

Find out about this fab new middle grade novel, Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd) in Christine Van Zandt’s glowing review. Good Reads With Ronna also wishes author Julie Bowe a very Happy Book Birthday today!

Over the summer, Wren Jo Byrd, a shy nine-year-old, was abruptly sent to stay with her grandparents while her Mom and Dad split up. Rather than confess what was going on to BFF Amber, Wren ignored her.

At the start of the new school year, Wren finds that Amber is best buddies with Marianna Van Den Heuval, the new girl in town; Wren pretends nothing has changed. However, Wren’s lies about her family become hard to maintain because she must split her time between two households. Wren doesn’t understand how this could be good for them.

Marianna, from the big city of Portland, blows into Wisconsin like a diva with an agenda. She peppers her dialogue with wonderfully realistic preteen talk, such as “We’re going to have So. Much. Fun!” Yet, Marianna’s bravado isn’t all it seems. Wren discovers some of Marianna’s secrets and begins a list of questions for Marianna—the only girl she knows whose parents are divorced. As Amber is swept away in Marianna’s coolness, Wren wrestles with what it means to be a friend and dreads what will happen when everyone discovers the truth.

Julie Bowe’s first-person voice captures Wren’s fears and the complexities in her life. The text is punctuated by definitions Wren looks up on her phone, such as to the word “happy” (meaning “content”) and then “content” (meaning “not needing more”). These lead her to wonder, “When did Mom and Dad stop being happy? . . . How come no one told me we needed more?”

Everyone has secrets; Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd), gives us a glimpse into why we hide our truths and the consequences we must endure when we choose to lie. This heartfelt story is about accepting change as friendships and families evolve beyond our control.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com


CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH AND MOLLY WILLIAMS

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CELEBRATING WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH

AND MOLLY WILLIAMS,

FEMALE FIREFIGHTING LEGEND

 

A GUEST POST/Q&A BY DIANNE OCHILTREE

 

“Each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.”

~ Dr. Myra Pollack Sadker, researcher, educator, and author of Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls (Scribners)

 

 

Molly_By_Golly

 

Knowing our history helps us discover who we are, and where we want to go. But when we don’t know our own history, or ‘herstory,’ this is a difficult task. Not knowing our past can limit our power today, and hinder our dreams for tomorrow. The National Women’s History Project initiated Women’s History Month 35 years ago to address this issue, and their mission remains to ‘write women back into history.’ In honor of Women’s History Month, I’d like to re-visit an author interview focused on a heroic woman whom I am very glad to have discovered and why I HAD to record her story for young readers.



When my picture book, Molly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter, was released, I did several interviews for bloggers. One of the nicest was this one with Debbi Michiko Florence for her blog DEBtastic Reads. It was a pleasure ‘talking’ with her about this book of mine, which went on to win the bronze medal in the 2013 Florida Book Awards, was named to the 2012 ALA Amelia Bloomer Book List for Feminist Literature, and more recently, was included as a 2016 Selection on the Top 100 Recommended African-American Children’s Books by AALBC.com (African-American Literature Book Club).

 

Q: Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, MOLLY, BY GOLLY! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter (Calkins Creek), fabulously illustrated by Kathleen Kemly.  You first became interested in Molly when you came across her legend while researching another book.  What inspired you to turn this into a picture book?

 

A: First, it was the great spirit of volunteerism that is at the heart of Molly’s legendary tale.  What Molly lacked in experience she more than compensated for with her courage and strength.  It was a great opportunity to inspire future firefighters and other community helpers.  Second, it was a chance to show kids how fires were actually fought in early American times.  I was meticulous in my research of these details, and so was illustrator Kathleen Kemly—the firefighting history experts who double-checked our efforts were equally meticulous—because we all wanted to present as accurate a picture as possible. Kids will certainly get an appreciation for the modern equipment we have today. Third, Molly’s legend was filled with the type of action and emotion sure to inspire fabulous illustrations…which is just what happened!

 

Q: I was fascinated to learn how intensive and exhausting firefighting was in the 1800s! What part of your research for this book surprised you the most? 

A: The biggest surprise was learning that the earliest pumper engines were not transported to the scene of a fire by a team of horses as I’d always assumed—PEOPLE did.  The cobblestone streets were very narrow and bumpy, and it was often easier and safer for humans to maneuver the heavy pumper in tight spots. Also, since there were no paid fire companies at the time, there were no funds for buying, feeding and housing horses to help fight fires.  There were no firehouses as we know them today, either.  The volunteer companies only had equipment sheds for their very basic tools. No “sliding-down-a-fire-pole” fun for these early firefighters!

 

Q: Molly was a cook for firefighters.  You share some delicious-sounding dishes in the book!  What are some of your favorite comfort foods? 

 

A:  My favorite comfort foods:  Pad Thai Noodles, Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Carolina Pulled Pork—but not all in the same meal!  I had a wonderful time researching early American cookery, and just loved the quaint-and-quirky names of dishes that Molly might have fixed for her ‘fire laddies’.

 

 

Author Dianne OchiltreeMolly, by Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter

Written by Dianne Ochiltree

Illustrated by Kathleen Kemly

Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press

Ages 7+ / $16.95-Hardcover / ISBN: 978-1-59078-721-2

 

  • 2016 Selection, Top 100 Recommended African-American Children’s Books by com(African-American Literature Book Club)
  • Winner of the Bronze Medal in the Children’s Literature category of the Florida Book Awards
  • 2013 Book Award Honor for Language Arts Grades K-6 from International Society of School Librarians
  • 2012 ALA Amelia Bloomer Book List for Feminist Literature

 

 

 


Best Kids Books for Halloween – A Round Up

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 90-small_pumpkinBooks We Love For Halloween

Short, chunky, and sweet, describes this Halloween board book designed for the youngest audience. Wickle Woo Has a Halloween Party, written by Nosy Crow with illustrations by Jannie Ho (Nosy Crow 201; $7.99, Ages 0-3Wickle-woo-cvr.jpg) cleverly incorporates a game of peek-a-boo with a holiday theme. Sturdy tabs are easy for chubby little hands to pull out and reveal various animals in their Halloween costumes, then push back in again.

Wickle Woo, an owl in a wizard’s hat and robe, is having a Halloween party. He can hear his friends, but their costumes are so good, that he has trouble recognizing them. Ho has an interesting cast of characters, dressed in adorable child-friendly outfits. Bear is masquerading as a flower, lion is a pirate, and monkey is disguised as an astronaut, to name a few. There are pumpkins and spiders and bats and witches, but Ho keeps them cute, not creepy.

This is a perfect treat for those who are too young for too many sweets!

It’s time to break out the glitter pens, colored pencils, tin foil, and any other art supplies you might have. Just in time for Halloween, Marnie Edwards (author) and Leigh Hodgkinson (illustrator), along with the help of the reader, have cast a magic spell with their anti-coloring/activity book. Magical Mix-Ups, Spells and Surprises (Nosy Crow 2014; $6.99, Ages 7 and up), has an enchanting story line as well.

Magical-Mix-Ups-cvr.jpgPrincess Sapphire and Emerald the Witch are best friends. They live in Mixtopia, where things are, well, mixed up, and they ​attend St. Aubergine’s School. They make a new friend, Violet, who has trouble controlling her broom and has trouble learning to fly. Emerald has troubles of her own. She’s a witch who isn’t very good at casting spells. The girls are preparing for the Halloween Festival and decide to help each other out. There are tiaras and tutus, dancing and candy, magic and friendship and all the things girls love at this age in this well-crafted book.

Oh, Nosy Crow, I love you so! Hmmm, maybe I’ll use that when I help Emerald with her rhyming spell assignment.​

– Reviews by MaryAnne Locher

Other terror-ific & recommended great books for Halloween time are:

Shivery Shades of Halloween: A Spooky Book of Colors by Mary McKenna Siddals with illustrations by Jimmy Pickering from Random House Books for Young Readers ($12.99, Ages 3-7)

Backwards Moon (watch for our review next week) by Mary Losure from Holiday House ($16.95, Ages 7-10)

Charlie Bumpers vs. The Squeaking Skull by Bill Harley with illustrations by Adam Gustavson from Peachtree Publishers ($13.95, Ages 7-10)

Scream Street: Terror of the Nightwatchman written and illustrated by Tommy Donbavand from Candlewick Press ($5.99, Ages 8-12)

The Gloomy Ghost by David Lubar from Starscape/Tor Teen ($15.99, Ages 8-12)

The Shadow Lantern by Teresa Flavin from Templar Books ($15.99, Ages 9-12)


JUBILEE! One Man’s Big, Bold and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace

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JUBILEE! One Man’s Big, Bold and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace by Alicia Potter, with illustrations by Matt Tavares

☆ Publishers Weekly – Starred review

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Jubilee! One Man’s Big, Bold and Very, Very, Loud Celebration of Peace by Alicia Potter with illustrations by Matt Tavares, Candlewick Press, 2014.

JUBILEE! One Man’s Big, Bold and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace, written by Alicia Potter and illustrated by Matt Tavares (Candlewick, $16.99, Ages 7-10), is a new picture book reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

Big events – really BIG events – are not a new idea for most of us these days. We witness enormous crowds at sporting events like the Super Bowl and World Cup soccer matches. Political rallies, marathons, even royal weddings draw spectators and participants by the hundreds of thousands. But this idea was more novel in 1869, when Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore pulled off an incredible festival in Boston; the National Peace Jubilee.

Alicia Potter and Matt Tavares have captured Gilmore’s story with enthusiasm in this picture book biography extolling one man’s determination to mark the end of the Civil War with a celebration of unheard of proportions. As a child in Ireland, Gilmore developed a passion for music that he brought to America as a professional bandleader and a member of the Massachusetts 24th Regiment. After the war ended, Gilmore dreamed up a five day musical concert bigger, bolder and louder than any other to celebrate peace and restore national unity.

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Interior spread from Jubilee! One Man’s Big, Bold and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace by Alicia Potter with illustrations by Matt Tavares,
© 2014 Candlewick Press.


Potter writes masterfully, building anticipation toward the big event by chronicling the steps Gilmore took to raise funds and public support over several years. She chooses great aural vocabulary to describe the roar of the organ and the thundering of drums. Tavares wisely incorporates toots, booms, and shreets into his soft, detailed illustrations that fill both the eyes and the ears with impressions of the experience.

An extensive author’s note and bibliography provide supplemental information about Patrick Gilmore’s life and subsequent events that led to his designation “Father of the American Band.”

Potter and Tavares’ fascinating tale will captive elementary age readers and ensure that this important chapter in American music history is not forgotten.

–   Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Where obtained: I received a review copy from my public library. The opinions expressed here are my own.

 


Halloween Books Roundup

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I love Halloween …

Maybe it’s because fall is my favorite season. Maybe it’s because the weather gets a bit cooler here in L.A. The street where I live gets tons of trick or treaters beginning about five o’clock with the littlest monsters, penguins, princesses and elves making an appearance before bedtime. The creative costumes never cease to amaze me. One year I recall we had a Mozart, a rain cloud and a laundry basket!  I look forward to every shouted TRICK OR TREAT?!  In honor of Halloween I’ve put together a varied selection of books to sit down and peruse after they’ve emptied bags and examined their hauls.

Where's Boo? by Salina Yoon

Where’s Boo? by Salina Yoon from Random House Books
For Young Readers, 2013.

WHERE’S BOO? (A Hide-and-Seek Book) by Salina Yoon, Random House Books for Young Readers, $6.99, Ages 0-3. This interactive board book will attract little ones with its velvety-faced kitty on the cover and velvety tail at the end. Parents can help children solve the mystery of where Boo is hiding beginning with a jack-o’-lantern and ending with a door in this die-cut 18 page guessing game. The pictures are sweet not scary, a perfect introduction to All Hallows Eve!

 

 

 

VAMPIRINA SLEEPOVER cover

Vampirina Ballerina Hosts A Sleepover by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, Disney-Hyperion 2013.

VAMPIRINA BALLERINA HOSTS A SLEEPOVER by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, ages 3-5. Last year’s Vampirina Ballerina was so popular she’s back again and this time she’s hosting a sleepover. While this picture book is not strictly for Halloween, what better time of year than right now to share a vampire tale? Dad helps with homemade spider invitations, Vampirina tidies up, the menu is prepared and the sleepover party begins! Full of the same delightful detailed artwork featuring all the necessary vampire accoutrements including caskets and headstones plus all the not-to-be-missed facial expressions courtesy of Pham, this latest picture book is something to sink your teeth into. Pace throws in puns galore so parents can get a giggle, too. There’s even a pull-out spread to add to its appeal.  This sleepover’s a lids down success.

 

Ghost in The House by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record

Ghost in The House by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record from Candlewick Press, 2013.

GHOST IN THE HOUSE by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record, Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-7. What works so well in this picture book is that it’s not only a cumulative counting book beginning with a little ghost, but it’s a fun read-aloud as well with its catchy rhythm and rhyme. Ghost in the House manages to mix a slightly spooky premise and lighten it with a cute cast of characters including a mummy, a monster, a skeleton, a witch and a little boy. The bonus: No trick or treaters anywhere in sight makes it an ideal read for any dark and stormy night!

 

 

 

Halloween Hustle by Charlotte Gunnufson

Halloween Hustle by Charlotte Gunnufson with illustrations by Kevan J. Atteberry, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2013.

HALLOWEEN HUSTLE by Charlotte Gunnufson with illustrations by Kevan J. Atteberry, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, $16.99, Ages 4-8. Get ready to boogie to a funky beat that will get your youngsters chiming in. Skeleton’s in a dancing mood, in fact he’s got a whole crew of hustling creatures following his lead, but things keep tripping him up, first a crooked crack, then a cat and finally a zombie’s foot. Here’s the catchy refrain your kids will latch onto:

“Bones scatter!
What a clatter!
Spine is like a broken ladder!”

There’s a hoppin’ Halloween party where Skeleton enters a dance contest, but can he keep it all together?  Let’s see what a friendly skeleton girl and a little super-strong glue can do!

Ol' Clip Clop by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez

Ol’ Clip Clop by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez, Holiday House, 2013.

OL’ CLIP CLOP, A GHOST STORY by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez, Holiday House, $16.95, ages 6-9. This haunting, well-paced and tersely written story is one you’ll want to tell by a roaring fire while huddled next to your child. The climax, where there’s usually a fright, though not as scary for an adult as it may be for a child, is deeply satisfying. The good part is that it’s actually a happy ending because it’s good riddance to the villain, mean John Leep. This well-off, but miserly and greedy landlord has a cruel fate planned for the widow Mayes of Grass Hollow. He’ll demand the rent in full or evict her, throwing her out into the night on a cold Friday the thirteenth, 1741. Velasquez’s artwork of dark upon dark sets the ominous nighttime mood, with the lightest color being the white of widow Mayes’s cap and mean Leep’s linens. The clip, clop, clip, clop sound of Leep’s horse Major gets more and more frightening as Leep feels he is being followed on his way to the widow’s house. What’s in store for the stingy man as leaves the desperate widow wondering if she’ll lose her home? Will he make it home alive?

Three other books I’d like to recommend are:

Calendar Mysteries: October Ogre #10CALENDAR MYSTERIES #10: OCTOBER OGRE
by Ron Roy with illustrations by John Steven Gurney,
Random House, $4.99, Ages 6-9.

 

 

Substitute Creature by Charles Gilman, Quirk Books, 2013.SUBSTITUTE CREATURE: TALES FROM LOVECRAFT MIDDLE SCHOOL #4
by Charles Gilman,
Quirk Books, $13.99, Ages 9 and up,

 

 

Twisted Myths: 20 Classic Stories With a Dark and Dangerous Heart, Barrons Educational Series

TWISTED MYTHS: 20 CLASSIC STORIES WITH A DARK AND DANGEROUS HEART

by Maura McHugh with illustrations by Jane Laurie,
Barrons Educational Series, Inc., $19.99, Ages 11 and up.

Find these books at your local independent book seller or online today.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 


The Exceptional Matilda Turns 25!

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Long before I was a parent I got a taste of Roald Dahl’s humor in the early ’70s via the popular film Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. Then, in London some thirty years later, I heard The Magic Finger audio book. Now that I’ve read an actual book and seen Quentin Blake’s spot-on illustrations for Matilda (Puffin, $6.99, ages 7 and up), I am eager to see the acclaimed Broadway musical. It seems that Dahl’s work is brilliantly entertaining in any form presented.

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Roald Dahl, also known for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Fantastic Mr. Fox, had a wonderful and wild imagination with a wit to match.  And though celebrating its 25th anniversary, the book remains as popular with readers today as it was when first published.

Matilda put a smile on my face and introduced me to one of the most OTT characters I’ve seen in print in a long time. If the name Miss Trunchbull doesn’t conjure up images of a walking, talking mega-sized Medieval torture machine (AKA the Headmistress), I don’t know what will!! Matilda is a child prodigy. Yet, unlike the children whose parents gush over their real or perceived little Einsteins, Matilda’s parents do absolutely NOTHING to nurture their four-year-old daughter. In fact, they barely treat her with indifference being so caught up in their own lunacy.

Hungry for knowledge to feed her growing mind, Matilda makes her way to the local library. There the librarian, Mrs. Phelps helps the youngster find books she’d like. Eventually Matilda takes home books to travel the world from the comfort of her bedroom while avoiding the dishonesty and rudeness of her family. A second-hand car dealer, Matilda’s father, Mr. Wormwood, boasts of tricking his customers and profiting from his deviousness. Readers will thoroughly love all the practical jokes Matilda plays on her dad as a way of getting back at him for his misdeeds.  Blake’s pen and ink artwork perfectly captures all the hijinks in the book, especially those occurring at Crunchem Hall Primary School, and enhance what is already a rollicking good read.

Fortunately for Matilda, school takes her away from her unpleasant parents and there she finds compassion from her teacher, aptly named Miss Honey. Miss Honey is in awe of Matilda’s genius and provides the young girl with the attention and nurturing she’s missed at home. Unfortunately Miss Honey is so very poor and suffering due to the unfortunate loss of income and housing at the hands of a cruel aunt who just happens to be Miss Trunchbull. Now that Matilda has an ally in Miss Honey, she’s emboldened to fight back at the horrendous Headmistress and by doing so discovers a magical power that will help her achieve her goal. The pleasure kids get from Matilda’s success is why this book continues to be in demand. A happy ending that assures the Trunchbull’s comeuppance, restores Miss Honey’s inheritance and Matilda’s future well-being.

I realize that, having had children attend primary school in London,  I am partial to Dahl’s language and exaggerated style but there is simply no denying his gift for great storytelling. The book is certain to engage even the most reluctant of readers with its funny characters, crazy plot and satisfying finish.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Let’s Get Classical

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I have always loved classical music CDs for young children, and there’s nothing better than one that comes with a book, like this one. Listen to the Birds: An Introduction to Classical Music, ($16.95, The Secret Mountain Books, Ages 7-9) is unique in every way; I’ve never seen another book like it.

Each two-page spread of the book features a description of a different type of bird as it corresponds to one of the 20 glorious classical music selections on the CD. Children learn about the correlation between the sounds of natural birdsongs and the melodies of different classical masterpieces.

The book, written by concert pianist, Ana Gerhard and nicely illustrated by Cecilia Varela, doesn’t stop there. It also includes a listening guide for children to learn more about the instruments as well as birdsongs in each piece. There are also introductions to the composers, a wonderful glossary of musical terms and even a timeline of the composers from 1485 to the present. From Vivaldi to Tchaikovsky, from Handel to Mozart, all the greats are here to enjoy. The book and CD are of the highest quality, so it will certainly stand the test of time and can be used over and over again.

What’s so terrific about this book is that it is just as enlightening for parents as it is for children. Little ones who are too young to understand the details of a particular composer or even a species of bird, can certainly feel moved (and let’s face it hopefully feel sleepy, too). And even more importantly, books like these can inspire children to not only love music, but to also get interested in playing an instrument. As a parent of a 20-year-old pianist, I know just how much listening to classical music and talking about composers can shape a child’s future.

As for the relaxation factor, check out this photo of my husband, John and giant standard poodle, Darwin. I am playing the CD on my laptop as I write this, and you can see the effect it has on them!

Interested in more music knowledge for kids? Read my review of Verdi here.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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