Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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THREE CHILDREN’S BOOKS
FOR MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY
A ROUNDUP

 

 

Be a King cover imageBe a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by James E. Ransome
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

This picture book is a beautiful tribute to the profound impact Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made in his lifetime by espousing a non-violent approach to ending oppressive segregation and other inequalities Black Americans lived with in the Jim Crow era South. The book alternates between spreads of Martin Luther King’s life and a current classroom pursuing inclusive activities.
Ransome’s evocative illustrations coupled with Weatherford’s impactful and poetic prose, provide readers with an accessible way into King’s dream of peace, community and equality for all. Pivotal moments in King’s life are depicted along with how key aspects of his philosophy can be incorporated into the classroom as a microcosm of life itself. “You can be a king. Break the chains of ignorance. Learn as much as you can.” When read individually, each stanza can serve as a conversation starter both at school or at home. The author’s note in the back matter is geared for older readers or a teacher sharing the book with youngsters.

Cover image of Martin Luther King from Martin Luther King: The Peaceful WarriorMartin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior
Written by Ed Clayton (with a new forward by Xernona Clayton)
Illustrated by Donald Bermudez
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

This newly updated edition of Martin Luther King: The Peaceful Warrior, is the first authorized middle grade biography of the Nobel Prize winning civil rights leader whose non-violent campaign for equal rights inspired a nationwide movement that led to the passing of Civil Rights Act of 1964. Originally published in 1965, Ed Clayton’s biography of King remains an insightful and relevant read today. Clayton, an editor, author and reporter was an associate of Dr. King’s at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In fact, King’s commitment to civil rights and his humanity were what convinced Ed and Xernona to come onboard to help with PR, speech writing, assisting Coretta Scott King and other crucial and invaluable tasks needed to forward their cause. Fourteen easy-to-read chapters take readers from King’s early school days and his first experiences with racism, on through his time at Morehouse College, learning about Civil Disobedience, attending Crozer Theological Seminary, getting a doctorate and meeting his future wife, Coretta. The years of 1955-1968 are by far his most famous one when his “big words” and oratorial skill played a huge role in creating some of history’s greatest speeches. The biography smoothly moves onto King’s accepting the pastorate of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, to the Montgomery bus boycott, bombings and threats of violence, King’s rise to world renowned status, the March on Washington, winning the Nobel Peace Prize and ultimately his assassination in 1968. New artwork by Donald Bermudez complements each chapter. My favorite illustrations are the ones featuring Rosa Parks being fingerprinted and also the March on Washington. An Afterward addresses the holiday created in King’s honor, the music and lyrics to “We Shall Overcome” and a bibliography for further study. This 114 page engaging read is highly recommended for any child interested in learning more about Dr. King and his lifelong commitment to equal rights

Chasing King's Killer cover imageChasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin
Written by James L. Swanson
(Scholastic Press; $19.99, Ages 12-18)

If it weren’t for my librarian friend, (thanks Deborah T.), I would never have heard about Chasing King’s Killer. This fantastic new young adult nonfiction novel with its fast-paced, fact-filled narrative simply wasn’t on my radar. I sat down and read it in one sitting because I couldn’t tear myself away. At times I was so engrossed that I forgot to highlight pages with snippets I wanted to share in my review. Gripping and enthralling, Swanson’s book is about the worlds of prison escapee, James Earl Ray, and MLK colliding and culminating in King’s tragic assassination. I had no idea about Ray’s troubled background, and despite years of reading picture books about King, I’ll admit I didn’t have anywhere near the full picture of this great leader’s life and the struggles he faced head on with a multitude of people both in the Black community and outside of it. There were many who didn’t agree with either his non-violent philosophy of tackling civil rights or his combining it with his anti-Vietnam War stance. The way Swanson sets up the reader for how the two men end up in Memphis on April 4, 1968 is top-notch, much like what I admire in the adult novelist Erik Larson’s books. The timeline of action takes us year by year through both men’s lives and what other events were happening concurrently to influence both individuals. Meticulously researched, Chasing King’s Killer doesn’t miss a beat and in addition to be an enlightening read, it’s a powerful and timely one too. Over 80 photographs, captions, bibliography, various source notes, and index included making an educational way to stay in the moment if you feel, as I did, that you don’t want the book to end.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Best Children’s Books for Christmas and the Holiday Season – Part Three

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BEST CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS BOOKS
A ROUNDUP – PART THREE

 

Here’s the third of our kids’ Christmas books roundup. There’s really something here for everyone from ages 3 to 12 (we’ve even included some board books for the littlest ones). So please take a look, buy the books at your local independent bookseller then let us know which ones ended up being your family’s favorites. Merry Christmas!

 

Nativity by Cynthia Rylant Cover ImageNativity
Written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant
(Beach Lane Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Cynthia Rylant’s Nativity combines the story of Jesus’ birth with well known passages from His ministry in beautiful text adapted from chapters of the Book of Matthew and the Book of Luke. Rendered in acrylic paints, Rylant’s colorful and straightforward illustrations allow young readers to experience the poetry of the King James translation of the Holy Bible.  

The story begins on the cover flap:  “A child is born…” which brings us to a pastoral setting. The animals are white and cloudy; human figures are faceless but, ironically, it’s the simplicity of their forms that communicates the scene: shepherds with staff in hand guarding their flock. As we follow their visit to the Baby Jesus, we notice familiar features, such as the star and wise men, absent from this Nativity scene. As a result,  the presence of shepherds are highlighted all the more; they dominate over half the book — a fact I thought was interesting and appropriate, considering Jesus called Himself the “good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10: 11). Shepherds are spreading the news of Jesus’ birth to passers-by; in the privacy of their homes, they are wondering “at those things which were told them” by “the angel of the Lord.” Young readers may not understand the deep theological matters raised with the coming of Christ, but they can grasp its contemplative effect in the simple and humble bow of a shepherd’s head.

In addition to such quiet gestures, bold colors also help children connect with Scripture. As the angels proclaim peace on earth and “good will toward men” the sky is illuminated with a rainbow of warm, exciting colors-the colors of pure joy. My personal favorite is the way purple is used to illustrate the most poignant points of the story. Against a backdrop of rich purple, Mother Mary “kept these things” she witnessed “and pondered them in her heart.” The color appears once more when the story shifts to show Jesus as a grown man preaching His famous words (taken from the Sermon on the Mount): “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Both these scenes express powerful and profound principles that invite reflection and meditation. The depth of the color calls readers to pause and wonder about the mystery of God and the peace of His Presence. If you’re looking for a traditional Christmas story, this is a book I’d highly recommend.  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

Ninja Claus book cover imageNinja Claus!
Written and illustrated by Arree Chung
(Henry Holt and Company, $17.99, ages 4-7)

Every child hopes to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus placing presents under the Christmas tree or filling their stockings with candies and trinkets on Christmas Eve. Most share the tradition of putting out cookies and milk for the jolly old fellow. There are however, probably a lot fewer who, like Maxwell, a mischievous young ninja, in Ninja Claus!, set traps in an attempt to capture Santa. Utilizing nets, a fishing pole, ropes, hula hoops, and his best ninja tricks, Maxwell manages to capture his dog and his father nibbling the cookies, but he’s swept off to bed by his mother before he can capture Santa.

Arree Chung has written and illustrated yet another Ninja picture book, his third in the series, that is bound to be a hit. With his deft use of acrylic paint and Adobe Photoshop, Chung sets the tone of the night before Christmas, with only the lights from the tree illuminating the pages. And his writing? He had me holding my breath and praying that Christmas wouldn’t be ruined for little Maxwell. And then came the big exhale. The greatest ninja of all, Santa Claus, came and went unnoticed. Hands down, this book is a delight.  • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

The Nutcracker in Harlem book cover imageThe Nutcracker in Harlem
Written by T.E. McMorrow
Illustrated by James Ransome
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

In The Nutcracker in Harlem, Tchaikovsky’s ballet comes to life in the dreams of a Marie growing up in a musical family during the Harlem Renaissance. I love the illustrations, by multiple award-winner James Ransome, most of all. In the opening pages, author McMorrow and illustrator Ransome invite us into a bright and boisterous living room, crowded with happy people enjoying music and each other. The clothing and hats in bold blues, greens, and reds transport us to the 1920s. A Christmas party is underway. Marie’s uncle is playing the piano, her parents are dancing, and Miss Addie is singing. Everyone encourages Marie to participate, but she hangs back, shyly watching and listening. The atmosphere is so real and wonderful it makes me feel nostalgic for a party I never attended. When the story shifts to the world of Marie’s dream, the deep, vibrant watercolor illustrations keep the mood warm and happy even when what could be more frightening elements — such as an army of mice — dance into view. By the end, the dream, combined with the magic of Christmas, gives Marie the courage to join in the jazzy celebration.  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares book cover imageRed and Lulu
Written and illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Thank you, Matt Tavares! As a former New Yorker who experienced the majesty of the Norway Spruce at Rockefeller Center most years of my childhood, I was transported by Red and Lulu to Manhattan, not unlike the tree in this simple yet very moving story about love lost then found again during Christmastime. Red and Lulu, cardinals inspired by those in Tavares’ own backyard, make a massive evergreen their home. It’s there the pair see the seasons change in all their glory while always remaining close to the shelter that nature has so kindly provided.  “Once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: ‘O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree.'” Then, while Red is away, the tree is cut down and Lulu clings to it not understanding what is happening. Written with few words that speak volumes and powerful and poignant illustrations, the story follows Red as he tracks the tree on its journey. Unlike adult readers sharing the story with their children, Red doesn’t realize the significance of his home being transported to New York City. He searches high and low to find Lulu amidst the twinkling lights, falling snow, skyscrapers and crowds. As carolers sing their special song, O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Red’s determination is rewarded as the magic of the song, the holiday season and the Yuletide spirit in this famous city help reunite the cardinal couple and fill young (and old) readers’ hearts with joy. Don’t skip the back matter which includes facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition and an author’s note. Visit the Candlewick website to see a book trailer, some interior artwork and order the book for a 25% discount using the code CANDLEWICK at checkout.   • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Weird but True Christmas from NatGeoKids cover imageWeird but True! Christmas: 300 Festive Facts 
to Light Up The Holiday
(National Geographic Kids; $8.99, Ages 8-12 )

Here’s another great stocking stuffer for fans of outrageous facts. There are dozens of paper back books in the Weird but True! series and it’s no surprise since they are so entertaining. This one is no exception. Just when they think they’ve read all the facts, they’ll want to dive back in to share them and spread the holiday cheer. Included are some whammies such as “One family passed down the same fruitcake since 1878,” or “A whole sheep’s head is considered a  holiday delicacy in Norway.” Do your children know that “In India people decorate banana trees for Christmas,” or that “During the Australian gold rush, people baked gold nuggets into their Christmas pudding for good luck?” As can be expected from any National Geographic book, the photographs included are fantastic as are the added illustrations. The 208 page count should not put off any child since the info is written in large font and the graphics are bold and bright.Weird but True! Christmas can be read quickly to get a general overview then returned to when specific facts require further study. If your tweens cannot get enough of all these fun facts, they can download the National Geographic Kids Weird but True app for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad!    • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other Recommended Christmas Books This Year Include:

This Little Reindeer
Written by Aly Fronis
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
(Little Bee Books; $5.99, Ages 2-5)

 

 

Christmas Eve
Annie Auerbach
(Barron’s Children’s Books; $6.99, Ages 1-4)

 

 

Don’t Push The Button!: A Christmas Adventure
Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter
(Jabberwocky Kids; $8.99, Ages 2+ )

 

 

 

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Two

Holiday Gift Books Guide

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Holiday Gift Guide – Book Ideas for the Entire Family

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clip art Christmas treeHOLIDAY GIFT BOOK IDEAS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
A ROUNDUP

 

Every year Good Reads With Ronna selects a variety of gift books we think will make everyone in the family happy to receive. We hope you find something here or in one of our Christmas book roundups that will please a family member or friend this holiday season.

 

Crinkle, Crinkle, Little StarCrinkle Crinkle Little Star cover image
(A Read-and-Touch Bedtime Book)
Written by Justin Krasner
Illustrated by Emma Yarlett
(Workman Publishing; $12.95, Ages 1-4)

We’ve all at one time looked up at the sky at night and wished on the first star. Maybe it brought back the memory of the childhood song, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Perhaps as we got a bit older, someone pointed out the Big Dipper (Ursa Major), the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor), or even Orion’s Belt, and a sense of wonderment came over us.

Crinkle, Crinkle, Little Star, A Read-and-Touch Bedtime Book will engage and delight star-gazers young and old. It takes a beloved lullaby and turns it in to an opportunity to explore the constellations with even the youngest reader. This interactive board book is visually appealing with friendly-looking animals adorning the jewel-toned night skies and twinkling silver foil accents. Tiny fingers will enjoy the tactile and auditory experience as they trace their fingers over the crinkly foil in this beautiful Read-and-Touch Bedtime book. Not only is this a terrific holiday gift and ideal stocking stuffer, it’s a unique new baby gift as well.  • Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

A Little House Picture Book Treasury cover imageA Little House Picture Book Treasury:
Six Stories of Life on the Prairie
Written by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Illustrated by Renée Graef
(Harper; $24.99, Ages 4-8)

Adapted from the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this collection of My First Little House Books is beautifully packaged as A Little House Picture Book Treasury. What a  perfect introduction to the beloved stories so many of us know from either the long running television show or from the popular book series we read as children. Christmas is a great time to share the stories with the next generation who will be enchanted by tales from Wilder’s childhood in 19th century America.

These six pioneer stories include “A  Little Prairie House,” “Going to Town,” “County Fair,” “Sugar Snow,” “Winter Days in the Big Woods,” and “Christmas in the Big Woods.” Kids will enjoy meeting and getting to know Mary, Laura, Ma, Pa, baby sister Carrie and bulldog Jack as they begin a new life on the Wisconsin prairie. Youngsters will feel Laura’s excitement visiting a nearby town and entering its general store. They’ll experience a county fair along with Almanzo (Laura’s future husband) where he enters a pumpkin competition. Children will learn what it was like to grow up in a log cabin without all the conveniences we have today, a time when getting maple syrup meant collecting it in wooden buckets from maple trees. And not a day went by without some kind of chore needing to be done, especially before winter set in. Pa would tell stories or play his fiddle as the family gathered around the fire and it seemed like Ma was always cooking something delicious that the girls could help her with. But at Christmastime, when the cousins would visit, it was time to play hard then fall fast asleep, rising early to check “what was in their stockings. In every stocking was a pair of bright red mittens and a stick of red-and-white-striped peppermint candy.” Life’s simple pleasures pop off the pages with Graef’s stunning illustrations that were inspired by the original artwork of Garth Williams. Keep this special volume to cherish year round.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Novel Effect Story Time App for Children website imageNovel Effect:
Story Time and Sound Effects App for Children’s Books
(www.noveleffect.com, Ages 0+)
As Seen on Shark Tank

Novel Effect Story Time App Book Choices imageWhat a clever and easy new way to enjoy reading together with your kids! Using the Novel Effect app adds another layer of interactiveness to enhance the story time experience. Music and sounds follow along as you read out loud from your favorite kid’s books. Getting started is easy. I know because I’ve downloaded the free app and tried several of the stories I was provided to sample as a reviewer including Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin. I found the experience quite magical. I just have to wait to be grandmother to take advantage of it.

Here’s how it works. First download the free app, watch the video and then try out the sample story included. After that you can go ahead and choose a book from Novel Effect’s library or use the search feature to find the book you want to read. “Be sure to have your own copy of the book ready to go!” Once you’ve chosen your book’s cover image, you simply tap “Read Book.” A new black box will appear at the top of your screen. You should see lines in this box squiggle, indicating the system can hear you. “Now you are ready to read your physical book out loud (you do not have to hit any buttons),” says Novel Effect CMO Carmela Orsini, Esq. “Our technology will respond to what you read with sound effects and music, based on what words/where you are in the book, so feel free to jump around in the story!” That was really the most amazing part of this technology and it worked beautifully.

Novel Effect Story Time App How it Works imageFor a really immersive experience, the company recommends using bluetooth speakers to help make you feel like you’re in the story. According to Orsini, the Novel Effect app works with physical or e-books, and they’ve built an impressive library of books that many families and schools already have on their shelf (as well as some fun new titles to explore). “However,” adds Orsini, “we do include three free e-books in the app so that everyone can enjoy reading with us even without a book.” Those are The Tale of Peter Rabbit , The Night Before Christmas, and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. Novel Effect currently has plans to expand these free e-book offerings through their existing publisher partnerships and by adding additional public domain titles. Novel Effect has partnered with well known publishing companies including Hachette Book Group, and well-known authors like Todd Parr, R. L. Stine, Ame Dyckman and Jane Yolen in a library that includes over 100 titles to charm even the pickiest of readers. In addition to availability on the iPhone, use the app with iPad, and iPod Touch from the App Store.

Novel Effect’s smart voice recognition stays in sync with your reading style, if you skip ahead or read a favorite part again. Impressive, right? I don’t know how they do it, but as long as it does the job  while entertaining and inspiring youngsters, what’s not to love?! Custom composed music and sounds treat each story with care to honor the spirit and tone of every cherished book. I thought it worked extremely well in Dream Animals and and Duck! Rabbit!  Novel Effect offers a monthly Book Club. For $25 a month you receive two paperbacks or three board books to read along to. Give it as a gift and spark a lifetime love of reading. Visit the website here for more details.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Rocket: A Journey Through the Pages Book cover imageRocket: A Journey Through the Pages Book
Written by Mike Vago
Illustrated by Matt Rockefeller
(Workman Publishing; $22.95, Ages 4-8)

Parents, this sturdy, imaginative and interactive new board book is great for gifting to your little space enthusiast. They’ll find it hard to resist helping the three dimensional plastic rocket zoom “on an internal track from front to back, up and over the pages.” Not only is it easily detachable and attachable, it’s able to function on its own to explore our solar system and travel through wormholes as an added bonus. The illustrated spreads are colored in vibrant hues and the text is rhyming and upbeat. However, I do recommend Rocket for the 4-6 year old age group because 7-8 year olds can appreciate a more sophisticated story. That said, it doesn’t mean any older child won’t enthusiastically join in play when a younger sibling takes out the book because I have a strong feeling they will. Visit the Workman website to see sample pages from this engaging book that I’m hoping will be the first of many more Journey Through the Pages books.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

50 Cities of the U.S.A. cover art50 Cities of the U.S.A.:
Explore America’s cities with 50 fact-filled maps

Written and researched by Gabrielle Balkan
Illustrated by Sol Linero
(Wide Eyed Editions; $30, Ages 7-10)

From Anchorage to Washington, D.C. and lots more in-between, 50 Cities of the U.S.A. is a feast for the eyes and intellect of any map and facts fan. This delightful book is a terrific new addition from the team that created the best-seller, The 50 States. In 112 colorful pages packed with over 2,000 facts, Balkan takes us across the country in alphabetical rather than geographical order. Not a page from the end papers onwards is wasted when there is so much info to impart. Starting with the helpful two page introduction which explains how to use the book, it’s easy to see why young readers will be inspired to return again and again to discover more interesting details about these cities. The book is unique in that it focuses on many different aspects of a city, from streets, neighborhoods, inspiring people, industries, experiences and nature spots. “We want this book to be the key that unlocks the door of your imagination, and makes you curious to travel further.” I particularly like the brief Welcome box provided for each city and love that it offers names of books to read that were written by city natives or take place there. The back matter features several pages of additional cities to visit, an index, a resource guide and a cool Can You Find spread to test your observation skills. While 50 Cities of the U.S.A. is a children’s book, adults will no doubt find it fun to get lost in the pages as well.
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Bet You Didn't Know from NatGeoKids Cover ImageBet You Didn’t Know!: Fascinating, Far-out,
Fun-tastic Facts
(National Geographic Kids; $19.99, Ages 8-12)

The best thing about National Geographic Kids books is that they are consistently top quality, full of entertaining and enlightening info for children, and the photography is fabulous. This volume just begs to be taken on the road with families this holiday so no one ever runs out of conversation material. Whether you seek Bizarre Facts About the Human Body or Mind Bending Facts About the Brain, Cool Facts About Castles or Ultracool Facts About the Unseen World, the NatGeo editors know just what weird, wild and wacky info satisfies tween reader. From an outhouse race in Anchorage, Alaska to an English Breakfast Hat at Ascot in England, no far-out fact has been overlooked. Our family has been reading these types of books for years and I am constantly amazed how much new material can be found and how learning all this seemingly silly stuff just never gets old. I imagine books like this one can help future Jeopardy players increase their overall knowledge. See sample pages here.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Faerie Handbook cover imageThe Faerie Handbook: An Enchanting Compendium
of Literature, Lore, Art, Recipes, and Projects
by the Editors of Faerie Magazine
(Harper Design; $35.00, Ages 14+)

This stunning anthology appropriately covered in purple with silver accents will appeal to long time faerie lovers as well as anyone seeking to connect for the first time with their inner faerie. The 240 silver-edged pages are divided up into four parts: Flora & Fauna, Fashion & Beauty, Arts & Culture, and Home, Food & Entertaining. User friendly, The Faerie Handbook can be read in order, section by section, or according to one’s fancy. The artwork alone makes this book gift worthy so that when coupled with the captivating content, it’s a treasure to truly cherish! Be sure to put a bookplate in your copy if you plan to lend it to a friend. Its very presence is enticing and you want to be sure it gets returned.

interior photograph of fairy house from The Faerie HandbookCurious about fairy clothing, fairy houses, or how to make a fairy terrarium, fairy dust, fairy crown, or fairy tea cakes and tarts? It’s all in here. Wondering how and where to find faeries? That’s in here, too. In fact A Gardener’s Guide to Fairy Husbandry and also Fairy Portals and Pathways were two of my favorite chapters. When we lived in London, my daughter would leave notes for the faeries in our garden and on many occasions she would receive notes back from them, written in a golden script on gossamer-like paper. Maybe woodland creatures who interact with faeries intrigue you or perhaps you want to learn more about various fairy legends? Well, the editors of Faerie Magazine will not Int photo Midsummer Night's Dream party The Faerie Handbooklet you down.

I definitely could have used this book when planning my wedding, especially since all kinds of edible flowers were explained and that’s something unique I wanted to serve to guests. As a Cicely Mary Barker Flower Fairy devotee, I chose to have nasturtium appetizers at my reception. The centerpieces were Victorian-style topiaries, suitable accommodations for even the most discriminating of faeries.

Another chapter delves into the infamous The Cottingley Fairy Hoax That’s when two young girls claiming to have photographed faeries in Cottingley, England managed to get even the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wondering about their authenticity. The book ends with acknowledgements, resources, a bibliography, plus photo and illustration credits. Comprehensive and engrossing, The Faerie Handbook might just make a believer of the most hardened skeptic in your life. Enjoy!  Click here to read a sample.  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part One

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Two

Christmas Books for Children Roundup – Part Three

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All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

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ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson
(Dial BYR; $20.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover image for All's Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly
A New York Times Editor’s Choice
An Autumn Kids’ Indie Next List top pick

 

Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novel, All’s Faire in Middle School, provides a much-needed glimpse into alternative lifestyles. Twelve-year-old Imogene has been homeschooled by parents who work at Florida’s Renaissance Faire. When Imogene starts public school for the first time, she faces a very different world than at the faire where she is a knight-in-training.

Each chapter begins with brief synopsis of the brave heroine’s plight, conveyed in somewhat Old English. With much of the book set at the faire, readers gain insight into this medieval reenactment where people choose which role to play. Imogene never wanted to be the princess, but she questions whether she is destined to be a knight—maybe she’s more like Cussie, the hermit. Sometimes, Imogene behaves like the dragon.

The story explores Imogene’s turbulent journey to self-discovery. This is a tale of acceptance, forgiveness, friends, and blossoming sexuality. Imogene is every preteen, learning what it takes to fit in at school. She is teased for wearing thrift-store clothes with the wrong shoes. Imogene’s family becomes an embarrassment to her when they show up still dressed in Elizabethan costume and think nothing of it. Before entering sixth-grade, Imogene hadn’t noticed her family was different and how this is viewed suspiciously.

As with Jamieson’s successful Newbery Honor Book Roller Girl, in All’s Faire, the protagonist is a tough girl struggling with prepubescent emotions. The love of Imogene’s family—including her “faire-mily”—is a constant. Even when at odds with her parents and brother, in the end, Imogene realizes that the bullies and popular kids at school are something to suffer in passing. Her philosophy of what’s important shifts—and that makes all the difference.

Imogene makes unkind choices, acting out against others because of her own frustration. Her journey to finding the right path is a realistically portrayed ongoing battle. In life, there are no easy answers. Family can embarrass us by just being themselves. We all make mistakes, yet, each day, we can choose which character we wish to play. The book concludes with an understanding that, if you believe there are happy endings in sixth-grade, then you haven’t attended middle school—a declaration which will resonate with readers everywhere.

 

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

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The Book of Chocolate by HP Newquist

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THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE:
The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy
Written by HP Newquist
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

The Book of Chocolate is a 160-page mouthwatering nonfiction book for middle-grade readers. Fourteen chapters divide the contents into categories including chocolate’s history, chocolate makers, and the process “from bean to bar.” Side anecdotes offset the text, such as a modern-day recipe for the drink Xocolatl. This ancient beverage dates to 600 BC where the Mayans of the Yucatán mixed powdered cacao beans with water and spices then served it frothy, cool, and unsweetened—they did not have sugar.

 

Interior image of Cocoa and the Coke Bottle from The Book of Chocolate

Interior spread from THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by HP Newquist, Viking BYR ©2017.

 

Kids will enjoy guessing the Top Ten most popular chocolates in the US (M&M’s is first) or discovering what happens at the factory. The mystery of how a Kit Kat bar remains crisp while being enrobed in chocolate is also revealed.

 

Int. image page 61 The Candy Battles from HP Newquist's The Book of Chocolate

Interior spread from THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by HP Newquist, Viking BYR ©2017.

 

Adults may like learning that Alfred Hitchcock’s famous black-and-white movie Psycho used Bosco’s chocolate syrup as the blood flowing down the drain. Another fun fact: countries with the highest chocolate consumption also have the most Nobel Prize winners relative to the size of their population. Switzerland, where 26 pounds of chocolate are consumed per person annually, ranks first with 32 Nobel Prize winners per 10 million people. Americans eat 11 pounds per year, producing 10 Nobel Prize winners per 10 million people.

 

Interior image of Chapter 14 from HP Newquist's The Book of Chocolate

Interior spread from THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by HP Newquist, Viking BYR ©2017.

 

HP Newquist’s The Book of Chocolate is interesting reading for tweens with longer attention spans and a handy reference for school reports. Most pages have accompanying color images, providing additional material.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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


The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress

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THE EXPLORERS:
THE DOOR IN THE ALLEY
by Adrienne Kress
(Delacorte Press; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

THE BLOG TOUR

The Explorers: The Door in the Alley book cover image

 

Allow me to take the liberty, given the wit and wildly sassy style of Adrienne Kress’s fantastical middle grade novel, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley, to share with you, readers, the several unused openings that I toyed with before settling upon something completely different though perhaps a bit more mundane:

Can a pig ever be considered precocious?

Teeny hats off (and I mean that in the best possible way) to author Adrienne Kress for her latest novel!

Kress had me at Explorers.

REVIEW:
Now, all those intros aside, I thoroughly enjoyed being taken inside the thrilling walls, doors, rooms and slide (yes, slide!) of The Explorers Society, one of the most marvelous places I’ve been to in a long time, and the driving force (to say the least) behind this very imaginative adventure. Getting to know the cool cast of characters whose journey kept me turning the pages as more and more secrets were revealed, was also tons of fun.

The story of The Explorers unfolds with the rescue of a pig in a teeny hat by a 12-year-old, rule-respecting, STEM scholar named Sebastian. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also got a photographic memory. The pig, it turns out, belongs to a member of The Explorers Society, located in a seemingly innocuous building in a back alley near Sebastian’s routine route home. Rather than being rewarded for his helpful deed as logic would dictate, logic being another characteristic that can be attributed to young Sebastian, he is punished by the society’s president. Sebastian must now, to avoid arrest (yes, arrest!), do chores daily after school at the society in order to learn to take risks and expand his limited horizons.

As he becomes familiar with the amazing interior of the society (trust me, it is absolutely unreal!), Sebastian, prodded by the president Myrtle Algens, seeks to do something inappropriate that only someone who thrives on appropriateness can do. Just what that is, he hasn’t a clue. So, while unsure exactly how to push these boundaries, Sebastian accidentally uncovers a small hidden door behind which sits a box. Sebastian takes this box home and discovers in its contents assorted articles, photographs and other information about a disbanded group of explorers called the Filipendulous Five. When he asks Algens about them he is less than politely asked to leave the society’s premises and never return!

Upon departing, Sebastian encounters a forlorn-looking girl sitting outside. The girl, we learn, is Evie, an orphan on the run from some scary-looking dudes, one with a jaw wired shut, the other with (I kid you not!), a partially melted face. According to a letter she was given before she escaped the bad guys, Evie discovers she has an important connection to the The Explorers Society. This letter, written by her grandfather who she didn’t know was alive, indicates he’s in grave danger. Somehow though, this information, when shared with Algens, has gotten her kicked out of the building despite believing it would be a place of refuge. Things become even more confounding for the poor girl when Sebastian explains that her grandfather is none other than Alistair Drake, the head honcho of the Filipendulous Five! Soon Evie and Sebastian team up and take off on a series of exciting and risky exploits (it’s true, Sebastian skips school!) at the local zoo, the university, as well as inside The Explorers Society, all in an effort to find a mysterious key mentioned in the letter and save Evie’s grandfather while trying to elude wired-jaw guy and melted-face man.

The Explorers is a fabulously funny, fast-paced read with 27 chapters and an epilogue. Each chapter contains just the right mix of mayhem, dialogue, description and derring-do. Kress’s imagination is boundless, something I’m certain middle graders looking to lose themselves in an adventure/mystery will appreciate. Her sense of humor is also spot on. I must mention here that I had the good fortune to be sent an advanced readers copy for the blog tour so the artwork that is due to accompany the novel wasn’t included. But I can’t wait to see it since the story itself is quite visual and would lend itself well to film or TV.

Now dear readers, the story doesn’t end here because there is definitely more to come in an as yet unnamed sequel that, I have to admit, is the appropriate thing to do when the author leaves you with a cliffhanger making you wonder what’s to become of Sebastian, Evie and the rest of the characters you’ve grown to care about. I’m also very curious as to whether Sebastian’s school ever calls his parents, that is unless all the action occurs on weekends. That would certainly calm his nerves. Watch this space! 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

More upcoming stops this week and next for the blog tour include:

Tuesday 5/9/17 – Geo Librarian
Wednesday 5/10/17 – Life by Candlelight
Thursday 5/11/17 – Jumpin Beans
Friday 5/12/17 – Always in the Middle

Monday 5/15/17 – Librarians Quest
Tuesday 5/16/17 – The Book Wars
Wednesday 5/17/17 – Middle Grade Mafioso
Thursday 5/18/17 – Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Friday 5/19/17 – Tween You & Me


Shackles From The Deep by Michael H. Cottman

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SHACKLES FROM THE DEEP:
Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship,
a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy
by Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael H. Cottman
(National Geographic Kids; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred review – Booklist

cover image off Shackles From The Deep by Michael H. Cottman

 

A fascinating and fast read, Michael H. Cottman’s compelling Shackles From The Deep will open middle grade readers’ eyes and minds to the abhorrent “international business” that was the slave trade. In 22 brief but gripping chapters, Cottman, an avid scuba diver, goes in search of the dark history behind the 17th century slave ship called the Henrietta Marie. Through diving below the surface and delving above the surface with the help of a dedicated team of professionals, Cottman learns not only about “the bitter past” that shrouded the ship, but about himself and the African people forced into slavery who could very well have been his ancestors. 

Possibly the world’s oldest slave ship discovery, and certainly the oldest in North America, the Henrietta Marie and its bounty of watch bell, iron cannon, and iron shackles helped shed light on the inhumane industry that ripped West Africans from their homes, separated families, and brought them against their will to places such as Barbados and Jamaica to work on plantations. This slave ship, found accidentally while looking for a different wreck, had been torn apart during a hurricane off Key West in Florida in the 1700s. 

Cottman’s journey to find answers about the individuals who captained the ship, commissioned the ship’s slave cargo, and made the shackles and weapons on board led him to three continents over four years. And though he was never able to find definitive proof of who exactly might have been carried below deck in wretched conditions for months on end, Cottman did meet a family in Jamaica whose roots likely could be traced back to the Henrietta Marie if those records were available. One of the most moving parts of Shackles From The Deep was when Cottman travelled to Senegal and toured Gorée Island. There he visited the House of Slaves, built in 1526, and home to the infamous Door of No Return named as such because those enslaved Africans leaving through it never ever came back.

Cottman felt it was important to retrace the route the Henrietta Marie would have taken and, by taking us along with him as engaged readers, we quickly learn why. Tearing families apart and treating them like animals made no sense as one missionary’s account detailed:

The English take very little care of their slaves and feed them very badly …The overseers make them work
beyond measure and beat them mercilessly…and they seem to care less for the life of a Negro than a horse.

Ending his journey in Africa where it all began after those earlier visits to Barbardos, Jamaica and England, provided a way for Cottman to return through that Door of No Return on behalf of all the unfortunate souls who never had the chance. The story ends, having come full circle from the initial discovery, with the author’s visit to an underwater memorial at the wreckage site of the Henrietta Marie. 


“I had learned that the site of the wreck is a place where I am never really alone,
a place where I feel connected to my past and ancestors. I had learned that lasting
friendships can be forged––regardless of racial backgrounds––even while exploring a sunken slave ship.”

There are several ways for readers to approach this well-written narrative nonfiction novel. From the sheer storytelling perspective, it is completely absorbing and satisfying, in fact I read it in one sitting. As a page turning detective novel, it’s rich in detail with Cottman’s journalistic abilities highlighted as he asks the right questions and tracks down individuals around the globe to piece together the puzzle that is the Henrietta Marie. When children read Shackles From the Deep they will gain a better understanding of slavery and the dehumanization of people that was perpetrated for 300 years, and hopefully be the force to prevent such cruelty from ever happening again.

Click here to visit Michael H. Cottman’s website.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel