Smithsonian Series Children’s Books

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A Roundup of Smithsonian Series Children’s Books

 

Children’s librarian Dornel Cerro reviews an exciting and inviting variety of nonfiction Smithsonian middle grade books for your curious kids.

 

No Way_Way Are You My Dinner book coverNo Way … Way!: Are You My Dinner? 300 Fun Facts
Written by Tracey West
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
(Smithsonian/Grosset and Dunlap; $9.99, Ages 8-12)

Can food facts be fun? Sure they can … here’s a few examples:
Ever heard of borborygmi? Sure you have, it’s the rumbling sound your stomach makes (p. 38).
Did you know that 16,000,000 jelly beans are produced at Easter? Red is the most popular color (p. 103).
If you’re dieting you may not want to know that by the time you’re 80 years old you will have eaten about 87,660 meals (p. 7).

However, No Way …Way! is not limited to food for humans. Animal eating habits are also included:
Guess what the vampire finch eats … or rather, sucks? (blood from other birds, p. 161).
You don’t want to know what a naked mole rat eats (it’s own poop to aid digestion, p. 187).

No Way …Way! is neatly organized into sections that cover the history of food, holiday meals, unusual dishes (like chocolate-covered cicadas, p. 89), where people eat (imagine eating where Julius Caesar was assassinated, p. 120), what not to eat (raw lima beans become cyanide in your body, p. 202), and more. Short, humorous facts, colorful illustrations, and eye-popping designs (plus a little gross-out factor) make this a fun book to browse. Recommended as “cool,” “awesome,” “humorous,” and “interesting” by my second and third graders. One of my fourth graders told me she “had to have it!” A great book for beginning and reluctant readers as well as for children who like to browse through books like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records.

Smithsonian The Moon Level 4 Reader book coverBudding young astronauts and space aficionados will love these engaging early reader books. Each is succinctly and clearly written and accompanied by great photographs.

The Moon
Written by James Buckley, Jr.
(Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers; $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)

The moon has fascinated people throughout history and across many cultures, from worship of the moon in ancient times to the 1969 Apollo Moon landing and beyond. Buckley leads young readers through the history of moon exploration separating fact from fiction (there’s no old man living there). My second graders enjoyed this book for its’ accessible text and striking photographs. The book also contains a handy table of contents and glossary.

 

Smithsonian Home Address ISSHome Address: ISS International Space Station
Written by James Buckley, Jr.
(Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers. $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)

What is the International Space Station? Who lives there? What’s life like miles above earth? How difficult is it to eat and dress in zero gravity? How do you use the toilet in space? Buckley helps children understand daily life at the ISS. A “great book …” commented my third grade Star Wars fans.

 

 

 

Smithsonian The Human Body NewquistThe Human Body: The Story of How We Protect, Repair, and Make Ourselves Stronger 
Smithsonian: Invention & Impact (Book 1)
Written by H.P. Newquist
(Smithsonian/Viking BYR: $17.99, Ages 8-12)

A fascinating and well-researched look at the different parts of the body and how people throughout history have devised ways to repair or replace non-functioning body parts. From ancient surgical practices to relieve headaches (pp 80-81) to inventions of machines to see inside the body (magnetic resonance imaging), Newquist examines the reasons for and the history behind their design. He takes a peek inside our medicine chests and explains what’s inside it and concludes with the development of vaccines to curb the staggering rates of death from diseases like smallpox.

Although the engaging narrative is written for an older reader, the vivid and well-captioned illustrations (yes, there’s a little gross out factor here) will engage younger and reluctant readers who enjoy browsing through Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley’s Believe It or Not. My third graders found it “cool and interesting.”

Smithsonian Curious About Zoo VetsCurious About Zoo Vets
Written by Gina Shaw
(Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99,
Ages 6-8)

Would you like to work in a zoo? Meet some of the many people who take care of the 18,000 animals at the National Zoo (Washington, D. C.). These include veterinarians, animal keepers, and nutritionists, whose work includes wellness check-ups, handling emergencies, preparing food, creating “enrichment activities” to keep the animals engaged (like art activities and chew toys) and more. Wonderful, nicely captioned color photographs allow young readers to visualize what they learn in the narrative. More advanced vocabulary is highlighted in yellow and defined in the book’s glossary. Perfect for individual readers as well as for kindergarteners learning about the roles of people in their community.

Oceans Doodle BookOceans Doodle Book
Written by Karen Romano Young
(Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

The Smithsonian’s marine experts have come up with a collection of fun and creative activities to help educate children about the ocean environment. Youngsters are challenged to use a variety of skills with the many activities available in the book. Creativity and imagination are needed for some activities such as designing and drawing a sea monster (“Sea Monsters, Ahoy!” pp. 24-25). Teachers and parents will appreciate the many activities that require various critical thinking skills. Looking at photographs of the skeletal remains of extinct whales, children determine what they may have looked like when alive (“Extinct Whale,” pp. 82-83). Another great one is determining where a floating object might land from a map of ocean currents (“Where Will it Float?” pp.16-17).

Each activity is accompanied by brief background information that supports the activity. For example, “Fish Face, Fish Tale,” (pp. 42-43) notes the more than 27,000 varieties of fish that scientists have discovered. Children then match fish heads on one page to the fish tales on the facing page. Concepts of bilateral symmetry (pp. 36-37) and radial symmetry (pp. 38-39) are explained and children draw the missing half of an ocean animal to reinforce the concept. Turn off the devices and hand this book to your kids guaranteeing hours of fun and learning.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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

 

 


Friendship The Goddess Girls Way

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A tempting twist of myths and mythological gods and goddesses totally perfect for tweens!

Today’s post comes from guest reviewer Leah. Leah is in 8th grade, loves books and her cat Merlin.

AthenaTheBrain.jpg Athena the Brain

(Goddess Girls , Book #1, Simon & Schuster, $5.99, ages 8-12)

by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

In the first book of the Goddess Girl series Athena is the new Goddess Girl at her new school Mount Olympus Academy (MOA).  Athena has to learn so much about being a goddess. She was always the smartest girl at her old school (Triton Junior High) but being here changes everything. Athena has to face a stuck up Medusa and a flirting Poseidon, but her new friends Aphrodite, Artemis, Persephone, and Pandora help her get through it all This book is great for anyone who loves mythology and is perfect for any incoming middle schoolers. It also shows that those new kids can make it in a new school and that friends are always around the corner.

 

7199829Persephone the Phony

(Goddess Girls, Book #2, Simon & Schuster, $5.99, ages 8-12)

by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

In the second book of the Goddess Girls series, Persephone has to “go along to get along.” Her mother always told Persephone to do what your friends want and not cause problems by being yourself. She never had the voice to speak out, until she meets Hades. Persephone has to find out who she really is, even though her friends and classmates on Mount Olympus think differently.  In the end Persephone learns always to be herself and it will work out. This book is great for any girls having troubles about who you should be around friends.
Visit SimonandSchuster.com for info on all the titles in this popular series.

Humphrey the Hamster’s on the Case

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9780142426692HMYSTERIES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY (Puffin Books, $5.99, ages 8 and up) by Betty G. Birney contains everything a young reader would want: humor, conflict, animals, action, assorted students and teachers, good advice, and great plotting all packed into an enjoyable paperback.

After reading this early chapter book I can easily understand why the Humphrey series is featured on 24 state lists. Humphrey, the classroom pet (along with Og the Frog) stars in nine different books, each with straightforward themes such as SURPRISES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY, ADVENTURE ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and FRIENDSHIP ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY. They also contain the same tight writing, wit and wisdom readers will expect from Birney after reading the first in the series, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY.

I love a good mystery and with this story I got more than one upon visiting Room 26 at Longfellow School. First there’s the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League,” teacher Mrs. Brisbane is reading the class. Then there’s the classwork where the students are tasked with discovering the mysterious word’s meaning; piewhacked is the first one they must figure out. Piewhacked? But when principal Mr. Morales announces to Room 26 that a substitute is going to take care of the class, the biggest mystery begins to unfold.

Mr. Edonopulous (AKA Mr. E), the substitute, is a puzzle to the kids in Room 26. He’s nice and friendly, but he’s always turning every lesson into some kind of game, he doesn’t assign homework (which has both its up and down sides), and he keeps getting chastised by the co-chairperson of the School Safety Committee (AKA whistle-clutching Mrs. Wright, the PE instructor) for not following the rules. What gives here? Then there’s Thomas and Joey, classmates who should be friends except Thomas’s constant exaggerating and lying has put a wedge between the boys. Humphrey wonders how he can solve this social dilemma. Woven throughout Humphrey’s detective work runs the longest thread and that’s the one causing him the most anxiety – the longer Mr. E remains means the longer Mrs. Brisbane stays away. Did something happen to her? Did she take a new job? Are clues adding up to a ballet career for Mrs. B? Will they ever find out the ending of the Sherlock Holmes story?

There are so many different and interesting story elements at work to hold readers’ attention and make them eager to read on. Plus kids will care about Humphrey because he’s such a compassionate rodent. Humphrey’s Detectionary at the end of each chapter often serves as his observations and commentary on humans, i.e. “It’s a mystery to me why humans enjoy a very frightening holiday like Halloween!”

Solve your kids’ summer reading quandry with MYSTERIES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and find fun Humphrey activities and teachers’ guides at www.penguin.com/humphrey. What more clues do you need?

 

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Positively Bob Dylan

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ANSWER: Who is Robert Allan Zimmerman?

QUESTION:  What is Bob Dylan’s real name?

Bob_Dylan.jpg

Who Is Bob Dylan? by Jim O’Connor with illustrations by John O’Brien, Grosset & Dunlap, 2013.

This easy-to-read chapter book biography is one of over 50 already published in the WHO WAS? series. Other recent titles include WHO WAS CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS? and WHAT WAS PEARL HARBOR? What drew me into this particular book written by Jim O’Connor and illustrated by John O’Brien (Grosset & Dunlap, $4.99, Ages 8 and up) was my complete lack of knowledge regarding Dylan’s early years, his influences and the fantastic cover art which transported me to Greenwich Village, “the center of the folk music scene in the early 1960s.”

From a very young age, Bob Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota was interested in music and at age ten “decided to learn to play a musical instrument.” After one lesson from a cousin, he decided to teach himself. He then moved onto the guitar, also learning it on his own, and formed a band with two friends called the Golden Chords. Unlike the majority of Zimmerman’s classmates, he was Jewish. Early on he’d make up stories about his background, perhaps trying to create a more alluring persona yet at the same time wanting to keep a lot of personal details private. The book traces his musical journey from his hometown, to university, his arrival in New York’s Greenwich Village, onto Woodstock, back to Greenwich and eventually making a home in Malibu, CA. Readers will also find out about Bob’s various relationships including a very public one with Joan Baez.

Along the way, O’Connor adds fab factoids that round out the book. Three pages are devoted to Early Rock Legends, another enlightens readers as to assorted Dylan aliases throughout the years, there’s one on Folk Songs, on the Civil Rights Movement, Acoustic Versus Electric, Women’s Lib, Woodstock and Dylan’s Musical Universe. Plus, a world timeline and one devoted to Bob Dylan’s life show how much change was going on during his music career.

O’Connor conveys info about Dylan’s life in an objective way, straightforward way, leaving readers to form their own opinions about the man to whom, in 2012, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom. Kids first learning about Bob Dylan may be very surprised about his path to fame. I know I was.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Fridays Featuring Flintridge – An Interview With Roderick Townley

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Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On:

Hilary Taber of Flintridge Bookstore Interviews Roderick Townley

RT in restaurantI recently wrote to Mr. Townley to inquire if he would be agreeable to doing this interview with me. It all seemed something like tossing a penny into a wishing well, one of those moments in life when you shake hands with the universe on an agreement that you will both, ever so briefly say “Who knows? It could happen!” When Roderick Townley responded that he would do the interview, I was happy and completely astounded. I wondered what I would ask this “wizard of words?” This author’s writing always seems to have the charm of a fairy tale, the adventure of a contemporary fantasy novel and the depth of a poem. The Great Good Thing, The Blue Shoe, and The Door in the Forest are all among his literary treasures. Each of these works are well written, highly polished, deeply profound, and leave the reader the richer for having read them.

The Great Good Thing, his first children’s book, was published in 2001. Since then, Mr. Townley has continued to captivate readers of all ages. Possessing a rich background as a poet and also as a journalist, Roderick Townley manages somehow to pull on both imagination and reality. He has crafted books that have inspired his fans to create board games, blue shoes, dolls, and gorgeous illustrations. The author confesses that some of these tales once began as bedtime stories and then “grew up” into the wonderful books we know today – full of beauty, magic, mysteries, adventure, danger, villains, and heroes. It indeed makes sense that Townley’s books started as bedtime stories. As Prospero said in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Hilary Taber: What is your full name and where did you grow up?

Roderick Townley: Grew up all around New York City: East Side, Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Long Island.

coverH.T.: What was your family like? Did they encourage your writing?

R.T.: They read, but were not “literary,” conventional in tastes, but encouraged my writing. My mom always thought I should write children’s books. A decade after her death, I published my first.

H.T.: Who was the greatest inspiration to you in your young life? Is there any one person that stands out in particular?

R.T.: I’ve had encouragers all along the way. Teachers especially, several of whom I saw as father figures after my own dad died. Mostly, though, it was what I read that inspired me. I thought of myself as a poet, and as a teenager was imitating Lawrence Ferlinghetti and (disastrously) Dylan Thomas.

H.T.:  Are there a few writers that you could name that have influenced your writing for children and teens?

R.T.:  Every writer I’ve ever read has influenced me. Bad writers have shown me what doesn’t work; good writers what does. What I look for is intensity (e.g.,James Agee), wild imagination (John Crowley), and depth (Melville, Rilke). You’ll notice that these are not children’s writers. But writing is writing, and in my books for young readers I am always trying for those qualities: intensity, imagination, depth.

41dlFvL3GSL._SY380_H.T.:  I’ve read on your website that when you were a young boy you would write in a notebook, and that writing filled you with excitement that others didn’t seem to notice. What gave you that excitement? Do you still have that excitement now just as it was when you were young, or has it changed?

R.T.: Back then, I was just excited by the story as it unfolded under my racing pencil. It was also exciting to realize that I was creating it–and could change it! What’s different now is that my stories are more dimensional, and I erase almost as much as I write. That makes the process slower and more painstaking. Less “fun” at times, but in the end more satisfying.

H.T.:  I’m a great admirer of your heroine Sylvie from your book The Great Good Thing. If you could close your eyes to enter a more dream-like state and “see” Sylvie, how would you describe what you see?

R.T.:  I see her in motion, a flash of wind-blown hair, quick eyes, dirty knees, disgracefully muddy blue leather shoes. Equally interesting to me is the way others have seen her. The German edition has her sitting in a tree on a sofa (!); the Chinese edition depicts her in stylized woodcuts. And kids send me drawings of Sylvie that are wilder than anything I could have imagined. Every reader meets a different Sylvie, and that’s as it should be.

H.T.: I read that a few of your books begin as a bedtime story to your wife Wyatt. How much of Wyatt do readers see in your heroines like Sylvie, Emily, or Sophia?

R.T.: There’s some of Wyatt, a good deal of me, and a fair amount of our daughter Grace in Princess Sylvie. There’s a whole lot more of Wyatt in the two sequels, Into the Labyrinth and The Constellation of Sylvie, because I consciously wrote her in, as the character, Rosetta Stein. Wyatt, like Rosetta, teaches yoga, and both have the same restless hair–and restless spirit. But Wyatt’s presence in my books has to do with more than her resemblance to certain characters. She’s involved in the whole writing process, from the generation of plot ideas to the elimination of dangling modifiers.

cvr9780689853289_9780689853289_lgH.T.: It would seem unfair not to ask the same questions of you! How much of yourself do you see in your characters Daniel or Hap? Is there a character that you identify with most?

R.T.: I am, in fact, all of my characters, boys, girls, villains, grandmothers. Even the poisonous jester, Pingree. You shouldn’t write any character that you can’t find within yourself.

H.T.: A good deal of your books seem to be infused with poetry. This is not an easy question to answer perhaps, but how do you feel your background in poetry interacts with your writing for children and teens?

R.T.: Children’s literature, at its best, is closer to poetry than to any other kind of writing. I’m constantly distilling, cutting away the unnecessary modifier, the weak verb, the chatty dialogue. And always reaching for the magic that lies just beneath the surface of so-called ordinary life. Those concerns come right out of my apprenticeship a
s a poet.

H.T.: Madeline L’Engle made this statement, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Do you agree? If so, why do you think this is true?

R.T.: It’s a striking statement, and reminds me of Philip Pullman, who said there are some themes so deep that they can only be addressed in a children’s book. That is true of a few extraordinary children’s books (Pullman’s among them), as well as of fairy tales and myths, which evoke archetypes of the unconscious. It’s not true, alas, of most “kid lit,” which tends to the cute, the shallow, and the vampiric.

labyrinth_smallH.T.: If books had a genealogy just as people do, what books might be in your family tree of the books you have written? For example, often I have a Harry Potter fan that wants a book similar to the series. So I explain to them that there are such things as “book cousins.”  Some books seem to be related to each other. They are somehow alike. What books might be considered cousins, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers and so on of your writing for children and teens?

R.T.: Publishers say they are looking for work that’s completely original. That is not true. Often they are looking for something very much like a well-known work–but with a twist. Let’s say, Harry Potter on ice skates. When I wrote The Great Good Thing, I didn’t think it was like anything I’d ever read. Reviewers later said it reminded them of Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, although my book came out a year before hers. Basically, I try for stories that don’t remind me of other stories–why repeat what’s already been done? I leave it to others to discover the “cousins.” Those relatives do exist, but I don’t know about them beforehand and don’t concern myself about them later. Not my job.

H.T.: Are you in the process of writing a new book?

R.T.: I am. In the new novel, tentatively called The Black Rose, a woman disappears during a magic act, and her daughter, Cisley, is determined to find her and bring her back. The girl lives in a glass castle and walks her pet lobster on a golden leash along the seawall each morning. I’m open to suggestions about how it ends.

H.T.: What do you hope for most that your readers will remember after reading your books?

R.T.: Aside from the name of the author? I hope, of course, that they’ll think of the story with delight; but more important, that they’ll be left with a sense of their own inner world, the substratum of magic that is our deepest self.

H.T.: Imagine that you found a book in the woods behind your house. This book is a mystery. It has a short beginning and an equally short ending already written. However, there is nothing written in the middle of the book. You’ve asked around and it seems to belong to no one. In fact, it appears to be very old and possibly entirely magical. Would you finish writing it or would you leave it alone?

R.T.: Oh, of course I’d have a go at finishing it. The hardest parts of writing, for me, are finding the beginning and the end. If those are supplied, I’d be in writing heaven.

H.T.: Imagine an enchantress who has a magical ring on each of her fingers. These rings have magical powers. What does each one do?

R.T.: That’s ten powers, if she has ten fingers. (Does she? Does she have eleven?) I have no idea what her powers would be. If I had a ring, I’d hope it would magically do the dishes and put out the trash.

constellation_smallH.T.: Imagine that the wind is a friend who visits you and Wyatt every so often. What does the wind look like or can you see the wind at all? What do you three talk about?

R.T.: We live in Kansas, named after the Kanza Indians, called “People of the Wind.” Mostly the wind talks to us, rather than the other way around. It circles the house, enters and leaves our lungs, prowls through our poems. Its moods are unpredictable, one day furious (we live in “tornado alley”), the next day sweet natured. The thing I most admire is its fashion sense. Invisible itself, it dresses up in trees, smoke, flying debris, and the smell of violets. It’s why we live where we live.

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Many thanks to Roderick Townley from all of us at Good Reads With Ronna for his time, his talent, his insights and for bringing us “the magic that lies just beneath the surface of so-called ordinary life.” For more information about his wonderful books for children and teens, please visit www.rodericktownely.com.  Click here now to read Hilary’s post about his novels. Why not tell us your ending for his new novel tentatively titled The Black Rose? We’d love to hear from you.

Do you like fan art? Please click here to see some fab fan art. Find an artistic rendition of Princess Sylvie from The Great Good Thing with quotes from the books all along the edges. A huge tribute to Townley’s work by Shaylynn Rackers!

HilaryTaberStop by the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Check out the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.

 
 

Fridays Featuring Flintridge – Roderick Townley’s Novels

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A Truly Great Good Thing:

The Work of Children’s Author Roderick Townley –

reviewed by Hilary Taber of Flintridge Bookstore

 

I’m beyond delighted to announce that this and next Friday’s posts will be devoted to author and poet Roderick Townley. I will take this opportunity to review three of his children’s novels for those just making his acquaintance and next Friday Mr. Townley will join us for an amazing and inspiring interview. Those of you who are writers won’t want to miss this! For you who are already familiar with his delightful stories, you may empathize that it’s difficult to easily sum up the work of this author. His writing somewhat defies definition. I think Roderick Townley rather likes it that way. He likes to be unpredictable.

I will dare to say that it takes a certain talent that very few authors have to be able to convey such potent meaning in just a few sentences. Additionally, his writing is full of the magical, creative, and wondrous power of fairy tales. Mr. Townley is one of those authors who, through his books, seems to come to the reader and say, “Take my hand for now we are about to go journeying to places unknown, sights yet unseen, and things not clearly understood by anyone. Ready?” I always say, “Yes!” to offers like that, for not many authors are able to provide such unique and original tales. By the end of the story I have always thought very new thoughts, experienced high adventure, and returned to the real world wishing that the book could have lasted just a little bit longer, or even just a few pages longer. The writing itself is so magical that I always end up half convinced that, if I just wished hard enough, the extra pages I want might magically appear. Of course they don’t, but right there is the proof of a good author. Who else could half convince me of such a possibility? Such writing is just like the title of his first book. It is indeed a Great, Good Thing.

cvr9780689853289_9780689853289_lgThe Great Good Thing (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $6.99, ages 10-14)

“Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn’t get to live it very often.”

Sylvie has been a storybook princess for more than eighty years. Her trouble is that the story of her amazing life is never lived until a Reader comes along. It is only when the book containing the story of Princess Sylvie is opened and read that she can live her adventures in the storybook. When your life depends on Readers reading and your story is forgotten what can you do? The characters in the book begin to accept the fact that they might never have a new Reader. However, one day, a very special Reader does come, and Sylvie dares to break the rule of all storybook characters, “Never look at the Reader”. Being Sylvie (brave, adventurous, and a Person with Purpose), she takes it one step further and makes a lasting friendship with this Reader. This friendship is destined to change Sylvie’s story forever, but it also offers Sylvie the opportunity to fulfill her greatest wish. Sylvie is finally given a chance to do A Great Good Thing.

41dlFvL3GSL._SY380_The Blue Shoe: A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $6.99, ages 8-12)

“Not long ago, in the sunny mountain village of Aplanap, famous for its tilted streets, cuckoo clocks, and Finster cheese, there stood a small shoemaker’s shop. And in the window of that shop was a shoe that fit nobody.”

In this book Mr. Townley invites the reader to follow the adventures of Hap, the goodhearted assistant cobbler to the shoemaker who made the beautiful blue shoe. When the blue shoe looses its magical glow (due to Hap’s theft of one of the precious blue stones), he is sent to work tirelessly in the dreaded mines of Mount Xexnax. However, here in this cruel place, Hap discovers that sometimes life isn’t just about liberating yourself from a dreadful situation. Sometimes it’s about liberating others as well, for Mount Xenax holds many others in slavery. But just how will Hap be able to escape and set everyone else held in slavery on the mountain free as well? What about the blue shoe? Will the blue shoe ever regain its mysterious blue glow and why does it glow? Mary GrandPré, who is now famous for her illustrations for the Harry Potter series, wonderfully illustrates The Blue Shoe bringing to life the cast of characters that populate a world of heroes, heroines, villains, a blue shoe, and one shadowy, mysterious character it would be unfair of me to mention too much about.

8600966The Door in the Forest (Bluefire, $6.99, ages 8 and up)

“Some people claimed it was enchanted; others swore it was cursed; but, really, it hardly mattered what you thought because you couldn’t get to it.”

Daniel and his family live near a mysterious island. This island is impossible to reach, as the island itself seems to jealously guard its secrets with vines, quicksand, and snakes. No one has ever set foot there. While most people are content to leave the island to itself, Daniel is not. He knows he would willingly spend his whole life trying to figure out how to reach such a mysterious place. However, to achieve this dream, it will take a war, a witch (or is she?), and a girl named Emily whose past may be the only key to accessing the island that Daniel will ever find. Now, mix this cast of intriguing characters together with an evil captain who is intent on getting to the island first, and you are ready for an adventure you will not soon forget! The Door in the Forest seems to me to always ask these questions: “How much would you risk, who would you be willing to trust, and how long could you hold out during a dangerous time to attain the impossible thing you have always wanted with your whole heart?”

To find out more about Roderick Townley’s young adult novels Sky and The Red Thread and to learn more about the sequels to The Great Good Thing (Into the Labyrinth and The Constellation of Sylvie) visit www.rodericktownley.com. Also, please join me next Friday for the interview with Mr. Townley as we discuss his writing for children, writing in general, poetry, and the inspirations that have led to his remarkable books.

HilaryTaberStop by the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Check out the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.