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Wild LA: Explore the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles

WILD LA:
EXPLORE THE AMAZING NATURE
IN AND AROUND LOS ANGELES
Written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly
with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood,
Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County
(Timber Press, Inc.; $24.95, Ages 10 and up)

 

Wild LA book cover illustration by Martha Rich

 

Wild LA is an ideal book for a person like me who loves Los Angeles for its many urban activities but needs nature for balance. Consider this new book your go-to guide when tired of the same old thing.

The 332-page full-color book is divided into three parts. The first, “Wild Los Angeles,” reviews ecology and natural history in ten categories such as “Water Writes the History of Los Angeles,” “Fire, Past and Future,” and “Migration” (birds, whales, and insects). “Los Angeles sits right in the middle of a four thousand-mile bird highway, a sort of endless conveyor belt of feathered critters coming and going throughout the year.” Billions of birds use this migration highway each year.

 

int photographs from Wild LA Natural History Museum of LA County

Interior photographs from Wild LA: Exploring the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood, Natural History Museum of LA County, Timber Press ©2019.

 

A favorite section for kids—or anyone who likes looking at pleasing pictures—may be “101 LA Species to Know.” Choose from “Birds,” “Insects and Spiders,” “Mammals,” “Reptiles and Amphibians,” “Snails and Slugs.” “Mushrooms, Slime Mold, and Lichen,” and “Plants.” Each category contains gorgeous photos and summaries. For example, male mallards molt (replace their feathers) in the late summer, becoming a duller color, and are flightless for a few weeks.

 

101 LA Species to Know int artwork by Martha Rich from Wild LA

Interior illustrations by Martha Rich from Wild LA: Exploring the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood, Natural History Museum of LA County, Timber Press ©2019.

 

The final section, twenty-five “Field Trips,” conveniently provides three to four pages of information on each outing, including hand-drawn maps, tips, and trivia. Though I’ve frequented Griffith Park countless times, Wild LA still uncovered a wealth of interesting facts. I wasn’t aware of the three so-called Secret Gardens and will surely search them out on my next walk in the hills.

 

int photographs and artwork from pgs 138_139 Wild LA

Interior photographs from Wild LA: Exploring the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood with artwork by Martha Rich, Natural History Museum of LA County, Timber Press ©2019.

 

interior photographs from Wild LA with map illustration by Martha Rich

Interior photographs from Wild LA: Exploring the Amazing Nature in and Around Los Angeles written by Lila M. Higgins & Gregory B. Pauly with Jason G. Goldman & Charles Hood with artwork by Martha Rich, Natural History Museum of LA County, Timber Press ©2019.

 

Locals and visitors alike will find this guidebook useful and a fascinating read. Keep it on hand or use it as a coffee-table book to page through, admiring the lovely photos which adorn every page.

Wild L.A. Book Launch Event, March 26 | 6 pm – 9 pm, FREE with RSVP https://nhm.org/site/wildla 

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George Washington’s Secret Six (Young Readers Adaptation) by Brian Kilmeade & Don Yaeger

GEORGE WASHINGTON’S SECRET SIX
The Spies Who Saved America
Written by Brian Kilmeade & Don Yaeger
(Viking; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

cover illustration from George Washington's Secret Six Young Readers Adaptation

 

 

George Washington’s Secret Six, a young readers adaptation of the New York Times bestseller about George Washington’s top-secret spy ring that helped defeat the British, is a must-read for history buffs and anyone who relishes a riveting spy story filled with fascinating facts and bravery by the boatload. I’m so glad this book was written so that I could brush up on my Revolutionary War details, many of which I have long forgotten (or never knew!).

The stakes were high for General George Washington in 1776. With the British occupation seemingly never-ending, Washington and the Continental Army needed to get a leg up on the Redcoats who had recently conquered New York City, forcing Washington and his army into a hasty retreat. The British had the clear advantage. They had the might of the Crown behind them and the money, meaning they had ships, weapons, food and an army ready to do all it took to defeat the fledgling nation.

Knowing he had few options, Washington chose a different approach, one that, though financially not expensive, could ultimately cost lives if discovered. The general had to tread carefully and trust was an essential component in his plan. He’d form a team of undercover operatives so he and his troops could gain the advantage over the British. Set against the backdrop of 18th century Manhattan, Long Island and Connecticut, the story of the Culper Spy Ring, which was active until very near the end of the war, is an amazing tale of heroism and stealth, creativity and cunning.

Told in four parts with forty brief but engaging chapters, Kilmeade and Yaeger recount this overlooked intelligence network that played a significant role in America’s success. The Culper Spy Ring was comprised of a reserved merchant, a tavern keeper, a brash young longshoreman, a curmudgeonly Long Island bachelor, a coffeehouse owner, and a mysterious woman, possibly a socialite, known as Agent 355. Together they employed tactics such as using code, invisible ink and even going to work for the Loyalists in order to gain insider knowledge of upcoming battle plans, troop movements and even their secret code.

Middle grade readers will learn about Nathan Hale’s brief attempt to spy and how his lack of fitting in called him out as an imposter. The British’s foiled efforts to disseminate counterfeit money to ruin the economy is also explained. They’ll read about the important role the French played as America’s ally. They’ll find out how hard it was to operate without being detected and the clever ways the spies sent crucial information via land and sea (okay, the Long Island Sound to be exact) under cover of darkness. The authors clearly convey all the risks involved in these missions which could easily culminate in hanging and that’s what will keep kids involved. I constantly found myself wondering if one of the spies was going to be caught. The danger involved was palpable with every page turn. One of the most interesting sections of the book dealt with Benedict Arnold. I knew his name was synonymous with traitor but I honestly never knew the degree to which he sold out the Americans. The devotion to the cause of freedom knew no boundaries for the top-secret spy ring as depicted in George Washington’s Secret Six (Young Readers Adaptation). Who knows how things would have turned out were it not for the six patriotic spies?

Over 25 pages of excellent back matter are included for those who crave more details. Here readers will find several pages devoted to the postwar lives of the Culper Ring, information about the use of invisible ink and alphabetical codes, a comprehensive timeline, sources and an index. Another aspect of the book I liked was how black and white engravings, paintings, illustrations and photos were incorporated to firmly ground readers in the colonial time period. This well-researched true story resonated with me since many of events took place close to where I grew up on Long Island. I’m now eager to visit many of the locales mentioned if they still exist. Kilmeade and Yaeger have written a terrific nonfiction book that provides an accessible way to get tweens and teens interested in our country’s history, if they’re not already. Perhaps it will even prompt further reading about this critical time in the formation of the United States.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Also recommended: Heroes of History Series – George Washington

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Celebrating the Year of The Pig with China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe

CHINA: A HISTORY
Written by Cheryl Bardoe,
The Field Museum
(Abrams BYR; $22.99, Ages 10-14)

 

China A History by Cheryl Bardoe book cover art

 

 

Cheryl Bardoe’s beautiful and educational nonfiction middle-grade book, China: A History, is based on the Cyrus Tang Hall of China exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. Whether or not you’ve visited the museum, the book serves as a go-to resource for young readers looking to learn more about this powerful nation.

 

int artwork and spread from China A History by Cheryl Bardoe

Interior spread from China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

Both a visual feast and a wealth of knowledge, China: A History provides information in a way that’s easily understood, interspersing frequent visual aids. Chapters are enlivened with full-color maps, photos, and illustrations of the people, landscape, artifacts, and rare objects. Kids will be amazed to discover all the remarkable things related to China.

 

int art and spread from China A History by Cheryl Bardoe The Field Museum

Interior spread from China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

Attention-grabbing stories include the 8,000 nearly life-sized terracotta warrior statutes buried with the emperor Shi Huangdi for the afterlife. Your feet may ache when reading about the painful custom of female foot-binding (officially banned in 1911). And, fascinating for everyone who loves eating noodles: “The world’s oldest-known noodles were discovered beneath a bowl that tipped over in northwest China, and then was buried under ten feet of sediment that formed a stay-fresh seal for four thousand years.” Those are some old noodles!

 

int art and text spread from China A History by Cheryl Bardoe

Interior spread from China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

In honor of the Year of the Pig, it should be noted that pigs were first domesticated in East Asia in 7,000 BC.

All ages will be fascinated by this lovely book. Bold patterns accent pages and bright colors highlight additional material. The text concludes with an interesting 20,000-year Time Line.

 

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

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Dragons, Friendship and Magic – The Language of Spells

THE LANGUAGE OF SPELLS
Written by Garret Weyr
Illustrated by Katie Harnett
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

The Language of Spells book cover art

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 1

Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

In the middle-grade novel, The Language of Spells, homeschooled eleven-year-old Maggie lives in a Viennese hotel with her father. She knows many things, but how to make friends isn’t one of them—until she meets Grisha (a dragon who’s spent decades observing humans and has grown up without doing any of the proper dragon things). Born in 1803, he is the last of his kind. “As the world of men built new and extraordinary things, the world of magic began to decline. No creature lives beyond its own world, and a dragon is nothing if not a creature from the world of magic.”

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 3

Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

All dragons were summoned to Vienna and, due to the inconvenience of their existence, most mysteriously disappeared. While the Department of Extinct Exotics controls the gold-eyed dragons who were allowed to remain, Grisha struggles to remember what happened to the others. Maggie’s determination to help sets them on an investigative journey. Though they know using magic requires a sacrifice, Maggie and Grisha travel across Europe to fight injustice and face difficult decisions.

The Language of Spells is a different sort of dragon tale—one worth a deliberate read and thoughtful introspection. Each chapter opens with a charming illustration by Katie Harnett. The uplifting scenes enhance the story’s relationships. Weyr’s slow-building, sometimes funny tale has an old-fashioned lyrical feel. The book raises questions about the cost of power, the bonds of families and friendships. When few can see the magic left in the world, does it still exist?

  • 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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Finding a Way Forward – Tiny Infinities by J. H. Diehl

TINY INFINITIES
Written by J. H. Diehl
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

– A Junior Library Guild Selection –

cover illustration from Tiny Infinities by J. H. Diehl

In Tiny Infinities, the debut middle grade novel by J. H. Diehl, the summer when Alice turns thirteen, her family’s structure disintegrates. Her mother has become a bedridden recluse, her father moves out, and Alice’s two brothers are temporarily placed with their aunt. Alice willfully stays at the family home, erecting the Renaissance tent her parents met in, resolving to sleep in the backyard until her father returns. Due to finances, cell phones, internet, and camps are cut. Earning money babysitting is bittersweet—Alice’s parents are too distracted to pay much attention. Alice discovers each family has complications. Piper, the young girl she watches, has an undiagnosed loss of speech and possibly hearing.

This quiet story considers deep issues including how one family member’s illness or injury affects everyone. Because of her parents’ split and her mother’s inability to recover, Alice loses touch with close friends rather than explain.

Swimming keeps Alice centered; she’s determined to get her name on her swim team’s record board. A friendship with the new girl, Harriet, develops. Harriet’s keen observations while somewhat off-putting are also perceptive: she advises Alice to switch to backstroke. While this is another change, Alice eventually realizes that she likes swimming backwards without seeing where she’s going; it gives her confidence in her ability to maneuver the pool, and life. Alice and her friends learn from one another how to find their way—realizing it is their way to find.

Tiny Infinities is an honest coming-of-age middle-grade novel. Alice understands for the first time that there is “no line between hot and cold, or warm and cool, love and not love. Tiny infinities [are] always going to be there.”

Fireflies play a clever role in the novel throughout. Beneath the book’s beautiful glimmering jacket is a stunning smooth casewrap adorned with fireflies. The brightly contrasting endpapers offer a pop of color.

  • 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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HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD. by Naama Bloom

HELLOFLO: The Guide, Period.
THE EVERYTHING PUBERTY BOOK
FOR THE MODERN GIRL
Written by Naama Bloom
Illustrated by Fleur Sciortino

 Cvr image HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD by Naama Bloom; illustrated by Fleur Sciortino

 

Read an excerpt from HELLOFLO: The Guide, Period.
Just scroll down for a taste of Chapter Seven
courtesy of Penguin Young Readers.
(Dutton Children’s Books; $19.99 Hardcover & $12.99 Paperback,
Ages 10 and up)

Tweens and teens will enjoy HELLOFLO founder Naama Bloom’s shame-free attitude towards all things period-related, making this an ideal read for girls entering puberty and interested in learning more about their bodies. Got questions about bras, cramps, facial hair, shaving or tampons? The answers are all in here. Bloom’s even included stories from girls and women who’ve been there and whose experiences will remind adolescents that they’re not alone. Know someone who needs this information or will need it soon? Consider sharing this post with its enlightening excerpt about changes that occur in the brain during puberty. They’ll want to read more. This honest and empowering guide, vetted by doctors, covers a variety of essential topics such as:

· BREAST CANCER AWARENESS: HELLOFLO encourage early detection practices, and emphasizes the importance of knowing your body, starting with instructions for giving breast self-examination (pages 40-41)
· STUFF WE WANT TO HEAR ABOUT: Like period-proof underwear and a recommendation for a good gynecologist, there is some information that is meant to be shared. Everyone has someone – a young girl, a grown woman, a mom, a dad, an aunt, a big sibling – who would want to hear about a modern and inclusive puberty guide.
· FOR YOUR FYI: What are fallopian tubes, again? Do periods attract sharks? When did modern shaving start? There is so much information packed into HELLOFLO’s colorful diagrams.

 

Int image girl and doctor HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD by Naama Bloom;

Interior artwork from HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD. by Naama Bloom; illustrated by Fleur Sciortino / Penguin Young Readers © 2017

 

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER SEVEN, MIND THE GAP:

Meet Your Brain

We’re going to talk about your brain and how it develops. This is critical information that I didn’t have until I was already a grown-up. Once I learned about this stuff, I realized how helpful it would have been to know all of this when I was still a kid. That’s why I’m sharing it with you.

What you’re about to read is an introduction, a vastly simplified overview of brain function and development to help you understand what’s happening. This is not a complete explanation; it’s really just broad strokes.

Think of your brain as your command center. In this command center there are approximately 100 billion neurons. Neurons are cells that transmit information through your brain.

int image Brain Development Age 6 from HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD.

Interior artwork from HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD. by Naama Bloom; illustrated by Fleur Sciortino / Penguin Young Readers © 2017

Your brain, and its neurons, perform important functions and are responsible for your behavior, feelings, and judgment.

Your brain completed approximately 95 percent of its development before you were six years old. Your brain, like your body, had a major growth spurt. Right now, while you’re going through puberty, your brain is having another growth spurt, and the pathways that make connections between your actions and your brain are further developing.

Have you ever seen a plasma globe? It’s a clear glass ball with a mixture of gases and an electrical current. When you aren’t touching the outside of the globe, it looks like a bunch of small lightning bolts coming from the center. Then when you touch the outside of the globe, the bolts come together to form fewer, stronger bolts. Your brain develops much like a plasma globe. There are bolts, or neural pathways, in every direction. Then, like someone’s hand is placed on the globe, the smaller neural pathways disappear in favor of fewer, stronger neural pathways.

Int image brain development age 15 from HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD

Interior artwork from HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD. by Naama Bloom; illustrated by Fleur Sciortino / Penguin Young Readers © 2017

During puberty, it’s as if there are a few hands being placed on your plasma globe to make fewer, stronger bolts. Here’s an example. If you really love to play a musical instrument and you keep playing throughout your adolescence, those pathways will become permanent and you’ll likely keep playing that instrument, or at the very least maintain the skill, for the rest of your life. But if you stop playing and practicing during adolescence, those pathways will slowly get weaker or even disappear. The cells and connections that are used frequently will survive and flourish until they essentially become hardwired. But the paths that aren’t used are the small bolts that disappeared. These pathways don’t have to be lost forever; you can always learn new skills or re-learn those that have been lost. But your chances of hardwiring skills increase if you work on them throughout your adolescent brain growth spurt.

How the Command Center Makes Decisions

The way your brain is developing also impacts the way you make decisions.

There are two parts of your brain that are critical to -decision making: the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. Think of these two parts of the brain like this: The limbic system makes decisions based on emotion, and the prefrontal cortex makes decisions based on logic. The tricky part for you is this: Your prefrontal cortex, or rational brain, is not fully developed until you are about thirty years old; those bolts in the prefrontal cortex are just starting to get stronger. But your limbic system bolts are nice and strong.

The Limbic System

The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls your emotions. It controls your tears and your laughter and your anger. This part of the brain will be pretty much fully developed by the time you go through puberty.

Your limbic system wants you to feel good. It’s the part that loves your friends. Because it’s fully developed before your prefrontal cortex, your rational brain, sometimes it can get you in difficult situations. For example, when you’re with your friends and someone has an idea to do something fun, but perhaps risky, your limbic system will get excited to ride along. Since it’s fully developed, it might get to a decision quicker than your prefrontal cortex. Your fully developed limbic system plays a big role in the peer pressure adults worry about.

Another great example of how to understand this distinction is to think about using helmets. When you’re a little kid you wear a helmet when you’re riding a scooter, riding your bike, or skiing, rarely challenging your parents. But when you get a little older, sometimes helmets seem less cool. Your brain hasn’t gotten stronger or more resistant to concussions if you fall. But you are making decisions for yourself and you are choosing what feels good, not necessarily what’s the safest. That’s your limbic system talking without getting feedback from your prefrontal cortex.

It’s nothing to be ashamed of. When I was a teen it wasn’t considered cool to zip up a winter coat and wear a hat. I still recall freezing outside with my friends in the winter because I was more concerned about pleasing them than I was about staying healthy. My limbic system won a lot back in those days.

The Prefrontal Cortex

As we discussed, the prefrontal cortex won’t be fully developed until you are roughly thirty years old. Yes, thirty! For many of us, that’s after we choose to begin families. Hard to imagine, right?

The prefrontal cortex is in charge of making rational decisions. When you were little you needed your grown-up to tell you not to touch the stove because it was too hot and you’d get burned. The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that tells you these sorts of things as you get older, so you don’t need your grown-up around all the time to make sure you don’t get hurt.

This is important so I’m saying it again:

The part of your brain that is responsible
for making rational decisions is not fully formed until you’re thirty years old.

As you get older, the decisions you’re faced with are more nuanced than whether or not you should touch a hot stove. Also, the really complicated decisions are often made with your friends who we know now impact your limbic system. That’s why this is such critical information.

An undeveloped prefrontal cortex is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. You’re still on the hook for all your actions. You remain responsible for you. However, it does mean you might have to work harder in order to make good decisions.

When you’re a grown-up all these parts work together at the same speed. When you’re going through puberty, it can sometimes feel a bit like your limbic system is in charge.

So what’s a girl to do?

For one thing, be patient. When I said your prefrontal cortex won’t be fully developed until you’re thirty that doesn’t mean that it’s not capable of making good decisions. What that means is that it operates more slowly than the other parts of your brain. So while the emotional part of the brain is moving quickly, the prefrontal cortex is sluggish to respond.

There is one thing you can do to help you make better decisions: slow down. Give your rational brain a chance to process and catch up. Find a quiet place and really think about your decisions. You’ll be glad you did.

Text excerpted from HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD by Naama Bloom / Penguin Young Readers © 2017
Images from HELLOFLO: THE GUIDE, PERIOD by Naama Bloom; illustrated by Fleur Sciortino / Penguin Young Readers © 2017

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Naama Bloom is the founder of HelloFlo.com, a modern-day health site for girls and women. Her mission for HelloFlo was to create a place where women and girls could learn about their bodies in an open and honest environment without any shame and with a healthy dose of humor. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and two children. HelloFlo:The Guide, Period. is her first book.

Naama Bloom

Fleur Sciortino

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The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET
Written by David Barclay Moore
(Random House BYR; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore cover image

 

Starred Reviews: Bulletin, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness, VOYA

The Stars Beneath Our Feet  by David Barclay Moore introduces us to Wallace “Lolly” Rachpaul, a twelve-year-old boy reeling from his older brother’s recent murder. Lolly almost thinks it’s a joke, that Jermaine will reappear and everything will be fine. However, the heaviness in Lolly’s chest makes him realize life is unfair: “it’s all about borders. And territories. And crews.”

For years, Lolly built Legos per the box’s instructions because they provided relief from the real world. When Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend begins giving him garbage bags full of Legos, it unleashes his imagination but their apartment isn’t big enough for his artistic endeavor. At his community center after-school program, Lolly finds the storage room a peaceful retreat where he can build alone, forgetting about everything else until he must share his space and blocks with a quiet girl the kids call Big Rose.

When Rose does speak, she repeats comforting words to herself: “Your mama, your daddy—they were buried under the ground, but they’re stars now, girl, stars beneath our feet.” Her seemingly obscure statements affect Lolly. Their unlikely friendship evolves to include an understanding of shared pain. In the Harlem projects, death is too commonplace.

Throughout the book, Lolly and his best friend, Vega, feel pressure to join a gang for protection; yet, that’s what led to Jermaine’s death. Lolly wavers between fear, anger, and acceptance of what seems to be his only path. The question of how to fit in pulls Vega away as they search for their own answers, boys on their way to becoming men.

Moore’s book reveals our world’s imperfections and complications. Yet, hope shines through. We relate to Lolly’s conflicting emotions and understand his worries about the future. We all must decide how to best live our lives. The Stars Beneath Our Feet shares a glimpse of one boy’s journey.

  • 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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Dreidels on the Brain by Joel ben Izzy for Readukkah

DREIDELS ON THE BRAIN
By Joel ben Izzy
(Dial BYR; $17.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Dreidels on the Brain car

 

 

When I adore a book, and I did adore Joel ben Izzy’s Dreidels on The Brain, I tend to read every last word from the dedication to the acknowledgements. In doing so I happened to find this gem at the bottom of the copyright page:

“This is a work of fiction… and of friction–the kind that filled the author’s childhood. Although much is based upon actual people, places, and events from his life, he has taken great liberties in all these realms–as well as spelling–to recount a story set over the course of the eight days of Hanukkah, 1971.”
There’s more, but you’ll just have to get a copy to read on.

Ben Izzy is a renowned storyteller and Dreidels on The Brain is his first foray into fiction for kids, middle grade readers to be precise, and I hope he writes more. His ability to convincingly convey time, place, character, conflict and voice was not lost on this reader who grew up in that era. Dreidels on The Brain is so much more than a Hanukkah story. It’s a heartwarming coming-of-age novel filled with memorable laugh out loud moments and it seems to have fun with itself and the reader who will quickly catch on to all the zany things Izzy’s included. He’s spelled Hanukkah a ton of different ways and, when he gets the opportunity, does the same with ketchup. On top of this there are lots of jokes, insight into magic tricks, great cultural references, and just the right amount of Yiddish words added to an already winning mix.

As mentioned above, Dreidels on The Brain is set in 1971, Temple City, California, just east of Los Angeles with no temple to be found. The main character’s Jewish family (whose last name shall not be revealed here) actually attends a temple or synagogue in nearby Rosemead. Joel, the self-proclaimed funny-looking main character, is short, has braces, wears glasses, and is the odd man out as the school’s only Jewish student.

Nine chapters take readers through Joel’s eight days and nights of Hanukkah. Ben Izzy has managed to seamlessly weave magic, miracles, matzoh balls, and music from Fiddler on The Roof into an unforgettable story of a boy, on the cusp of adulthood according to the Jewish religion, wanting to be anyone, but himself. This all plays out over the Hanukkah holiday while touching upon faith, family, friends, and one particular female named Amy O’Shea. Readers will find it easy to root for the lovable protagonist and, like him and the message of his dreidel game, wish that a great miracle could happen there.

Joel, a tween with soon-to-be teen angst, is questioning his belief in God as he navigates his role as school dork, token Jew, and the youngest son in his family of five including two older brothers. His parents are struggling financially, but his mom never gives up hope for better times ahead. His dad, unemployed, is always on the verge of creating the next must-have invention, all while coping with his debilitating arthritis. Although it’s clear there’s much love in Joel’s family, as seen through the eyes of this twelve-year-old boy, there’s not much to be desired about his life. For example, he never gets a Hanukkah present as it’s simply not affordable. Joel does manage to make some spending money by performing magic tricks at parties, but when classmate Amy suggests they team up because an assistant will add to a magic show’s appeal, Joel finds himself falling for this girl he considers to be way out of his league.

The plot lines center around Joel having to perform a magic show at his grandma’s nursing home, his dad needing surgery over Hanukkah, and an invitation from the principal to present the Hanukkah story to the entire school at a special assembly. Will everything go according to plan convincing Joel that miracles can happen? “All I can do is answer the way Jews always do–with another question. Why not?”

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel for #Readukkah
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Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad

IRON RAILS, IRON MEN, AND THE RACE TO LINK THE NATION
The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad
Written by Martin W. Sandler
(Candlewick Press; $22.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

iron-rails-iron-men

Prepare to not want to put down this fascinating nonfiction book called Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation by Emmy Award and Pulitzer prize winning historian, Martin W. Sandler.

In the early nineteenth century it took six months to travel coast to coast by horse and wagon. Rugged terrain and violent weather made the journey difficult and dangerous. The alternative, sailing around Cape Horn, took at least six months and was equally dangerous.

Dreams of a transcontinental railroad had great promise: quicker travel time, new communities, and improved opportunities for trade and commerce. It took years to advocate and raise money for this massive project. When President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, two companies, the Central Pacific, laying tracks eastward, and the Union Pacific, laying tracks westwards, raced to complete the job.

The work required staggering feats of engineering, which award-winning historian MartinW. Sandler effectively demonstrates using period photos and weaving mind-blowing facts into the narrative. Workers had to blast through mountains to build tunnels and erected some of the highest bridges known. Supplies had to be hauled over mountains on horseback or cart to the workers. Conditions were grueling: prairie fires, cattle stampedes, severe weather, and Native American attacks. Each job had its physical challenges: imagine graders who hauled tons of dirt away or track layers who lifted and placed rails that weighed 500 to 700 pounds!

Sandler critically examines more controversial issues such as corruption, discrimination against the highly efficient Chinese workers, and the severe impact on the life and culture of the Plains Indians.

When the two rails finally met, tens of thousands of workers had laid over 18,000 miles of track and joined the two coasts of a rugged continent. Travel time, coast to coast, was reduced to one week.

The author has made dramatic use of archival photographs to enhance the engaging and informative text, all accompanied by easy to follow maps. A fascinating final chapter discusses what happened to the main personalities. Educators and parents should check out the publisher’s great teacher’s guide and audio excerpt. Highly recommended for teachers and librarians serving grades 5 and up and a great resource for 19th century United States history and train enthusiasts.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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An Interview with Raymie Nightingale Author Kate DiCamillo

AN INTERVIEW WITH KATE DICAMILLO

ABOUT RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE

by Hilary Taber

Raymie Nightingale book cover by Kate DiCamillo

 

We’re back again today with more on Kate DiCamillo’s latest middle grade novel, Raymie Nightingale. Hilary Taber’s got some terrific questions lined up for a chance to get the author’s insights about writing this moving story.

INTERVIEW

Hilary Taber: Raymie is a character that is dear to my heart. She’s going through such a hard time, and at the same time she’s looking for what is true about life, what is real, what can be counted on. Is Raymie like you in this way or is that a particular facet of her character?

Kate DiCamillo: Raymie, oh Raymie. Raymie is very much like me. In particular, she is very much like me as a child.

HT: Raymie’s father’s secretary, Mrs. Sylvester, is such a sweetheart. It’s sort of like Raymie gets to have a very practical, straightforward mentor and encourager on the phone whenever she needs someone. Mrs. Borkowski is almost like the opposite of Mrs. Sylvester. She says such mysterious things that make you wonder if they are true somehow. Are these characters based on someone you know or are they both a symbol of the archetypal wise woman?

Novelist Kate DiCamillo, author of Raymie Nightingale

Children’s book author, Kate DiCamillo, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014–2015 and winner of a Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor.

KDC: I had the great good-fortune of growing up on a dead-end street in a small town. One side of the street was families with young children; and on the other side of the street there were three widows: Mrs. Lucas, Mrs. Lindemann and Mrs. Broadfield. These ladies all kept their doors and hearts open to the kids on the street. I could also go and sit on Mrs. Lindemann’s porch and talk with her. Mrs. Sylvester and Mrs. Borkowski are fictional characters, but they are also a way of thanking those ladies.

HT: Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana each have a problem of their own. Their shared suffering seems to unite them until they are almost a little family. Are these three friends going to make it? I believe that Raymie will make it, but I worry about Beverly and Louisiana. You’ve got me so invested in them!

KDC: I believe—absolutely—that all three of them will make it. I have no doubt about this.

HT: I’m fascinated by Louisiana’s bunny barrettes. They seem like Louisiana herself – present but also little, a tiny bit removed from reality. Did you make those up or did you ever see anyone who wore those?

KDC: Oh boy. And: bless you. I had bunny barrettes. I lost them in Mrs. Lucas’ backyard.

HT: As a child, did you have a book about a larger than life hero like Raymie did? Was there a particular person that you considered your hero when you were a child?

KDC: Librarians were my heroes. Teachers were my heroes. Anybody who put a book in my hand was my hero.

HT: Marsha Jean. Marsha Jean haunts me. Marsha Jean is not real, but yet she is. She’s the, “…ghost of what’s to come.” She’s a person that Louisiana’s grandmother has made up to keep her granddaughter on her toes. What made you think of writing about Louisiana who is pursued by the unknown?

KDC: Hmmm. I don’t know. So much of what happens in a story is not planned out by me, but is rather a surprise to me. So I don’t know how this happened. I do know that I am familiar with that feeling of being pursued by the unknown.

HT: Beverly is initially such a gritty realist, but she can be very sweet. Louisiana is more vague and kind initially, but she can be strongly adamant about how there is room to hope. Where do you see Raymie to be? Is Raymie somewhere between these two?

KDC: Raymie is somewhere in the middle, yes. She is an introvert, a hoper, a watcher. Like me.

HT: The more I read Raymie Nightingale, the more I realized that wisdom and truth are ever present in everyday life. Raymie is someone who listens for it. She listens for people to say something true, something wise. Were you like Raymie when you were a child? Did you listen for a certain phrase or words of truth like Raymie does?

KDC: I did. I still do.

Many thanks to Kate DiCamillo for answering my questions, and to the entire team at Candlewick! As Kate is my writing hero I treasure this chance to interview her. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity I will not soon forget. Summer reading is coming up! Be sure to go to your local indie bookstore and get a copy of Raymie Nightingale today. I can’t imagine anyone else that I would rather spend the summer with than Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana a.k.a. The Three Rancheros!
Click here to read Hilary’s review of Raymie Nightingale from Monday, May 16th.
Click here for Kate DiCamillo’s Facebook page.
Click here for Kate DiCamillo’s website.

  • Interview courtesy of Kate DiCamillo and Hilary Taber

 

Kate DiCamillo Raymie Nightingale Tour

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Raymie Nightingale written by Kate DiCamillo

RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo book cover

 

Reviewer Hilary Taber calls Raymie Nightingale, “A rare and hopeful song.” But after reading her review, you’ll discover, as with all DiCamillo’s books, it’s that and so much more

Raymie Clarke is preparing herself to enter the Little Miss Florida Central Tire competition. Her father has recently run off with a dental hygienist, and Raymie is determined to win so that he will see Raymie’s picture in a newspaper and will, of course, come back to his family. This is the initial plan, but like most plans it doesn’t turn out the way that Raymie originally intended. First of all she needs to learn how to twirl a baton in order to win the competition. It is during those baton twirling classes that she meets her “rancheros”, her new friends who become like family. Gritty, but sweet Beverly, and storyteller extraordinaire Louisiana, help her through this hard time. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is more than just a little girl with a big dream to get her father to come home. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is destined for adventures with her new friends that show Raymie that she is the hero of her own difficult time. Raymie finds that somewhere in her is a person who is stronger than the storms of life. She also learns that, with help from her friends, she can manage to make her way to a new life full of goodness and grace. It is a life that she could have never imagined when she began making her plans to turn things around. Kate DiCamillo delivers yet another wonderful novel that makes you believe again in the strong, incredible power of friendship and hope.

It is that rare quality of combining sorrow with sweetness that makes every book she writes life affirming. Every book is like watching a sweet spring creep over a winter world. Often as a children’s bookseller, I see an absolute faith placed in her books by the children who read them. Even though the story might be hard to read, the children show a willingness to take the journey with Kate. Time and time again I wonder what it is that they are feeling when they look at her books in their little hands. I think it’s something akin to knowing that she is telling them the truth. There is a certain peace in that. Kate tells us that life is hard, but you should always hope. Hope is real, hope is something to hold on to, hope is the stuff of life.

On a personal note I feel that Kate DiCamillo is the E.B. White of our generation. Like White she is adept in the art of condensing profound thoughts into short, but amazing sentences. I was honored to meet her recently and to have my copy of Raymie Nightingale signed. I think it’s worth noting that beyond the wonderful writing is a very brave writer. Kate has personally been through the very hard experience of having an absent father, and she has courageously taken up the task of writing about this time in her life. That had to be difficult. Ultimately I think her bravery in writing about this time in her life will help to heal others who have gone though something similar. So, here is to one amazing writer who is also incredibly resilient, just like Raymie.

Come back tomorrow to read Hilary’s interview with Kate DiCamillo to get the inside scoop.
Download a teacher’s guide here.
Download a book discussion guide here.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber
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Coloring Books To Brighten Everyone’s Christmas

GIVE THE GIFT OF COLOR

BRIGHTEN YOUR CHILD’S CHRISTMAS BREAK
WITH THIS COOL COLLECTION OF COLORING BOOKS

 

Juli Barry’s dipped into them all and has this to say:

Christmas to Color
by Mary Tanana
(HarperCollins; $15.99, Ages 4 and up)

ChristmastoColorcvr_Looking for a way to keep the peace during holiday gatherings? Or do you need a way to get those eternally bored teens to put down the phone and interact with family members?  Try gathering those cousins around a table and color together! Mary Tanana’s Christmas to Color provides ultra-attractive, over-sized pages of beautiful Christmas scenes to tempt even the grouchiest Grinches of the family! Snowflakes, wreaths, ornaments in detail, and so many other festive designs are sure to add amusement to any family gathering. Tanana cleverly draws some designs that can be cut out and placed in outlined areas on facing pages. “Trim” an intricately decorated tree with colored pens or pencils, then place it in the blank center of a background of poinsettias and mistletoe. Or have the relatives color any of the pages of sleds or stockings, animals and stars and so much more, to create a collage of everyone’s work.

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Bright and cheery stocking colored by Juli Barry from artwork in Christimas to Color by Mary Tanana, HarperCollins, ©2015.

ChristmastoColor

Twinkling toppers colored by Juli Barry from artwork in Christimas to Color by Mary Tanana, HarperCollins, ©2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IHeartColoringFlowers.jpgColoring books are all the rage this year and they come in every size and theme. Lizzie Preston and Jane Ryder-Gray, Jess Bradley, and Felicity French all illustrate a new, smaller (6” X 6”) coloring book series appropriately entitled I Heart Coloring … These make great stocking stuffers and provide fun distractions during those holiday trips in planes, trains, and autos. Specifically, I Heart Coloring Flowers with artwork by Preston and Ryder-Gray includes intricate floral patterns and challenging motifs as well as lighter fare for those just starting out. You can mat and frame your completed pages and give them as presents, or cut out particular flowers and add them to hand-made cards. Use now or save for Valentine’s Day or Easter.

TheNeonColoringBookCheck out the bold, over-sized The Neon Coloring Book with its hints of neon orange and pink adorning pages of animals, skateboards (!!) and other funky objects. Black or neon-colored backgrounds radiate other pages of delights to color. So buy a pack or two of neon markers and join in the fun! Coloring provides both a quiet way to interact with loved ones and a creative break from all the work and stress of the holidays. And Price Stern Sloan has a tempting array of coloring books sure to brighten everyone’s day!

 

 

I Heart Coloring
by Felicity French
I Heart Cute Coloring
by Jess Bradley

I Heart Coloring Flowers
by Lizzie Preston and Jane Ryder-Gray

(Price Stern Sloane; $9.99 each, Ages 10 and up)

The Neon Coloring Book
by Richard Merritt, Amanda Hillier, and Felicity French
(Price Stern Sloane; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

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The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

 

THE BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND
Written by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
Illustrated by Anna Hymas
Young Readers Edition of the New York Times Bestseller
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

the boy who harnessed the wind, YR edition

This book was first released as adult fiction in 2009, then as a children’s picture book in 2012. For this review, I refer to the Young Readers Edition, published earlier this year.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is an inspirational underdog story about an African boy who changes his world through ingenuity, willpower, and imagination.

Consider that, at the outset of the book—from the very title itself—the reader realizes William Kamkwamba will build a windmill. We know victory is on the horizon, yet we still fall into the book’s pages to walk at his side on this amazing path.

This book’s prologue begins in the middle of the action, when the windmill is first built. Teen-aged William climbs to the top to try it out. The writing clearly evokes images relevant in William’s world: “The muscles in my back and arms had grown hard as green fruit from all the pulling and lifting.” His family, and the unbelievers, watch expectantly from below. Together with them, we celebrate William’s first success.

The story then falls back to 1997 (William is nine years old) and unfolds chronologically past the scene in the prologue. William tells us where Wimbe, Malawi, is located and what the African village is like. He includes a sampling of his language and introduces his family, describing their lives as maize (white corn) farmers. Their daily porridge of maize flour and hot water called nsima is so essential to their diet that even if they were to eat a steak dinner they would say, “There was no food there.” We are immersed in the Malawi world. However, when William realizes his area’s beliefs in magic and wizardry do not work, he looks for answers elsewhere but his resources seem limited.

A famine and cholera sweep the land (2001-02). William must drop out of secondary school because his family cannot pay the tuition. He recalls a recently-opened three-shelf library in a primary school; the books donated by the American government. In these science books he finds the explanations he seeks for his various tinker projects. When William sees his first photo of a windmill, his path is forever changed. William teaches himself to read the textbooks in English then he gathers discarded items with the dream to build his own windmill, improving his family’s and his village’s quality of living. One piece at a time—with many setbacks—the windmill takes shape.

In November 2006, the world discovers this incredible teen and his life moves in a new direction. We realize with hopeful anticipation that William’s accomplishments thus far are merely the beginning.

– Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Today we welcome guest reviewer, Christine Van Zandt.
She’s a writer, editor, and owner of www.write-for-success.com.
Find her on Twitter @WFSediting, and contact her at christine@write-for-success.com.
WriteForSuccess-MD-HiRes

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The Poe Estate by Polly Shulman

Wishing You a Pleasant Haunting!

THE POE ESTATE
Written by Polly Shulman
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

ThePoeEstatecvr.jpeg

 

Take a bow, Polly Shulman! This latest and final installment in the New-York Circulating Materials Repository series had me turning pages late into the night. In The Poe Estate Sukie O’Dare’s life has been turned upside down. After the death of her sister, Kitty, the O’Dare family finds that they have fallen on hard times. It makes financial sense to move in with elderly Cousin Hepzibah, a relative on her mother’s side on the family, the Thornes. What Sukie’s parents don’t know is that the ghost of Sukie’s sister, Kitty, is still a part of Sukie’s everyday life. Kitty was Sukie’s protector in life and Kitty is not going to go back on that promise anytime soon. However, the longer Kitty is around, the less likely it is that anyone will want to be Sukie’s friend. Kitty feels that she should have a say in who is Sukie’s friend and who is not. With financial troubles, a move to a new house, and an overly concerned ghostly sister, it’s a wonder how Sukie is going to reorient her life.

Lucky for Sukie, her gift of being able to sense the supernatural is now going to come in very handy. Ancestors who are missing family treasure haunt the Thorne home! It is up to Sukie to lay the past to rest for all her family, including Kitty. Sukie is a goodhearted heroine with a gift that the New-York Circulating Materials Repository (a lending library of magical objects) finds extremely useful. Sukie is able to tell if an acquisition is haunted enough to be included in the Poe Estate which is a collection of haunted houses and items. The Poe Estate has its own problems with a wily collector of antiques proving to be a worthy nemesis for Sukie. Moreover, the librarians at the repository are trying to find Sukie’s family treasure before the collector does.

Enchanted broom sticks ready for flying, a dip into the literary realm of supernatural tales, making a new friend, and a family treasure hunt all add up to page turning adventure. This reader was kept up past her bedtime because she had to find out what happened next. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy a good mystery that never gets too scary. Although it’s not necessary to read the first two books  (The Grimm Legacy and The Wells Bequest) in the series, it is rewarding to find that some of the characters from the previous books make reappearances.

Fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society will find much to love in this latest and last book in the series. The Poe Estate is imaginative, daring and fun reading that suits the upcoming Halloween season perfectly!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber
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Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

FISH IN A TREE
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
(Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Booklist & School Library Journal

Fish-In-Tree-cvr.jpgDyslexia, and other learning disabilities, can be invisible, isolating, and confusing. For a fifth-grader like Ally, it only adds to life’s problems. She’s also dealing with school bullies, a transient, military lifestyle, and missing her dad who’s been deployed overseas for several months. She copes with these difficulties by acting out in class, working very hard to hide her learning problems, and keeping to herself.

Enter Ally’s hero, 5th grade substitute teacher, Mr. Daniels. In Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Mr. Daniels is the first teacher who’s been able to see through her defiance and acting-out, and identify a learning disability. Mr. Daniels inspires Ally to realize her other strengths and to think of the “IM-possible” as “possible.” After receiving tutoring from Mr. Daniels, Ally finally begins to come out of her shell and enjoy life due to her newfound confidence.

Readers will recognize the authentic and endearing characters who eventually become Ally’s friends. Keisha is a sassy new student who is looking for buddies while trying to avoid mean girl Shay. Albert is a brilliant, kind, and very logical boy who might be on the Autism Spectrum and also has his own after-school bullies to avoid. There’s also Oliver, a hyper-active and kind boy who craves attention; Suki, a new girl from Japan; and Michelle, Shay’s toady who is beginning to see the light.

The author’s description of the teacher, Mr. Daniels, is particularly touching. Hunt has created a realistic character who is fair, intuitive, and devoted to his job.  In Fish in A Tree, we read of the many ways Mr. Daniels is able to bring out the best in each of his students (his “Fantasticos”). He creates a secret hand signal to tell Oliver to calm down. He creates class games and projects that reward the kids who might not typically succeed in the classroom. He also takes extra time to work with Ally and help her see her strengths.

Fish in A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt will have you rooting for Ally while gaining an understanding of what it’s like to live with Dyslexia. If you’re looking for a realistic feel-good book about adolescence, this will hit the spot. The characters, their relationships, and their struggles are so real, and the ending will make you smile and wish for a sequel.

– Guest Review by Maggie Moore

Click here for a curriculum guide for FISH IN A TREE

Read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s blog here.

Maggie-Moore.jpgAbout today’s Guest Reviewer: Maggie Moore is a third grade teacher
and a voracious reader. She lives in Los Angeles with her two rascally
sons and a small zoo of pets.

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