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

 

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

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

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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