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Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe

GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER:
The True Story of The Emmett Till Case
Written by Chris Crowe
(Speak/Dial BYR; $10.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

cover image from Getting Away With Murder by Chris Crowe

 

Author Chris Crowe first wrote Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of The Emmett Till Case, a riveting and award-winning nonfiction book, back in 2003. Today I’m reviewing a revised edition that “has been updated to reflect the newest information about Emmett’s life and untimely death …” which should be read by every teen to understand the Jim Crow era South and “the hate crime that helped spark the civil rights movement.” 

In the L.A. Times on Friday, July 13, I read that the Emmett Till case has once again been reopened based upon new information that has come to the attention of authorities. I needed to know more. Over the years I only learned snippets about the case because, like a majority of students to this day, I was never taught the Till case in school. Now that I’ve read Crowe’s engaging, well-crafted and meticulously researched book, I know about the grave miscarriage of justice that occurred in Mississippi in 1955. In an intro, eight chapters, a detailed time line plus back matter, Crowe examines events leading up to the brazen and brutal murder of 14-year-old African American, Emmett Till, the subsequent trial and later developments that culminated in the exhumation of Till’s body. Crowe’s also tied in the Black Lives Matter movement that grew out of the senseless Trayvon Martin killing. For those yet to read Getting Away With Murder, Crowe puts all the events that take place into historical context by educating us about current events of the time period. For example, the heinous, racist crime against Till took place three months prior to Rosa Parks’ historic bus activism and was an important catalyst in the civil rights movement. Covering the case should be part of every school’s curriculum especially given that innocent black lives continue to be taken 63 years on.

Emmett Till and his mother lived in Chicago, but when his Uncle Mose Wright, a sharecropper from the Mississippi Delta region, invited him for a visit, he jumped at the opportunity to spend time with his family. It was the summer following eighth grade and fun-loving Emmett was feeling good. His mother, on the other hand, felt nervous. Mrs. Mamie Till Bradley knew that, while she and her son lived in a segregated Chicago neighborhood, theirs was a relatively racial violence free existence. Emmett didn’t have to deal with the harsh realities and repercussions of the Deep South Jim Crow era laws. But Mamie was from Mississippi. She worried Emmett wouldn’t take the law or her advice seriously and sadly she mother was right. He found her cautions silly.

Once with his southern family, Emmett was boastful about his life in Chicago, about how he interacted with and claimed to date white women. Not long after his arrival, in the nearby town of Money, Till was egged on by his cousins. He went into Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, a small white-owned store belonging to Roy and Carolyn, to chat up the woman. Bryant was out of town on a delivery and his wife was alone in the store. Things turned bad quickly when Emmett, who didn’t “appreciate the seriousness of this Southern taboo …” entered Bryan’t market, asked for some candy and then made a pass at Carolyn. According to her statement, “… when she held out her hand for his money, … he grabbed it, pulled her toward him, and said, ‘How about a date, baby?'” Some other interaction occurred as well. This was followed by a wolf whistle after Emmett had been pulled from the store by his friends.

When nothing happened for several nights everyone thought Emmett was in the clear. As we know, such was not the case. When Bryant returned from his trip, he and his half-brother, J. W. “Big” Milam, kidnappped Emmett in the middle of the night. The men felt retaliation was required to defend Bryant’s wife’s honor and teach the boy a lesson so they tortured him. When he was defiant, they killed him. One of five lawyers, J. J. Breland, who eventually took on the defendant’s case said they all felt intense pressure to “let the North know that we are not going to put up with Northern negroes ‘stepping over the line.'” As the title implies, the men were acquitted. While in their minds justice prevailed, it clearly had not. The case won national coverage due to multiple reasons, but one of the most crucial ones was Mamie Till Bradley’s decision to have an open casket at Emmett’s funeral so the world could see just what had been done to her son.

Getting Away With Murder explains how much of what happened that summer was driven by racism, fear and anger. Bryant and his fellow Southerners were unhappy about the recent Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating desegregation in schools. The majority of the population in the segregated South did not want their way of life to change, especially if dictated by Northerners. But it was truly the beginning of the end for them.

There were many surprises in the book for me but I don’t want to share them all here. While their significance is of the utmost importance, I think they have to be read first hand to appreciate the implications and feel the outrage. What’s sad about this pivotal event in our country’s history is that while a lot has changed, a lot has unfortunately remained the same in regards to racism. Last night I described the Emmett Till case to my husband who had never heard of it. My 17-year-old son had. My son said he found out more details from me than what he had originally learned. My husband thanked me. We must keep sharing the story. I recommend picking up a copy of Chris Crowe’s book for your teens. They will thank you .

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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We’re Onboard for Love & Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen

LOVE & OTHER TRAIN WRECKS
Written by Leah Konen
(Katherine Tegen Books; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)

 

Cover art for Love & Other Train Wrecks

 

Starred Review – Kirkus, School Library Journal

This twenty-four-hour whirlwind journey in Love & Other Train Wrecks begins with Amarantha “Ammy” West and Noah Adler seated in the same Amtrak car. Their first impressions of one another are stiff and uncomfortable. Noah, eighteen, travels, pink roses in hand, to surprise his ex-girlfriend with fancy dinner reservations and a heartfelt poem. An optimistic, good-looking guy, he attempts to engage Ammy in conversation, but she bristles against his easy-going personality.

Seventeen-year-old Ammy is escaping from the mess her life has become since her father left and her mother plunged into anger and anxiety attacks. Though Ammy’s trying to be supportive of her mother, she seems to hit it off with her new stepsister Kat. Attending her father’s commitment ceremony (before the divorce is even final) tests Ammy’s allegiance to Team Mom. Ammy surely doesn’t want to share any of her personal drama with an annoyingly friendly stranger like Noah.

When the Amtrak train stops due to mechanical error, Noah and Ammy, determined to reach their respective destinations on time, disembark into a snowstorm. GPS makes a bus station seem an easy walk, but, instead, the frozen trek filled with mishaps turns into an adventure of a lifetime.

All the while, Ammy and Noah contemplate their places in the world including what it means to make your own decisions and then face those consequences. Konen’s choice to write alternating viewpoint chapters works well to show what each character shares or conceals. The chapters are also fast-paced and consistently satisfying. As the attraction between the main characters builds, Ammy struggles to come to terms with how romantic relationships can hurt friends and family and how to handle those conflicts of interest. Falling (and staying) in love, while wonderful, isn’t necessarily easy.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

Books for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Best Halloween Books for Kids

BEST HALLOWEEN BOOKS FOR KIDS 2015
A Round Up of Wickedly Wonderful Halloween Books for Boos & Ghouls
{Part 2}

 

BOOKS, THE BEST TREAT OF ALL!!

FancyNancyCandyBonanzaFancy Nancy Candy Bonanza 
Based on the creation of Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (Harper Festival; $4.99, Ages 4-8)
Fancy Nancy fans and those newly acquainted avec la petite fille adorable, will be in for a treat with this newest addition to the beloved series. Dressed up as, no surprise, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Fancy Nancy’s going trick-or-treating but must not overdo it as her mom has requested. How much candy will go in her pail versus in her mouth is the big question because everything Fancy Nancy gets looks scrumptious?! Stickers are a bonus to keep or give out to friends this Halloween.

Itsrainingbats&frogsIt’s Raining Bats & Frogs
Written by Rebecca Colby and illustrated by Steven Henry (Feiwel & Friends; $16.99, Ages 4-8)
This unique story idea and imaginative artwork will have your kids rethinking rain just like the little witch Delia does in It’s Raining Bats & Frogs. As the title hints, the problem is each time Delia casts a spell and changes the rain into something else to make the Witch Parade less boring, like cats & dogs, hats & clogs or bats & frogs, pandemonium ensues! Maybe some water isn’t so bad after all when you consider (or actually experience) the alternatives!

 

HappyHalloweenWitchesCatHappy Halloween, Witch’s Cat!
Written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster (Harper Collins Children’s Books; $15.99, Ages 4-8)
This new picture book is visually delightful. You may even find yourself wanting to try recreating a scene as a craft project with your child or making up your own scene. Muncaster has created the artwork for Happy Halloween, Witch’s Cat incorporating “… handcrafted miniature three-dimensional scenes using paper, foil, fabric, and other materials.” She then adds lighting, takes photos and voilà, a unique and exciting spread is created. The book’s as much a story about mommy and daughter together time as it a Halloween tale. “My mom is a witch, and I am her special witch’s cat.” Together the two go in search of the perfect costume for the young girl although nothing is just right. And, after all the hunting, in the end, a simple switcheroo turns out to be the best idea yet! Mom can be the witch’s cat and the daughter can be the witch. Problem solved in a most magical way.

IWanttoEatYourBooksI Want to Eat Your Books
Written by Karin LeFranc and illustrated by Tyler Parker (Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-6)
I can never read enough books about libraries, bookstores and books themselves and LeFranc’s debut, I Want to Eat Your Books, satisfied that desire with a story not too scary for little ones, yet cute and humorous enough to keep ’em wanting to hear more. This read aloud rhyming picture book introduces a book chomping, bulgy-eyed, zombie boy whose goal is to devour all the library books at school! “The creature marches down the aisle and stops at Sci-Fi with a smile. Such crispy pages strewn with words. Our creature’s craving seconds – thirds!” But a clever student manages to turn the zombie’s hunger to eat books into one eager to hear them read aloud instead. Once instilled with an appreciation of the written word, it’s the zombie who saves the school from a mummy on the loose who easily gets wrapped up in a great story shared by zombie boy.

RiseoftheZombieRabbitRise of the Zombie Rabbit: Undead Pets #5 
Written by Sam Hay and illustrated by Simon Cooper (Grosset & Dunlap; $5.99, Ages 6-8)
How did I not read numbers 1-4 of this hit series before picking up the latest? Ideal for reluctant readers and those looking for a quick, fun read, Rise of the Zombie Rabbit, kept me thoroughly entertained. It’s light on unsettling frights making it fine for nighttime reading. Main character, Joe, frequently gets visited by Undead Pets and this time it’s Fluffy rabbit who steals the show when she suddenly appears in a magic trick at Joe’s sixth-grade talent contest. This zombie bunny, however, won’t go away and leave Joe in peace until she gets Joe to help her find her owner’s lost necklace. Well actually the necklace had been borrowed which is the reason for the urgency in tracking it down. But how is Joe supposed to find it when the lawn it may be lost on belongs to Mr. Steel, Joe’s new neighbor who also happens to be a police officer?

BellaDonnaCovenRoadBella Donna: Coven Road
Written by Ruth Symes and illustrated by Marion Lindsay (Sky Pony Press; $7.99, Ages 7-10)
What’s Halloween without some witches? Bella Donna and Sam are orphans living at Templeton Children’s Home. Bella Donna has wanted to be a witch since she can remember. Sam’s into all things creepy, crawly and wants a family that won’t mind his passion for worms and bugs. However both kids are told to keep these interests private. Then Lilith visits the orphanage and it’s clear she’s looking to adopt a child with Bella Donna’s “unique special skills.” Does she know the little girl’s actually a witch? Could Bella Donna be the perfect girl Lilith would want to keep after the trial month? It’s only when Bella Donna comes home early from school that she discovers Coven Road, with its thirteen houses, has changed drastically, and it could only mean one thing. The road, like its residents, is magical, and just the right place for a witchling (a young witch in training) like Bella Donna. This paperback has ten chapters all featuring black and white illustrations (my fave is the one of Coven Road) and is a quick read. It’s the first in a new series, and is sure to attract the interest of kids tweens into witchy adventures. Check out the book’s website at BellaDonnaOnline.co.uk to find out more about Bella Donna, her friends and the next book in the series, Too Many Spells.

SlasherGirls&MonsterBoysSlasher Girls & Monster Boys
Stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke (Dial; $17.99, Ages 12 and up)
Caution: do not read at bedtime or while home alone. Then again, for those of us who thrive on thrillers, go ahead, read it in the dark, play some foreboding organ music, and prepare to be unnerved by this fabulous collection of short stories certain to keep you coming back for more. This “powerhouse anthology featuring  some of the best thriller and horror writers around” includes stories from Marie Lu, Carrie Ryan, Leigh Bardugo and Jonathan Maberry. The fourteen tales offer something eerie or supernatural for everyone, not only for Halloween, but year ’round if you prefer to be scared silly in spring or summer instead. Creaking floorboards, blood, chicken bones, lightning and pelting rain, they’re all here to unsettle us and they do so exquisitely. Finish a story and find the source of its inspiration at the end, upside-down. You’ll find influences as varied as Stephen King’s Carrie to Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and will be impressed by the talent that’s been brought together to totally creep you out. Enjoy!

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Buy these great books by clicking here.

Other Books You Should Definitely Read at Halloween:

TheRunaway PumpkinThe Runaway Pumpkin: A Halloween Adventure Story
Written by Anne Margaret Lewis and illustrated by Aaron Zenz
(Sky Pony Press; $15.99, Ages 3-6)

 

 

 

CarlsHalloweenCarl’s Halloween
Written and illustrated by Alexandra Day
(Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux; $14.99, Ages 3-7)

 

 

 

 

ScaredyCatSplatScaredy-Cat, Splat!
Written and illustrated by Rob Scotton
(Harper Collins Children’s Books; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

OtterLovesHalloweenOtter Loves Halloween! 
Written and illustrated by Sam Garton
(Balzer + Bray; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 


SeenandNotHeardSeen and Not Heard

Written and illustrated by Katie May Green
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

Mr. Pants: Trick or Feet!
Written by Scott McCormick and illustrated by R.H. Lazzell
(Dial Books for Young Readers; $12.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

 

ScreamStreetFlameoftheDragonScream Street: Flame of the Dragon
Written by Tommy Donbavand
(Candlewick Press: $5.99, Ages 8-12)

 

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

by Candace Fleming is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.

⭐︎Starred Reviews in Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and The Horn Book

9780375867828.jpg.172x250_q85I spent several evenings during my recent vacation immersed in the late 1800s and early 1900s thanks to the riveting writing of Candace Fleming. Her latest historical nonfiction young adult novel reminded me of why I devour these types of books. I may know the ending, but it’s getting there that’s the best part, and essentially every chapter of The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia ( Schwartz & Wade, $18.99, Ages 12 and up) is the best part!

How many teens know the fascinating story behind the last Russian royal family – the real story, not the glamorized version of films and legend? While I’ve traveled to Russia a handful of times, I clearly was not aware of all the details and all the players Fleming wrote about. I felt certain that The Family Romanov would fill in all the gaps and enlighten me so I couldn’t wait to head off on holiday for some quality reading time. I just didn’t realize how conflicted my feelings would be about this fateful period in world history and have been thinking about the book and its characters ever since.

Reminiscent of an Erik Larson novel with its intertwining plot lines, in-depth character exploration and deft mixing of current events and first hand accounts, The Family Romanov takes readers on a journey through history that eventually leads to the rise of Lenin, the disastrous Romanov downfall and the Russian Revolution.

Nicholas II, Imperial Russia’s last tsar, we learn, was not only unprepared to take the throne in 1894 following his father’s death, but he was uninterested in the role as well. That alone explains his pathetic attempt at running of his country. In fact, Fleming takes us further back to “a frosty March day in 1881 …,” for it was on that day that thirteen-year-old Nicholas’s grandfather, Tsar Alexander II, was killed by a bomb that “landed between his feet,” laying the groundwork for events that would ultimately change the course of the 20th century geopolitical world. The deceased liberal tsar was replaced by Nicholas’s father, Alexander III, whose harsh autocracy would reign for 13 years only to be succeeded by the ill-equipped son for whom he held contempt.

We are also introduced to a young Alexandra, granddaughter to Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Once married to Nicholas, the Empress Alexandra bears him four daughters (including Anastasia) and a hemophiliac son and heir to the throne, Alexei. She also encourages her husband to retreat from public life and begins depending more and more on a charlatan named Rasputin whose alleged healing powers help keep Alexei alive. This mystic manages to wield much influence on the Romanovs and, despite the scandal that their dependence on Rasputin brings, they naively allow him to dictate many political decisions that further alienate the family from the Russian people.

Add WWI and immeasurable loss of life to this scenario of two immensely wealthy and privileged “Imperial Majesties” who are in total denial as to the deplorable lives the vast majority of their citizens lead, and you have the classic makings of a truth is stranger than fiction story guaranteed to keep your eyes glued to the page. Get ready for a gripping novel that warrants more than one read and a place on every bookshelf.

 

Sky’s the Limit

  • thI never turn down an opportunity to read non-fiction books about women who have accomplished great things, especially those pioneers who set out to do what few women attempted during the era in which they lived. There’s nothing more inspiring and motivating than learning about the great accomplishments of those who, against all odds, followed their dreams and left extraordinary marks in world history. Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions and Record-Setting Journeys ($19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) by Karen Bush Gibson, presents the important roles women played from the earliest days of flight travel.

On March 8, 1910, seven years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk, Raymonde de Laroche from France became the first woman to earn a pilot’s license. The first American woman to earn her pilot’s license (1911) was Harriet Quimby, who was also the first woman to fly 350 miles across the English Channel (1912). Neta Snook, from Illinois, was so determined to fly a plane that she applied and was accepted to a flight school and then bought a small plane that was in disrepair and fixed it herself.  In the 1920s she was approached by a woman who asked if Snook would give her flying lessons. That woman was Amelia Earheart, who was inspired by Quimby to learn to fly.  Snook taught Amelia to fly at a cost of 75¢ per minute – a lot of money at that time!  Though Earheart attempted to fly around the world in 1937, her plane disappeared, never to be found. It wasn’t until 1964 that a woman successfully flew around the world and that woman was Geraldine Mack; she flew over 29,000 miles in just over 29 days.

There are so many other fascinating women in this book, like Elinor Smith, a 17-year-old who flew her plane under New York City’s four bridges. British born, Beryl Markham took flight from England in 1936 to journey 3,500 miles across the Atlantic in 22 hours. Her aviation chart flew out of the plane shortly after her journey began, and there was no radio on board. But somehow she made it to Nova Scotia, where her fuel line froze and her aircraft began to fall at a rapid rate. Through her pilot skills, she was able to get control of the plane enough to crash safely in a peat bog, where she was rescued. In other chapters, discover the first female pilots to be hired by commercial airlines, the first female military pilots, the first female pilot to break the sound barrier, stunt flyers, air safety investigators, bush pilots and much more.

In the back of the book is a glossary of aviation terms that includes valuable information about different types of planes. There is also an extensive bibliography offering many additional sources of books, videos and websites for readers.  In addition, there are photographs of each of the female pilots featured in the book.

Reading Women Aviators not only guides young readers through the missions of the 26 women, but also showcases their strengths, expertise and great courage.  What all of these women had in common was the unfaltering desire to fly no matter what the cost or risk. It is through these pioneers’ accomplishments that readers will be inspired to set their own lofty goals, whatever they may be, and when it comes to achieving them, they too will discover that the sky’s the limit.

Note: Another excellent book I reviewed by Karen Bush Gibson is Native American History for Kids.I also highly recommend Women of the  Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller.

– Review by Debbie Glade

Honest and Real: The Diary of an American Girl

Home Front GirlHere at Good Reads with Ronna we only review books we have read cover to cover and love. I’m thrilled to share Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America  ($19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) because it just happens to be one of those books, and I just could not put it down. I had to read every single word, and I can see myself reading this book again one day.

This hard cover book is the diary of Joan Wehlen Morrison, beginning in the pre WWII year of 1937, when she was 14 years old, through the spring of 1943 when she was 20. Joan was a witty and insightful teenager from Chicago who wrote her thoughts, dreams and experiences in her journal on a regular basis. Following her death in 2010, her children discovered her written treasures, and her daughter, Susan Morrison, set out to get them published. Home Front Girl is the glorious result of those efforts.

It was fate that I was asked to review this book because not only was I born in Chicago where Joan lived, but my family has a long history with The University of Chicago, where Joan attended school. My grandfather received his degree from UC in the 1920s, my uncle (my father’s brother) was a well known professor of Economics at UC, my cousins – his daughters – attended the Lab School where Joan went, and my brother received his MBA there in the early 1990s. And although I have lived in Miami most of my life, I am very familiar with all the Chicago places Joan writes about in her diary.

Nothing can match the raw honesty of a teenager’s diary, especially when that teenager is highly intelligent, insightful, sensitive and hopelessly optimistic. I suppose all who write in a journal write for themselves not really contemplating who will read it after they are gone, and that is what makes them so honest and real.

“By the way, I’m a genius. I found out my I.Q. rating accidentally yesterday. It’s 141. And the biology book said people with I.Q.s of 140 or more are ‘usually considered geniuses.’ Only 1 percent get that.”

Throughout the diary, readers can step inside Joan’s thoughts and read of her experiences, from the every day to the extraordinary – her latest crushes, her talents as a top student, her friendships, a tuberculosis scare, how she is always hungry and how she is perpetually late for nearly everything. Most importantly, Joan is sensitive to the pre-war atmosphere and writes with great wisdom about what is happening globally as well as what she dreads with the impending doom of America going to war looming in the air. Her WWII comments are really quite perceptive and educational.

Joan’s academic abilities led to a prestigious scholarship to attend The University of Chicago’s Junior College for her last two years of high school. Later she got her college degree in Anthropology there. Considering the time period in which her writing takes place, when women in academics were the minority, her accomplishments were quite impressive. I love that some of her actual diary pages and doodles are included in the book and footnotes are used to help the reader understand details about Joan’s entries.

What I enjoyed most about the diary is Joan’s intellectual insight about what is most important in life. In a passage about a friend’s father who passed away suddenly she writes:

“Vera’s father is dead. Gee, I came home and Mom told me. I used to play cards with him and tell jokes and I saw him last Sunday and he is dead . . . and the Spanish War is over and the Chinese War is going on and 8,000 people died in the Chile earthquake and people all over the world are eating their suppers and doing their homework (as I shall) and laughing and reading and moving about in lighted rooms and a man I know is dead.”

Other than a whole lot of wisdom about the WII era, what young readers will take away from this book is that teenagers from more than 70 years ago were not much different in most ways than teenagers of today  – minus technology of course. The fact that Joan did not have a typewriter or computer to write her diary is perhaps the very reason her written thoughts were preserved as well as discovered by her children. Computers fail over time, CD roms are almost obsolete, but pen and paper endure.

I highly ecommend this book for any young readers, particularly girls, who wish to broaden their horizons and make friends with an American girl from decades ago who was honest and real. I now feel as though I know Joan Wehlen Morrison personally, and I only wish she had written more journal entries about her life so I could read more.

I commend Susan Morrison and her brothers for sharing their mother’s private words with the world. Oh how I wish my mother or grandmothers had left me with a treasure of a diary such as this!

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade.

Of Dragons and Music and Dangerous Secrets

Seraphina Strikes a Most Positive Chord

Seraphina ($17.99, Random House Books for Young Readers, ages 12 and up), by Rachel Hartman, winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, is reviewed by Grace Duryée.

Tensions are high in the kingdom of Goredd. The tenuous peace treaty between men and dragons threatens to snap just as Ardmagar Comonot, the leader of the dragon community, comes to Goredd to celebrate forty years of uninterrupted peace between dragon and mankind. The royal family struggles to keep the conflict at bay for just a little longer, while trouble bubbles up from beneath them anyway. Huge resistance groups form, riots break out, and worst of all, the brutal–and strangely draconian–murder of one of their own: the widely respected Prince Rufus leaves the family at a loss at the worst possible time. Amidst all of this excitement is Seraphina, the gifted music mistress of Goredd’s castle. Seraphina is tossed head first into this wild tangle of trouble, torn between what is right and what is safe, who she can trust and who she can love. 

Seraphina-cvr.jpgRachel Hartman, the creator of this world and of the heroic woman Seraphina, skillfully lures her audience into this intoxicating tale of dragons that can fold themselves into humans, musicians that fall in love with princes, and secrets so dangerous they scarcely can even be thought about.  Hartman has lovingly woven the details of the beautiful world she has created into the pages of this fantastically original novel, bringing her audience to truly care about the characters and their relationships with each other. 

Seraphina being a musician is incredibly appropriate in that the story itself plays out exactly like an epic ballad played on her flute. It’s swirling melodies and booming crescendos make Seraphina a song that resonates for quite some time in the hearts of fantasy fans.

Fans of the Eragon series, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings – or anything dragon-related – will surely love this refreshing read. The intricate worlds of Goredd and Seraphina’s mind, along with the incredible lore, will surely leave all fantasy-loving young adult readers craving more of Hartman’s universe, and counting down the days to the release of the sequel to Seraphina, entitled Dracomachia, currently set for release in February of 2014. 

GraceToday’s guest reviewer, Grace Duryée, has been an avid reader since childhood, and values the experience reading provides for every person, particularly children and young adults. This is why Grace has recently taken an interest in children’s literature, and has attempted to combine it with her other long-time love: writing. Grace and her cousin Hilary have recently begun preparations for their very own children’s literature blog, and are both very excited to get it up and running! Grace is 20 years old, and in her spare time she plays too many video games and reads books about dragons. In her not-spare time, Grace is the manager of the teen and children’s department at a Barnes and Noble as well as a college student pursuing her degree in Economics and Business. 

Fridays Featuring Flintridge – Discovering Dragons

A Hoard of Dragon Gold: Mining Children’s Literature

for the Best Dragon Books

dlacey_1While shelving books one day recently in our children’s section at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, I heard a small voice behind me say, “Ummm…Hi! I was wondering…do you have more books like these?” A small boy beside me, about the height of my elbow, pointed at our row of The Last Dragon Chronicles by Chris D’Lacey. “What did you like about them?” I asked encouragingly. “Well, I just like the dragons a lot. I just do,” he replied. He sort of defensively rushed his words at me, as though I was about to disagree with him. The little boy could not have known this beforehand, but I myself do like a good dragon-filled book. I made sure to tell him that I am totally “pro dragon.” We had a grand time picking out some more dragon themed books for him to read.  Just about a week later, a young girl told me that she was looking for a new book. “I have read a lot of dragon books. A lot of them,” she announced proudly.  These young dragon aficionados have made me realize just how many books I have read with dragons as characters.  There really are a lot of fantastic dragon themed books! So, I’ve made a list of my favorites and included some more recently published titles. The books I have chosen to list here are personal favorites, but please feel free to add to the list, comment upon it, or mentally high five me! I think this “dragon mania” is going to be a lot of fun!

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch with illustrations by Michael Martchenko ($6.95, Annick Press, Ages 3-5)

1261666953princess-134x140Here is the classic story by Munsch that I grew up with myself. Elizabeth is a princess who is set to marry Prince Ronald, all ready for her own happily-ever-after.  However, the wedding doesn’t go as planned as the momentum of an unexpected chain of events moves the story disastrously downhill! Elizabeth’s castle is smashed, her dress is “toasted” by fiery dragon breath, and her Prince is gone. All this chaos is thanks to a recent visit by a fire-breathing dragon. With true gumption, Elizabeth defies fashion by putting on a paper bag and venturing forth to rescue her prince from the clutches of the dragon! When she finds the dragon, she outwits him by engaging him in showing off his fine array of dragon stunts. The dragon complies and becomes completely worn out. Ready for the twist? After all that hard work, Prince Ronald doesn’t want her after all. “Come back when you are dressed like a real princess,” he tells her. Well, too bad for him – he missed out on one amazing girl!

I first read this book as a little girl at my best friend Laurie’s house. When I finished reading it, I asked Laurie, “Why do you like this book? They don’t live happily ever after!” My friend (she’s a lawyer now) was always very pragmatic, even as a young girl. “She’s a princess. He’s a bad guy.” she replied with sort of a shrug. I had to agree that was true and together we concurred that we wished Elizabeth good luck with her next love. We just knew there had to be a special prince out there awaiting such a well deserving princess!

Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas with illustrations by Jennifer Plecas ($14.99, Dutton, Ages 4-7)

9780525463269LIt’s every knight’s job to slay the dragon when the dragon is found. We all know this to be true. Yet, what if a knight found three wide-eyed little dragons instead? What happens then? As the story begins, the Good Knight hears a loud roar and boldly ventures forth to save the day. However, instead of finding a dragon to fight he finds three little dragons that can’t sleep. It is at this point in the story that we enter into the all too familiar “getting ready for bed” scenarios that we all know so well! The Good Knight has to deal with a litany of little dragon demands – stories, songs, and glasses of water! Young readers and parents alike are certain to find much to identify with here. Of course, we also have the privilege of meeting one very good knight who can tuck a young dragon into bed just right. Good Night, Good Knight is a wonderful read aloud for just before bedtime. This is also available as an excellent Level 2 reader.

Dealing With Dragons: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Book One by Patricia Wrede ($6.99, Sandpiper/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 10 and up)

150739Princess Cimorene is not your usual fairy tale princess. She wants to learn Latin, fencing, and how to cook. Are these qualities that her parents approve of? Certainly not! They are desirous of a daughter who follows pursuits they would deem to be more feminine. Her parents begin to plan her marriage to a prince who is just not quite as intelligent as Cimorene. In fact, he’s pretty much not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, if you catch my drift. Being whip-crack smart herself, Princess Cimorene takes the good advice of a nearby frog and decides to become the dragon Kazul’s princess. The princess refuses all efforts to rescue her from this life as a dragon’s “girl Friday.” I especially envied Princess Cimorene’s new responsibilities of organizing dragon treasure hoards, and categorizing their scrolls. Imagine what you could learn! Wrede’s humorous, well crafted book had me in smiles and giggles the entire time I was reading it.

The character of the dragon Kazul is just as sassy as Cimorene herself. You will meet a widely divergent cast of characters that includes interfering wizards and unusual friends. Princess Cimorene and Kazul the dragon find that together they must thwart an evil plan! This book is the perfect junior fiction pick for the dragon fan in your life provided that the reader likes a good dash of humor along side their fantasy reading. Fans of the book will be excited to learn that this is the first in a series of four books in “The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.”

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke ($8.99, Scholastic, Ages 10-13)

9780545316484_xlgBen is a lonely orphan who happens to meet Firedrake who is a silver dragon needing  help to escape to his ancestral home known as “The Rim of Heaven”. This is where dragons can live in freedom, safely away from humans. In this story Ben, Firedrake, a brownie named Sorrel embark on a journey to go to “The Rim of Heaven” so that Firedrake may live a better life. However, a powerful and evil villain named Nettlebrand, the “Golden One” is on their trail. Many countries are crossed as these three heroes meet magical beings and make extraordinary friends as they race to the Rim of Heaven. The question is, can they get there in time before their mysterious foe catches up with them?

Ms. Funke, the author of the famous Inkheart trilogy, does not disappoint her younger readers! She provides an amazing world, and an exciting race to a finish line that will keep readers enthralled until the very end. The author herself provides the most wonderful illustrations for the book. As an aside, in an act of sheer geekery, I bought the book for my own children’s literature collection (in its first printing) because there was a pop-up map in the middle of the book! I’m just such a sucker for a good map and it came in very handy as it showed the journey of our heroes from the very beginning to the very end of their exciting but occasionally perilous journey.

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George ($7.99, Bloomsbury, Ages 10-14)

9781599902753Creel’s aunt and uncle have fallen upon hard times. In a moment of what Creel’s aunt deems sheer brilliance, she decides to provoke a local dragon into taking Creel hostage. Now, of course a noble and wealthy young lord will come to do battle with the dragon to rescue the fair maiden. According to her aunt he will then marry Creel, and all the family’s economic problems will be solved. The trouble is that the local dragon, Theoradus, is not interested in the slightest in taking Creel prisoner. In fact, he is much more interested in his hobby of shoe collecting. Creel herself is much more interested in escaping rather than being rescued. She wishes to journey to the city known as the King’s Seat to attain her dream of becoming well known as an embroiderer and having her own embroidery shop.  This was a skill with powerful implications that had been taught to her by her late mother.

What ensues is a pact between dragon and maiden. Creel is really in need of some new shoes to begin her journey. Theoradus will give her any pair of shoes she wants if she will ensure that the young lord will never come to bother the dragon. The sheer range of shoes that Creel gets to choose from is incredible. The collection has shoes with emeralds on them, children’s shoes, sensible shoes, and one very fine pair of blue slippers that fit Creel perfectly. Yet, there is some mysterious power about these shoes. Creel and her new slippers must make their way in the world as she journeys towards the big city. Yet, can she discover the true magic behind the dragon’s slippers?

The author, Ms. George, combines a winsome heroine, and even more winsome dragons in her tale of fine needlework, dreams worth attaining, dragons, and a bit of romance to keep things interesting. Do you dream of reading about dragons that collect shoes, stain glass windows, and one fussy dragon that caringly and fanatically adopts dogs? Look no further! Middle grade readers who are fans of Gail Carson Levine’s books such as Ella Enchanted will find a real treasure of a book when they read about Creel and her adventures. Creel’s adventures continue in the two sequels to this book.

The Last Dragonslayer, The Chronicles of Kazam, Book One by Jasper Fforde ($16.99, Harcourt, Ages 12 and up)

9780547738475Our heroine, Jennifer Strange, is a foundling attempting to run an employment agency inherited from her mentor, The Great Zambini.  This employment agency functions to find job placement for an occasionally unemployed group of wizards.  The trouble is The Great Zambini has disappeared leaving Jennifer to run the company of Kazam on her own. In an alternate world where Jennifer lives in the “UnUnited Kingdom”, British author, Jasper Fforde, populates his first young adult novel with quirky wizards, a Quarkbeast (don’t worry, he’s a tame pet with razor sharp teeth who is Jennifer’s loyal companion), and a dragon of course!  This is a world where the affects of the lack of magic have reached the level of a true energy crisis. For example, one of the wizards, once a great sorcerer, now must use his magical abilities to pilot his flying carpet as a pizza delivery service. Low on magic, this is tragically all the energy he has left.  A prediction of the last dragonslayer killing the world’s last dragon has everyone at Kazam wondering if perhaps the death of this dragon could mean the end of magic altogether.

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer embarks on a humorous yet adventurous quest to sort out these predictions, and to find out the truth about the last dragonslayer.  She must negotiate the plans of a greedy prince, equally greedy companies, while she is also trying to train a new assistant to help with wizard unemployment! There is never a dull moment at the company of Kazam.

I admire the author for his ability to create an intriguing alternate world that combines today with “some place out there.” This is a place where dragons can remember a home where they used to live under a violet sky with two moons.  Meanwhile in the same story, Jennifer can find her pet Quarkbeast at her local Starbucks! This tongue-in-cheek novel is sure to please Lemony Snicket fans or anyone looking for a truly original fantasy novel for middle grade to young adult readers. A twelve-year-old with a good vocabulary would enjoy this just as much as the young adult audience it was intended for. A second book in this series, The Song of the Quarkbeast, is to be released in the United States later this year.

My cousin and fellow voracious reader, Grace Duryée, has penned a fantastic review of the young adult novel, Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman which also features dragon characters. Please check it out next week on the blog! I think you will be very glad you did. I wish your children loads of brilliant dragon adventures. Remember to add to my list to your own hoard of dragon book recommendations! Happy reading, dragon fans!

HilaryTaberPlease visit 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.  Also visit 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.

Women of Courage and Determination

9781883052973Debbie Glade reviews Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers (19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) by Brandon Marie Miller, a meaty hardcover book that recalls the lives of powerful and fascinating pioneer women of the American Wild West.

The author does an excellent job introducing readers to what life was like for pioneers from the 1840s  and beyond – the challenges of traveling via covered wagon, gathering food and cooking in rough conditions, horrific weather, illnesses, giving birth on the trail and more. Then she takes readers on a journey that makes them feel as though they are pioneers themselves with stories of 16 women who persevered with unfaltering determination during trying times of the 19th century. Some of the stories are wonderfully complemented by black and white historic photos.

Among the heroic stories in the book, I was astonished by Margaret Reed, a young widow who set out on a trail in May, 1846, with a  group of 81 people known as the Donner Party. They began their journey in Springfield, Illinois and traveled through Utah and Nevada with the goal of reaching California. But the group encountered severe weather conditions, lack of food, illness, and 36 people perished in the snow. The survival story of Margaret Reed, against all odds,  is truly phenomenal. She and her children were the only family that managed to survive without cannibalism. Though her journey was harrowing, her determination was heroic.

Many other moving stories are told throughout the book as well. Miriam Davis Colt wrote about her ill-fated expedition with her family to Kansas in 1862 that left her financially and emotionally bankrupt. Martha Dartt Maxwell, a Colorado naturalist who opposed slavery, collected and displayed animal skins and bones and eventually became a respected taxidermist, despite a lack of education. Sarah Winnemucca was a Paiute Indian from Nevada who was an outspoken activist and seeker of peace. In 1883, she became the first Native American woman to be published with a copyright. These are just a few of the great women featured in the book.

I love the fact that most of the women in these stories were not really famous, yet they overcame great obstacles and are symbols of the many courageous women throughout history who were not honored for their triumphs. What I find most interesting is the methods that author Brandon Marie Miller had to use to collect facts to write this book, including using journal entries, song lyrics and handwritten letters. Because of her impressive efforts, children can learn about those who lived before them and how they helped pave the way for the modern lives they enjoy today.

Women of the Frontier is culturally significant, and I highly recommend that all middle school and high school students read this book, both boys and girls. It is sure to open up some educational discussions about the hardships of earlier Americans and how their determination led to great things. It makes us wonder what courageous women ancestors we may have had yet don’t know about. Times certainly have changed, but what endures is the will to live and the desire to leave our mark on this world.

Note: This book is part of the Chicago Review Press Women of Action Series. One of these titles is Women Heroes of World War II, which I reviewed in October, 2011 and also highly recommend.

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