Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg

A Thousand Never Evers by Shana Burg
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (June 10, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0385734700
ISBN-13: 978-0385734707
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

If there's one book you, your children, and your students should read this summer, it's Shana Burg's debut novel, A Thousand Never Evers.

Set in Kuckachoo, Mississippi in 1963, A Thousand Never Evers is historical fiction told from the point of view of the 12-year-old African American girl, Addie Ann Pickett. Kuckachoo is a town separated by color--"the white side" and "the colored side." Racism runs deep, and the town sheriff may be the biggest racist of them all. When Addie Ann makes fun of a white lady's hat, her brother disappears. On top of not knowing whether or not her brother is alive, an incident with the town garden leaves Addie Ann's Uncle Bump on trial, and Addie Ann must find the courage to save him.

Even though Addie Ann's story is fiction, the novel is interwoven with real incidents, tragedies, and figures from the Civil Rights Movement: the deaths of Medgar Evers and Emmitt Till, the church bombing that killed the four little girls, the struggle for the vote, the ridiculous tests African Americans were required to pass before they could register to vote, the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan, the downright racism African Americans faced every single day, and more.

Through Shana Burg's powerful and emotional writing, you can feel the fear, the injustice, and even the hope that countless many experienced during this dark time in our country's history.

Here's an exerpt from the day Medgar Evers is killed:

"Now Mama shakes her head like she just can't believe this. Medgar guys' dead and gone. 'Lord, you listen to me,' she says. 'You bless Medgar's hardworking, full-of-courage soul.'

After that, how am I supposed to eat? Hen or no hen, my stomach's knotted up knowing someone can get killed for doing heaps of good." (p. 9)

A Thousand Never Evers is also a coming of age story. We see Addie Ann grow from a girl who didn't really think much about "the movement," to one who matures and fights passionately for justice. Without being "preachy," the book sends the message about the importance of standing up for yourself and those around you, preserving your self worth, having the courage to fight for the truth regardless of how frightening the consequences may be, and not judging people based on their outward appearance.

I give this book my highest recommendation and predict that this will be a front runner for the Newbery Medal.

What Other Bloggers are Saying:

Becky's Book Reviews: "Dignity. Taking a stand. Doing what's right. A Thousand Never Evers is the story of one family's stand--one community's stand to unite for what's right, what's just." (Read more...)

Welcome to my Tweendom: "Brilliantly written, A Thousand Never Evers should have a place in every public and school library. " (read more...)

If you have a review of this book, leave a comment with your link, and I'll post it here. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Young Adult Challenge Update

It's hard to believe that 2008 is halfway over, and I have some more reading to do in order to successfully complete Joy's Young Adult Challenge, which is to read 12 Young Adult books in 2008.

Here's my tally for May and June:

Confessions of a Serial Kisser by Wendelin van Draanen(my review)
Madapple by Christina Meldrum (my review)
The Eyes of a King by Catherine Banner (my review)
The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes (my review)
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson (my review)

I'm adding that to Sweethearts by Sara Zarr and Prey by Lurlene McDaniel to bring my total to seven. Five more to go!

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (April 29, 2008)ISBN-10: 0805076689
ISBN-13: 978-0805076684
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

How far would you go to save your child? Is there a limit as to how much science and medicine should intervene when it comes to saving lives? These are questions that are still spinning around in my head three days after I finished The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson.

Set in a dystopian future where there have been enormous medical advances, 17-year-old Jenna Fox wakes up from a coma after a horrific car accident. As her memory gradually returns, she can't help but think that something is not quite right. How is possible that she can remember events from her infancy? How can she quote Thoreau's Walden word for word? Why does her grandmother seem to hate her? And why is her mother so secretive?

As Jenna struggles to find her identity and fit in with her peers, she discovers the terrible truth about the accident and her recovery that leaves her and her entire family in danger.

Mary E. Pearson's powerful writing and unique plot kept me up reading until 3:00 in the morning because I simply had to know what would happen to Jenna. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about when I say "powerful writing," here's an excerpt from when Jenna remembers an event from her childhood.

'You bought me another snow cone. A week later when we went back. It was--'


Mother begins to sob. She scoots her chair back and comes to me. Her arms wrap around my shoulders and she kisses my cheek, my hair. 'You're remembering, Jenna. Just like your father said. This is just the beginning.'


Jenna Fox is inside me after all. Just when I was ready to move on without her, she surfaces. Don't forget me, she says.

I don't think she'll let me. (p. 28)

However, despite the seriousness of the book, Mary E. Pearson never lets you forget that Jenna is a teenager and adds some lighthearted moments. For example, Jenna innocently calls her grandmother a bad name because her grandmother says she shouldn't be dating a classmate, Ethan. They're not dating, so Jenna calls her a "d**khead," a word she heard Ethan use, because she thinks it means, "annoying." When she's relating the incident to Ethan, you can see how flustered she is and how much she's struggling to express herself. You also get insight into Ethan's impish personality:

'So why is your grandmother a d**khead--I mean, annoying?' he asks.

I'm relieved that he breaks our silence first. 'Because she said we shouldn't be dating--' Oh, my God, Jenna. Stupid. Stupid.

'We're dating?'

'No. I mean, my mother thought--'

'Your mother thinks we're dating? Just because I'm giving you a ride home?'

'No. Well, yes. I mean, never mind.' Help. Every word seems to bury me further. Was I always this inept?

'Hm,' he says... 'So, why doesn't your grandmother like me dating you, other than I teach you bad words?' (p. 88)

I'm sure many teenagers will relate to this situation--the awkwardness of talking to someone you like, putting your foot in your mouth, not knowing the right thing to say, and I applaud Pearson for "keeping it real."

This is one of those books that I feel crosses over into the "adult" realm, and teenagers shouldn't be the only ones to read it. Every person (adult or teenager) who has questioned the role of science and the possibilities it can play in medicine should read this book.

How far would YOU go? How far should science go? As a mother myself, I think I know what MY answer would be.

What Other Bloggers Are Saying:

Jen Robinson's Book Page: "Don't read any more reviews - don't risk spoiling it - just go and get it. But make sure you have a clear chunk of time so that you can read it in one day. Because you're going to want to. Trust me." (read more...)

Becky's Book Reviews: " of the most original and amazing coming-of-age stories that I've read in quite a while." (read more...)

YA Notes Weblog: "The beauty lies in the exploration of the soul and the ethics as much as the biology of who we are. This is a must read for all of us." (read more...)

More book giveaways!

Wow...there are some really cool giveaways going on!

First, Natasha at Maw Books is giving away five copies of Stephanie Meyer's The Host plus a set of all of Stephanie Meyer's books to one grand-prize winner. Natasha has put together a number of ways to enter, and the deadline is June 30th, so go on over to her site to get more information.

Next, Jen Robinson's Book Page and Big A little a have a contest going on where you have to crack a code related to Alec Flint: Super Sleuth. Check out their posts for more information on how you could win an autographed copy of the first book in the series.

Finally, I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) is giving away 15 books signed by the I.N.K. authors to one lucky winner. This is an amazing set of authors, so be sure to visit the blog for rules on how to enter!

Good luck!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Poetry Friday: Alexander Pope and The Great Chain of Being

The current issue of Lapham's Quarterly examines the theme of Nature, and includes this excerpt from Pope's Essay on Man:

VIII. See, through this air, this ocean, and this earth,
All matter quick, and bursting into birth.
Above, how high, progressive life may go!
Around, how wide! how deep extend below?
Vast chain of being! which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see,
No glass can reach; from Infinite to thee,
From thee to nothing. On superior powers
Were we to press, inferior might on ours:
Or in the full creation leave a void,
Where, one step broken, the great scale’s destroyed:
From Nature’s chain whatever link you strike,
Tenth or ten thousandth, breaks the chain alike.
And, if each system in gradation roll
Alike essential to the amazing whole,
The least confusion but in one, not all
That system only, but the whole must fall.
Let earth unbalanced from her orbit fly,
Planets and suns run lawless through the sky;
Let ruling angels from their spheres be hurled,
Being on being wrecked, and world on world;
Heaven’s whole foundations to their centre nod,
And nature tremble to the throne of God.
All this dread order break—for whom? for thee?
Vile worm!—Oh, madness! pride! impiety!

Pope's theme here is the Great Chain of Being:

Its major premise was that every existing thing in the
universe had its "place" in a divinely planned hierarchical order, which was
pictured as a chain vertically extended. ("Hierarchical" refers to an order
based on a series of higher and lower, strictly ranked gradations.) An object's
"place" depended on the relative proportion of "spirit" and "matter" it
contained--the less "spirit" and the more "matter," the lower down it


A major example [of this theme] was the title character of Christopher
Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus. Simultaneously displaying the grand spirit of
human aspiration and the more questionable hunger for superhuman powers, Faustus seems in the play to be both exalted and punished. Marlowe's drama, in fact, has often been seen as the embodiment of Renaissance ambiguity in this regard,
suggesting both its fear of and its fascination with pushing beyond human

I thought it might be interesting to write a post-enlightenment Great Chain of Being poem with a modern twist on all the familiar themes. In fact, it might begin with an embrace of the scientific hubris about which Renaissance artists were ambivalent. Here's a beginning -- I'll be working on this over the next few weeks:

Nothing is invisible --
We have our ways of casing the world:
Tripods squat upon their earth,
Antennae grow in thickets,
Satellites collect signs of universal dust
From glowing distant cartwheel hubs
Packed with spaces only light can cross
To inflame the axons of its curious generations
The roundup is at Biblio File!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jessie's Mountain by Kerry Madden

Jessie's Mountain by Kerry Madden
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (February 14, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0670061549
ISBN-13: 978-0670061549
Source of book: Bought it

Jessie's Mountain is the third book in Kerry Madden's Maggie Valley trilogy and takes place about a month after the conclusion of Louisiana's Song . Daddy is improving, but he's still unable to work, and it's more and more likely that the family will have to move to Grandma Horace's house in Enka. Determined to prevent this, Livy Two hatches a plan to run away to Nashville and get a record deal. When it doesn't go quite as she expected, it looks as if the family will have to leave Maggie Valley behind. Along with this, Grandma Horace gives Live Two her mother's diary from when she was her age. As Livy reads her mother's words, she mourns the girl who had dreams and spunk who has now become a tired, overworked mother of ten. Then Livy Two hatches a plan that will not only make her mother's girlhood dreams come true but that will also enable the family to stay and thrive in Maggie Valley.

In this final book, I enjoyed getting to know Jessie, the mother, a little better as well as Jitter, Livy's younger sister. Kerry Madden continued to interweave the family's hardships with a bit of humor and warmth. I didn't, however, get as much of Livy Two's voice and spunk in this one, and I found it a bit refreshing to read Jessie's diary and hear her voice. I also have mixed feelings about the ending of the almost seemed "too happy" and perhaps a bit unrealistic. That, however, did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying the book and being satisfied with the trilogy as a whole.

After reading all three, my favorite book was Louisiana's Song . I think Madden really went more in depth with the characters in that book and presented realistic, gut wrenching feelings and situations.

I would recommend this series to young girls in the 10-12 age range. I think they would enjoy hearing the story from Livy Two's point of view. While this is the end of the "Maggie Valley trilogy," I hope this isn't the end of the Weems' family's story.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Louisiana's Song by Kerry Madden

Louisiana's Song by Kerry Madden
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (May 17, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0670061530
ISBN-13: 978-0670061532
Source of book: Bought it

Louisiana's Song , the second book in the Maggie Valley trilogy takes place a few months after Daddy's accident that occurred in Gentle's Holler (my review here). Daddy's back home, but the brain injury has left him with amnesia and short-term memory loss. He can't play his banjo and can't keep the names of all of the children straight. As the narrator, Livy Two, struggles with the fact that the father she knew and loved is "lost," her super shy sister Louisiana, or Louise, struggles with a growth-spurt that has left her very tall and the target of the school bully's jokes. But Louise has a special talent at art that the stern school teacher, Mr. Pickle, realizes and encourages her to develop. With Daddy unable to work and money tighter than ever, the family continues to struggle to make ends meet, and if things don't look better soon, they may have to move out of their beloved Maggie Valley and move into Grandma Horace's house in "Enka-Stinka."

In Louisiana's Song , Kerry Madden delves deeper into the characters, and I enjoyed learning more about some of the Weems' siblings. Through older sister Becksie's campaign to be "Maggie Queen," it is evident that she is desperately trying to be "normal" and to fit in with the other kids despite her family's extreme poverty. It's the same with Emmett who tries to impress his family with stories about how he's a gunslinger at "Ghost Town in the Sky," the attraction where he now works. While Louisiana is an exceptional artist, she is extremely shy and mostly wants to keep to herself. We also see the twins' Cyrus and Caroline's personality start to come out. We also see Livy Two start to grow up as she deals with all of the upheaval in her life.

While the family's situation is serious and there are sad moments, Kerry Madden does a great job of weaving in humor and demonstrating the love between the family members as she did in Gentle's Holler. For example, Daddy's brain injury is heartbreaking and not a laughing matter, but there are times when he says and does funny things. Once he wanders off to town in his bathroom and ends up at the pancake house. When Livy Two and her Mama find them, Daddy is happy to see them and offers Livy Two some pancakes:

"'Hungry?' He pushes his plate toward me, and I take a bite of his mountain blackberry pancakes swimming in maple syrup. Pure heaven on earth.

When I take a second bit, he says, 'Give it back now.'

'Okay, Daddy.' I push his plate of pancakes back toward him, and he keeps eating like a house on fire." (pp. 101-102).

When you read Louisiana's Song, you'll laugh and you'll cry. You'll want to listen to mountain music that will take you back to Maggie Valley. But overall, you'll care about the Weems family and truly hope that things will get better for them. This family will stick with me for a long time.

What Other Blogger's Are Saying:

Shelf Elf: "Louisiana’s Song is one beautiful book." (read more...)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gentle's Holler by Kerry Madden

Gentle's Holler by Kerry Madden
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Puffin (March 15, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0142407518
ISBN-13: 978-0142407516
Source of book: Bought it

"From the high branch of our old red maple where I sit under a starry sky, I spy Mama in the bedroom tending to the babies. Down on the porch below, Daddy picks the banjo soft and sweet. Mama covers up my little sister, Gentle, who used to sleep in the shirt drawer in Mama and Daddy's bedroom. Now she shares a crib with the twins, Caroline and Cyrus, because Mama just had herself another girl child named Appelonia who claims Gentle's drawer.

I reckon in this family that's how you know you've done gone and graduated from being a baby--going from drawer to crib." (p. 1)

With these words, I was hooked on Gentle's Holler, the first book in Kerry Madden's Maggie Valley trilogy. Narrated in first-person by 12-year-old Livy Two Weems, Gentle's Holler tells the story of the Weems family living in the Maggie Valley area of the Smoky Mountains in the 1960s. With money hard to come by and 11 mouths to feed, the Weems don't have much. Daddy is a musician and has been trying to sell a banjo hit for years, and with nine children, Mamma is worn out. And what's more, there's something terribly wrong with three-year-old Gentle's vision. Livy Two comes up with a plan to train their dachshund Uncle Hazard to be a seeing eye dog and to teach Gentle how to read braille. But when tragedy strikes, the family struggles to survive and stay together.

When I read Jen Robinson's review of the Maggie Valley trilogy a couple of months ago, I immediately added the three books to my wish list. First, Jen's review convinced me that I would like the characters and the story, but because I grew up in southwestern Virginia, I have a special interest in Appalachian and Southern literature. I'm always on the lookout for literature that depicts the people of these regions in a positive manner, so I was certain that I would enjoy these books. After reading Gentle's Holler, I was definitely not disappointed and have become a huge Kerry Madden fan.

From the very beginning of the book, you can hear Livy Two's voice and know instantly that she's spunky, smart, kind, and a bit loquacious. This voice carries through the book, and there were moments throughout when I laughed out loud, as I did here:

"I may come from a big family, but I already know I don't want children. I want my own house all to myself in the holler, and I swear I won't fill it with nothing but banjo music and vases of mountain laurel and plenty of food. My nieces and nephews will be allowed to visit on Saturday from one to two. I want a homemade rocking chair and a granny quilt on the bed and a rug from Persia on the floor. I wouldn't mind a fancy refrigerator or, even better, a record player like other regular folks have, and I would play me all kinds of music from Patsy Cline to Mozart." (pp. 54-55)
I found myself liking Livy Two and caring about what happened to this family, and Kerry Madden never lets the readers forget the poverty that surrounds the family. They're hungry. Livy Two often feels guilty and ashamed for sneaking an extra bite of cornbread, and her older brother Emmett, is angry at their father for letting them starve. They are unable to take Gentle to the doctor to get her eyes examined. When Daddy brings the dog, Uncle Hazard, home, Mama is furious because they now have another mouth to feed.

But despite this, it's evident that the family loves each other, and I was impressed with the way Kerry Madden was able to depict the love and tenderness that existed among this family. On one occasion, the tapping of a woodpecker inspires Daddy to pick up his banjo and start playing. Soon all of the children are singing and dancing, and Livy Two proclaims, "Sometimes our house is filled with so much love and happiness that a body can't hardly stand it." (p. 59)

On another occasion, Livy Two, overhears her sister Louise, trying to teach Gentle the colors through her senses,
"Pretty soon, I hear Louise carrying Gentle through the edge of the woods, telling her all about color. 'Now Gentle, eat this blueberry and you'll understand the color blue. Azure, sapphire, navy, and indigo. That's other names for blue.'" (88)

Gentle's Holler is a book about love, hardship, and hope. Livy Two teaches us to dream big and to never give up when faced with bad news. But she also teaches us to enjoy life regardless of how much or how little you have.

I'm looking forward to reading the other books in the trilogy.

What Other Bloggers Are Saying:

Jen Robinson's Book Page: (on the triology) "All three books are lyrical and heart-warming, and likely to bring tears to your eyes. However, they have enough humor to keep them from being sappy, and enough conflict to keep them interesting." (read more...)

Of Books and Boys: "Although the book is laced with difficulties and tragedy, it is a lovingly-told tale and the narrator's voice is strong and true." (read more...)

Deliciously Clean Reads: (on the trilogy) "These books are populated with distinctive and quirky characters, unforgettable names, and much warmth. They are wholesome, funny, and heartwarming!" (read more...)

Favorite PASTimes: "Gentle’s Holler is a pleasant read. The Weems family, while poor, is never lacking in love. And the warmth and strength of family shine through. "(Read more...)

Links, Awards, and The Edge of the Forest

I'm taking a few moments to share some interesting posts and news I've seen over the past couple of days.

First off, Rebecca at Rebecca Reads shares a story about a recent trip to the library where a lady commented that her eight-month old son was too young to be reading books. Rebecca asks the very important question, "Is there such a thing as too young for books?" I'm sure you all know what I think about that, but go on over and let Rebecca know what you think.

Jen at Jen Robinson's Book Page and Amanda at A Patchwork of Books are both giving away five copies of Mary E. Pearson's new young adult novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox. I have a copy sitting on my shelf but haven't had the opportunity to read it, although I've read great reviews everywhere. If you'd like a chance to win a copy, Amanda's contest ends Sunday evening, 6/22, and Jen's ends Tuesday, 6/24 at 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time, so hurry over and sign up.

And while you're over at Jen's site, check out her very fun post about Father's in Children's Literature. She lists the five best and worst fathers from her 2008 children's/YA literature reading.

Speaking of father's in children's literature, that's the theme of this month's Carnival of Children's Literature, hosted by Susan Taylor Brown. Her deadline for submissions is today, so if you want to contribute, be sure to submit your article today at this site.

Book awards
This week, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were announced in three categories:
  • Fiction and Poetry: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Ellen Forney
  • Nonfiction: The Wall by Peter Sís
  • Picture Book: At Night by Jonathan Bean
A special citation was also given to Sean Tan's graphic novel, The Arrival. Visit the Horn Book Site to read more about the awards, the books, and the honor books that were named.

The Edge of the Forest
Finally, the June issue of The Edge of the Forest, the online children's literature journal is up. Thanks to Kelly for listing the features:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Everyday Literacy: Environmental Print Activities for Children 3 to 8 by Stephanie Mueller

Everyday Literacy: Environmental Print Activities for Children 3 to 8 by Stephanie Mueller
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Gryphon House (May 1, 2005)
ISBN-10: 0876592868
ISBN-13: 978-0876592861
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

Literacy is much more than being able to read a good's a survival skill. Everywhere you go, you're surrounded by words--from nutrition information on food and menus in restaurants to health forms and traffic signs. If you're a teacher or parent who wants to help a child (or children) in your life build literacy skills, Stephanie Mueller's Everyday Literacy might be a good resource for you.

As Ms. Mueller states in the book's introduction, "the abundant tools used to develop early childhood include looking at books and being read to, doing fingerplays, singing songs, writing, painting, drawing and being in a print-rich environment. Of these, one is readily available despite language, culture, or socio-economic status--the print in a child's environment (community)" (p. 9).

Everyday Literacy offers over 150 activities that use this "environmental print" (newspapers, cereal boxes, business cards, product packaging, catalogs, etc.) to help children build literacy skills.

For consistency and ease of use, each activity is organized in the following way:

The Activity: At the top of the page is the name of the activity and a short description underneath.

The page is then divided into two columns.
On the left-hand side, you'll find:
  • Objectives: As explained in the book's introduction, "the objectives listed for each activity represent some of the literacy and language skills that can be addressed through using environmental print" (p. 14)
  • Materials: A list of materials required for the activity. In most cases, the materials are inexpensive and can be found around the house or in most classrooms. Some activities require books on a specific subject, which you can check out at your local library. Some prep work will be initially required to gather environmental print within the community.
  • Theme Connections: For teachers and homeschool parents, many of the activities list ideas for themes or subjects that complement the activity.
In the right column, you can find:
  • Preparation: Some activities require some up-front preparation, and this section lists steps you need to take to prepare for the activity.
  • Literacy Interactions: This section, lists the actual activity instructions. In most cases, there is more than one idea based on the literacy development of the child.
  • Variations: Finally, many activities list variations.

To give you an idea of the types of activities in the book, here are a couple that I really liked.

Missing Letter Labels, Page 39
"Children complete words by identifying missing letter(s) and placing them on sentence strips where they belong."

Big Letter Pocket Match, page 80
"Children sort environmental print into pockets using letter and letter sound recognition."

Bakery Shop, page 168
"Children interact and pretend using environmental print and props related to a bakery."

Crayon Rubbings: Signs on the Move, page 215
"Children obtain crayon rubbings from raised surfaces containing environmental print on walks or field trips."

With the wide variety of activities in the book, teachers and parents are sure to find some activities that both fit within their budget and schedule and that will engage their children while helping them develop critical literacy skills.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The next JK Rowling?

Move over JK…there’s a new kid in town, and she’s been creating quite a buzz. Nineteen year old Catherine Banner’s debut novel, The Eyes of a King , the first in a trilogy was just released. I received a review copy from the publisher a couple of weeks ago and stayed up way too late last night finishing the book. And all I have to say is “WOW WOW WOW.” I don’t remember feeling this excited about a book and such anticipation for the next in the series since, well, Harry Potter.

In a nutshell,The Eyes of a King , is the story of 15-year old Leo who lives with his grandmother and younger brother in the country of Malonia, which 10 years earlier was overtaken by the tyrant Lucien. Before the revolution, Malonia was peaceful, creativity such as writing, dancing, and singing, was encouraged, and the great magicians were revered. Now, it’s pretty much a dictatorship, a Soldier-making factory, and completely stifling. The powerful magicians, except for the evil Talitha, have been exiled or forced into hiding. Leo and his brother go to a harsh military school where they are abused by the volatile Sergeant Markey. And Leo has special powers that he must hide.

One day he finds a magical book where writing mysteriously appears. While Leo’s world is falling apart around him, he is engulfed in the story of Malonia, the revolution, a powerful relative, and two teenagers, Ryan and Anna. But is it just a story? Leo soon learns how everything weaves together to bring the old Malonia back.

The Eyes of a King is a book with mystery, suspense, love, grief, heartache, selfishness, and selflessness. Catherine Banner’s masterful storytelling leaves no doubt that she is a force to be reckoned with in the writing industry. But is she the next JK Rowling? Both authors are British, and both write stories with a bit of magic, but I do think the comparisons stop there.

As a complete Harry Potter fan, I dare to say that Catherine Banner is better. Her book has a level of maturity and realism that Rowling was never able to achieve through Harry Potter. There are no cutesy “accio” spells, chocolate frogs, or nosebleed nougats.

And when I say realism, I’m talking about the ability to realistically convey the thoughts and feelings of teenagers. Perhaps the least favorite book in the Harry Potter series is The Order of the Phoenix. In this book, Harry is an angst-ridden teenager and a bit obnoxious, and readers didn’t like this Harry. However, I think there would have been a more positive reception if Rowling could have more effectively conveyed this and made him seem more like a real teenager. In The Eyes of a King , on the other hand, Leo is also ridden with angst and deals with some pretty emotional stuff, but his thoughts, feelings, and actions are completely believable. I identified with him, I cried with him, I felt angry with him. At one point in the book, I actually wept, and I’m not talking eyes tearing up here. I’m talking humunga-junga crocodile tears, a splotchy red face, and sobs—UGLY crying. When an author can elicit that sort of emotion from a reader, you know she’s done something right.

But let’s look at it this way…Rowling and Banner have obviously different stories and different audiences, which makes comparing the two a little obsolete. The protagonist in The Eyes of a King is 15 years old, so already we’re starting with an older readership here. Harry had just turned 11 in the first book—a HUGE age difference. Ten year olds probably won’t like The Eyes of a King as much as Harry Potter, and teenagers will probably like The Eyes of a King more. So, do I think Catherine Banner is the next JK Rowling? Absolutely not. Is she a better writer? Yes. Will she achieve the fame and fortune of JK Rowling? It’s hard to say—the Harry Potter phenomena was huge.

One thing is for sure…she has earned my deepest respect, and I can’t wait until the next book in the trilogy comes out.

*Oh and I did I mention that Catherine Banner is 19, and that she started writing The Eyes of a King when she was 14? A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!!!

Read an excerpt from the book

Information about The Eyes of a King

  • Reading level: Young Adult
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (May 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375838759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375838750
  • Source of book: Review copy from publisher

Monday, June 16, 2008

Nonfiction Book Review: Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Eric Puybaret
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books (April 23, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0811860639
ISBN-13: 978-0811860635
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

"Bubbles rising
through the silence of the sea.

Silvery beads of breath

from a man

deep, deep down

in a strange and shimmering ocean land

of swaying plants and fantastic creatures.

A manfish
swimming, diving
into the unknown.
Exploring underwater worlds
No one had ever seen
and no one could ever have imagined."

This is how Jennifer Berne's story of Jacques Cousteau begins. The words, black and curving on a palette of dark blue/green start out large at the top of the page and get smaller and smaller as they go down the page, underneath the sea, and like fish, curve and swim toward the manfish on the next page in scuba gear at the bottom of the ocean. A sea of fish and seaweed swim around him as bubbles rise to the top of the page.

On the next page, the story begins with a young Jacques fascinated with the water and dreaming that someday he would be able to breathe under water. It tells of his fascination with machines and movies, the childhood movies he made, and how this fascination continued as he grew. Then one day a friend gave him a pair of goggles, and for the first time, he could see the magical world that was beneath the sea. The story continues by chronicling Jacques' quest to breathe underwater, his invention of the aqualung, and ultimately achieving his dream. Not only did he achieve his dream, but through his underwater films, he introduced the world to the beautiful and mysterious underwater world and helped inspire others to save the ocean's wildlife from pollution.

Through this biography, children are inspired to dream big. The author's note at the end of the book says that Jacques always said, "Il faut aller voir," roughly translated to mean, "We must go and see for ourselves," which she says is "a wonderful way to start just about anything." The book also helps children develop a respect for the earth and its creatures.

But what do I love most about this book? Eric Puybaret's magnificent, breathtaking illustrations. Rendered in acrylic paint on linen, the dark blues and greens make you feel like you're swimming in the ocean with Jacques. As he goes lower and lower into the ocean, the colors get darker and darker, a blue/black at the deepest points. My only criticism is that when the palette is dark, the black words may be a little difficult to read.

The curvy lines of Jaques body models the same curviness of the fish, making him truly look like a manfish. I could almost hear the deafening silence of the ocean, Jacques' breathing, and the bubbling sounds created from the aqualung as I read through the book.

But perhaps the most wonderful illustration is the one here, which, depicted on the screen here, actually does not do the book justice. You have to turn the book around so that it's vertical and open up a centerfold to reveal Jaques and his friends starting out at the top of the ocean and swimming down to the bottom, revealing new fish and other sea creatures along the way.

"On the bottom, they found pink ghost crabs, with eyes
on long stalks, buried so deep in the
sand they looked like a garden of
eyes. And flute fish--with heads like horses
and bodies the shape of tubes--
sticking out of rocky openings,
like pencils in a cup. "

This is nonfiction at its finest. Give it to your science lovers, your ocean lovers, your nonfiction lovers, your picture book lovers. I give it my highest recommendation.

*All images used with permission of Chronicle Books.

For more great nonfiction recommendations, visit the Nonfiction Monday Roundup at Anastasia Suen's Picture Book of the Day.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Everybody Bonjours by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy

Everybody Bonjours! by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (April 8, 2008)
Amazon Price: $12.74
ISBN-10: 0375844430
ISBN-13: 978-0375844430
Source: Review copy from publisher

Remember that old Frank Sinatra song, "April in Paris" ?

"I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never new my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace

Till april in paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees
April in paris, this is a feeling
That no one can ever reprise"

I've never experienced a Paris April, or May, or August...In fact, the extent of my world traveling ends with a five-month teaching stint in Brazil 9 years ago and a honeymoon in Mexico 5 years ago. I want to travel the world, but with a small child, looks like I'm going to have to travel the world through books. I can also show my daughter the world through the multitude of picture books out there that showcase other countries. Leslie Kimmelman's newest book,
Everybody Bonjours!, is one of them.

The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, crepe stands, and the Seine are among many of the sites a little American girl in a red visits with her family in Paris. Using simple text, we follow the girl through Paris, who proclaims throughout, "Everybody Bonjours!"

"From shores.
In stores.
On guided tours.
Everybody bonjours!

Bonjours high.
Bonjours low.
Bonjours fast.
Bonjours slow.
Everybody bonjours!"

The text relies heavily on Sarah McMenemy's colorful and detailed mixed-media illustrations to show readers where they are visiting. For example, on the page that says, "Bonjours high," is a illustration of the Eiffel Tower, with ant-like figures of tourists at the bottom and a red hot air balloon near the top. On the page that says, "Bonjours fast," is an illustration of cars speeding around the Arc de Triomphe monument on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

At the back of a book is a two-page spread with short paragraphs that give a brief description of each of the sixteen places the girl visits in the book. And even the end papers themselves are decorated with a map of Paris, featuring sketches of each place in the book.

While it's not the same as visiting Paris, this book is a great way to introduce the city to children and get them excited about visiting other places in the world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Brave Deeds

Brave Deeds: How One Family Saved Many People from the Nazis by Ann Alma
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Groundwood Books (April 28, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0888997914
ISBN-13: 978-0888997913
Amazon Price: $14.00
Source of book:
Review copy from publisher

From the summer of 1944 to the end of World War II, Frans and Mies Braal, Dutch resistance workers risked their lives and the lives of their children to hide Jews, other Dutch resistance workers hiding from the Nazis, and more people who were on the Nazis' radar in their country home, Het Buitenhuis, on the island of Voorne.

Brave Deeds: How One Family Saved Many People from the Nazis, told from the point of view of a young fictional boy, tells the Braal's story. The story begins with the boy being awakened by his parents in the middle of the night. The Nazis are kicking in the door of their house, and his parents, who are resistance workers, must quickly go into hiding. The boy meets Frans Braal in an ally, who takes him off to Het Buitenhuis.

At Het Buitenhuis, the boy tells the story of a number of people who really lived at the house, including a Canadian soldier who was too ill to navigate the escape route to England. Food was scarce, but no one ever starved as neighbors secretly supplied food and clothing to the Braals. While the Braals do their best to help the children and adults live as normal a life as possible, they live in constant fear of the Nazis. The Nazi's, in fact, do come more than once, and those in hiding must either hide in a cellar in a shed or in ditches covered with leaves in the forest. At one point, the people are tipped off by a neighbor that a Nazi with a search warrant is coming, and they have ten minutes to hide. Here's the narrator's account of hiding in the forest:

"We hurry after Oom as she leads us to a ditch running through a thick clump of trees. 'In there,' he points.

The ditch isn't very big, but we all get in and cover ourselves with leaves.

'Not a sound,' Oom says.

We don't need to be told. We sit side by side. No one moves. I strain to hear noises coming from the house but hear nothing.

When we first sat down, Peter grabbed my hand. Now he squeezes my fingers so hard I'm sure they will be bruised, maybe even broken. A fly starts buzzing in the leaves somewhere close to my ear.

When I don't think I can last another minute, I hear other noises. A twig snaps. Footsteps rustle in the leaves nearby.

We've been found! We'll all be taken prisoner. Or we'll be shot..." (page 52, from Advanced Reader Copy).

Scattered throughout the book are black and white photographs of the Baals, their country house, the children living there, and other photos representing the period, including one of the Star of David Jews were required to wear on their clothing. An epilogue gives more information about the Baals and their lives after the war. It also includes a glossary, historical notes, and recommendations for further reading.

I admit that when I first read about the book, I was a little skeptical about the story being told from the account of a fictional boy. Why not just write a nonfictional account? However, after I read it, I realized that Ann Alma made the right choice for the age group for which the book's intended. Children will identify more with the story because a child is telling it from his point of view and expressing thoughts and feelings familiar to the children reading the story.

Not only does the book tell us the story of two brave souls who risked everything to help others, but it tells the story of hope, courage, kindness, and survival. I highly recommend this for any social studies classroom, and I also highly recommend this as a story every child should read.

Survey Results

First off, a big thanks to everyone who took the time to answer the survey questions I created a few weeks ago. It really helped me get an idea of the types of books you're most interested in hearing about.

Here are the results, along with my completely "untrained-in-survey-analysis" commentary: (Note that the totals don't add up to 100% because people were allowed to choose more than one answer. That's about as well as a I can explain it, since I must have been napping during Statistics class in college. Did I even take statistics in college?)

For which age group would you like to see more book recommendations?
  • Babies and Toddlers (37.5%)
  • Preschool and Elementary Children (75%)
  • Middle Graders (62.5%)
  • Young Adults (25%)
  • Other: Remedial and Reluctant Readers (25%)
This is great news since most of the books I have and want to talk about are picture books for preschool- and elementary-age children. I don't review a lot of middle grade works because I honestly have a difficult time finding good stuff for this age group. Any suggestions?

For which genre would you like to see more book recommendations?
  • Fiction (50%)
  • Nonfiction (62.5%)
  • Educational (25%)
  • Parenting (37.5%)
I love good nonfiction, sometimes even more than fiction, and I've read in tons of places that boys who are reluctant to read really get into nonfiction. I'm always on the lookout for good nonfiction, so you can definitely expect to see more nonfiction selections. I also have tons of fiction and a few educational and parenting books that I want to talk about, so I think you all will see recommendations for books you'll like.

What types of posts would you like to see more of?

  • Book reviews (87.5%)
  • Supplemental resources for classrooms (50%)
  • Reading tips (25%)
  • Literacy news (12.5%)
  • Author and illustrator interviews (0%)
Book reviews are the types of posts I write most often, so you can expect to see more of those on the site. I'm also on the lookout for more supplemental resources but have been neglecting this for a bit. I'll always include supplemental resources when I find good stuff out there.

To help us get a better understanding of our audience, are you:
  • Teacher (25%)
  • Parent (62.5%)
  • Librarian (25%)
  • Blogger (62.5%)
  • Author (0%)
  • Publisher(0%)
  • Other: Literacy Advocate, Homeschooling Parent(25%)'s nice to see such a variety of readers.

Other comments/recommendations:
  • I like your site. Maybe review more classics--it's not all about the newly published works. I like to hear what people have to say about the ones that our parents and parents parents read when they were kids too.
  • I understand the desire to evolve ... but I love the Well-Read Child as is, too!
Thanks for your comments. I have some classics waiting on my bookshelf, so you can definitely expect to see more of those.

A Little Refocusing in Attempt to Find that Work/Life/Bloggy Balance

I could totally spend 40 or more hours a week reading, blogging, and visiting other blogs. However, I have a full time job, a rambunctious toddler, and oh yeah, a husband whom I've neglected a bit since I've been blogging.

I'm the type of person who craves structure, so I have been attempting to review a specific type of book each weekday. For example, Mondays were nonfiction book days, Tuesdays were baby and toddler book days, etc., etc. For a little while, it worked, but over the past few weeks, I've found my structure to be personally stifling and a bit stressful. I'd see a picture book I'd like and have to wait until Wednesday to talk about it, or I wouldn't have a Young Adult or Middle Grade book to review on Thursdays, and I'd feel guilty about it. I also lost a bit of enthusiasm for blogging, which I think may have been a bit evident in my reviews. Add that stress to working all day, coming home and taking care of a child, and finding a bit of time for the ol hubby, and I'm downright pooped.

So, I'm going to try something new here that goes against my brain's desire for structure--I'm not going to have a structure! I feel liberated just saying that. So, what can you expect from me? Still lots of book reviews and recommendations, but I don't want to cage myself in by saying what I'm going to review each day. I probably won't have a review every day, but I'm committed to blogging regularly. I ultimately hope this will result in livelier, more energetic writing, reduce a bit of stress in my life, and help me refocus my energy a bit.

Have any of you had this issue? Any tips for dealing with it?

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes
Reading Level: Young Adult
176 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (August 26, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0763630004
ISBN-13: 978-0763630003
Source of Book: ARC from publisher

The Ghosts of Kerfol by Deborah Noyes is a collection of interrelated short stories that spans four centuries. The book is based on Edith Wharton's ghost story, "Kerfol," a story about a young Frenchwoman, Anne de Barrigan, who was convicted of murdering her husband. She claimed he was killed by a pack of dogs, except there were no dogs at Kerfol, the name of the mansion where they lived--at least no LIVE dogs. Pretty creepy, huh?

The first story in The Ghosts of Kerfol, "Hunger Moon" is set in 1613 and is a retelling of Wharton's "Kerfol" from the point of view of Perrette, Anne de Barrigan's servant. The second story, "These Heads Would Speak,"set in 1802 is told from the point of view of a young artist visiting the haunted Kerfol. The third story, "The Figure Under the Sheet," is set in 1926 and is told from the point of view of a young aristocrat woman whose family owns the Kerfol estate. The fourth, "When I Love You Best,"set in 1982 tells the story of Meg, a girl who is traveling through Europe with her boyfriend and his twin brother. Kerfol is a stop on their tour, and they have a terrifying experience. The final story, "Red Berries," is set in 2006 and is told from the point of view of a deaf gardener whose father is restoring Kerfol. The characters in stories 2-5 all have ghostly experiences that tie them to the first story.

I was excited to read this book first because I'm a sucker for ghost stories, second because I'm an Edith Wharton fan and was familiar with "Kerfol," and finally because I was intrigued to see how Deborah Noyes would tie everything together. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. After reading the first story, I was really into the book. The story was chilling, the characters were well-developed, and it added a new perspective to the story I'd known for quite a while. However, the second story lacked the details of the first that really drew me in, and I ended it with a lot of questions. While some of these answers were revealed in the fourth story, it just wasn't enough. I didn't feel the chills and spookiness that I felt with the first. I began disliking the characters as I continued to read, and the stories kept getting shorter. In the end, I thought it was a grand idea that just wasn't executed well.

It's extremely difficult to write a short story. In fact, I think it may be more difficult to write a good short story than a good novel because you have a very limited time to draw readers in, get them to know the characters enough to care about what happens to them, and ultimately tell a memorable story that leaves readers satisfied. I'm thinking of Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Kate Chopin. Who can forget the anxiety of the murderer in Poe's "Tell Tale Heart" that ultimately leads him to a confession?

Aside from the first story in the book, Noyes short stories are mediocre, not very scary, and a bit boring. I applaud her attempt to try something different, to weave stories together through the ages, but it just didn't work for me.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Graphic Novel Review: In the Small by Michael Hague

In the Small by Michael Hague
Reading Level: Ages 12 and up
128 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers (May 1, 2008)
Amazon Price: $14.99 (usd)
ISBN-10: 0316013234
ISBN-13: 978-0316013239
Source of Book: ARC from publisher

A longtime fan of Michael Hague's illustrations (Peter Pan , The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and more), I was eager to get my hands on his newest endeavor.

In the Small is a graphic novel with a very intriguing premise. A flash of blue light strikes the Earth, killing many humans. The ones who survive are shrunk to six inches tall, and snakes, spiders, cats, birds, rats, and more now prey upon them. Teenage siblings, Mouse and Beat, set upon a mission to lead survivors back to their home where there is a greenhouse, water, and most importantly, safety. But are they really safe and for how long?

Michael Hague does not disappoint with the illustrations, and any fan of graphic novels will be impressed with his detailed, action-packed, life-like art. The story itself will intrigue many sci-fi and fantasy fans. However, I felt it was a little sparse. I yearned for more details and more character development. People get killed in the story, but as I was reading, I honestly hadn't had the opportunity to get to know them enough to really feel anything except, "well, that's unfortunate that the bird got her." The story also only focuses on Mouse and Beat's story, and I wondered what was going on in the rest of the world. Aside from this, I do think that many kids who are into graphic novels will like this, especially since the cliffhanger ending leaves us wanting more.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes

The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (May 5, 2008)
Amazon Price: $11.56
ISBN-10: 0618862447
ISBN-13: 978-0618862443
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

If you're looking for a soothing and memorable bedtime story that will lull your little one to sleep, look no further. Inspired by the cumulative poem, "This is the key of the kingdom," The House in the Night is a cumulative poem that begins with a father handing his small child a key to the house. When the child opens the door, we see a bed, and "on that bed waits a book. In that book flies a bird." The child imagines hopping on this bird's back and flying through the dark, seeing the moon, the sun on the moon's face, and back into the house where the child is tucked into bed by her mother and falls sound asleep.

The text itself is simple enough for a beginning reader to understand, and young children learning new words will enjoy the repetition of the common objects presented in the book:

"Through the dark glows the moon.
On the moon's face shines the sun.
Sun in the moon,
moon in the dark,
dark in the song,
song in the bird,
bird in the book,
book on the bed..."

Beth Krommes' detailed black and white scratchboard illustrations with splashes of a vibrant watercolor yellow throughout are AMAZING and add to the book's warm tone. I predict that children will love having this book read to them, and it's destined to become a classic that many families will enjoy for generations.

Other Bedtime Book Recommendations:
Who Will Sing a Lullaby?
In a Blue Room
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

What Other Bloggers Are Saying:
Book of the Day: The book as a whole is a quieter, gentler story than many others found in the children’s room. It would be perfect for a bedtime story, or for a quiet spell in the middle of a busy day. (Read more...)

Fuse #8: "Fifty years from now libraries and websites will be filled with queries from people asking, 'There's this book I've been trying to find from years. It took place at night and there was yellow . . . it was really gorgeous. Does anyone remember it?'" (Read more...)

A Patchwork of Books: "A very enjoyable bedtime story, you'll probably have to read again and again. " (Read more...)

If you have a review of this book, leave a comment with your link, and I'll post it here!

Rest in Peace: A History of America's Cemeteries

Rest in Peace: A History of American Cemeteries by Meg Greene
Reading Level: Grade 7
Library Binding:
112 pages
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books (CT) (December 15, 2007)
Amazon Price: $24.48
Genre: Nonfiction
ISBN-13: 978-0822534143
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

Growing up in a small town in Southwestern Virginia, there seemed to be a church on nearly every corner. Many of those churches had their own cemeteries, and I remember always being both a little scared and a little fascinated with them. I would look at the graves, the names, the ages of the deceased, the families buried together and would imagine what their story was, how they died, what untold secrets were buried with them. The headstones themselves revealed a bit of their stories and were very intriguing: the statues, the epitaphs, the varying colors, sizes, and designs. As you can imagine, I was very excited to receive a copy of Rest in Peace: A History of American Cemeteries.

The book gives readers a history of cemeteries from the Native American burial grounds in 3000 B.C. to today's "green burials." Along the way, we learn about burial practices, traditions, and customs, along with the evolution of cemeteries from the unsanitary swampy churchyards to the well-groomed lawns we see today. We even learn about pet cemeteries, ethnic cemeteries, and New Orleans' struggle with burying people underground. And if readers are yearning for more information, the back of the book contains a time line, a source notes, a list of places to visits, and recommendations for more books and websites. The sepia-toned photographs throughout the book offer engaging visual support and give the book a somber tone appropriate for the discussion of cemeteries.

While the subject matter may not appeal to all kids, this throughly-researched book provides a comprehensive discussion of American cemeteries and tons of fascinating facts that make it a perfect choice a kid who's into history. It would also make an excellent resource for a history classroom.

What Other Bloggers are Saying:

If you've reviewed this book, please leave a comment with your link, and I'll post it here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Best Books for Babies 2008

Thanks to Susan at Chicken Spaghetti for letting us know that Beginning with Books has released their 9th Annual list of top ten books for babies.

Fruits by Sara Anderson (Handprint Books, 2007)

Vegetables by Sara Anderson (Handprint Books, 2007)

Maisy's Amazing Big Book of Words by Lucy Cousins (Candlewick Press, 2007)

Tip Tip Dig Dig by Emma Garcia (Boxer Books, 2007)

Global Babies (Charlesbridge, 2007)

A Good Day by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 2007)

Black & White by Tana Hoban (Greenwillow Books, 2007)

Peek-a-Baby: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Karen Katz (Little Simon, 2007)

Trucks Roll! by George Ella Lyon, Illustrated by Craig Frazier (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007.)

Whose Chick Are You? by Nancy Tafuri (Greenwillow Books, 2007)