How Things Work: Discover Secrets and Science Behind Bounce Houses, Hovercraft, Robotics, and Everything In Between by T.J. Resler, 208pp, RL 4

This was true with my own children, but especially now that I am an elementary school librarian, I see how much kids love a highly visual non-fiction book with chunks of information scattered across the pages. National Geographic Kids recognizes this as well and has become a go-to publisher of encyclopedic books. With How Things Work: Discover Secrets and Science Behind Bounce Houses, Hovercraft, Robotics, and Everything In Between by T.J. Resler, this format gets an extra layer of (shh! educational material) with features on innovators in their industries and a really cool "Try This!" section in each of the five chapters that gives kids easy experiments and crafts to create at home.


Resler's approach with How Things Work is to grab kids with flashy, fun things like bounce houses, hoverboards and rollercoasters and explore the science related to these marvels. I especially like how Resler begins Chapter 1, Beam Me Up, "Cool gadgets and scientific discoveries don't just come from laboratories. Many are dreamed up in the minds of storytellers." There is even a timeline of science fiction imaginings that have come to fruition in one way or another.

Every chapter of How Things Work includes a "Just the Facts" page where readers can find quick answers about how things work s well as a "Tell Me More" page where they can delve deeper into the science of it all. I really enjoyed the section on tablets and touch screens, particularly a factoid about British novelist E.M. Forster, author of A Room with a View, among others, an a science fiction story he wrote in 1909 (who knew?) where "people communicated through handheld round plates, a type of live video call." There is also a great feature in each chapter, Tales from the Lab, where I learned that Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr and composer friend George Antheil patented an invention that allowed secret communications to be transmitted during WWII, thwarting the Nazis.

How Things Work includes an extensive glossary as well as a great "Find Out More" section with websites, videos and books for kids to explore. How Things Work is a great appetizer, filled with images and ideas that will get kids thinking. It's also a great jumping off point for deeper explorations and experiments!

Source: Review Copy


10 Fun Facts About Kier Graff, author of THE MATCHSTICK CASTLE

Ten Fun Facts about Me
By Keir Graff, author of 

My name means “dark one” in Scots Gaelic. (It also rhymes with “ear.”) My parents wanted to honor my mom’s Scottish ancestry and learned the name when they saw Keir Dullea in the movie David and Lisa. Seventeen years after I was born, I played the same role as Dullea in a play at my high school. I have met three other Keirs in my life: one was a boy who lived nearby for a brief time while I was growing up; one was a woman working in a Denver hotel (she upgraded me to a suite; we Keirs stick together); and the third is a fellow fan of my favorite soccer team and also lives in Chicago.
I grew up next to a mountain in Missoula, Montana. The neighborhood kids played on the mountain all the time, and when our moms wanted us to come down for dinner, they used different signals. One of them blew a whistle, one of them just yelled, and mine rang a bell.
The hospital I was born in and the grade school I attended have both been torn down and replaced with new buildings that have the same names. My high school is still standing, though: Hellgate High School. It takes its grisly name from a nearby canyon where French trappers found so many human remains that they named it accordingly. Blackfeet Indians ambushed the Bitterroot Salish at the narrow canyon mouths.
I left Missoula a couple of days after I graduated high school, in a van with a band that was passing through town. I had $350 in my pocket. The van broke down the first night and we had to spend most of my money to get it repaired. When we reached San Francisco a few days later, the band broke up. I returned home at the end of the summer with fifty cents in my pocket.
I played in many bands over many years, where I was most often the lead vocalist and guitar player. I wrote hundreds of songs and could almost sing in key. My brother and I once played in a band whose biggest claim to fame was opening for the Flaming Lips in a Mexican restaurant.
I have done many different kinds of writing, from magazine articles, columns, and book reviews to novels, short stories, screenplays, plays, poetry, and one picture book that made my then agent think I’d lost my mind. I think poetry, picture books, and funny fiction are the hardest things to write well.
My first book for adults was published under a fake name. My second one was going to be published under a different fake name—the cover had even been designed—but at the last minute the publisher talked me out of it. I am convinced I will publish more books under more different names but I’m not going to tell you what they are.
I have spent most of my adult life rooting for terrible sports teams. But then the Cubs won the World Series, something I’m still trying to get my head around.
When my wife and I got married, we lived in a basement. When we moved to Chicago, we lived for awhile on the 56th floor of a building designed by our favorite architect—we had dinner parties on a balcony more then 500 feet in the air!
These days I spend most of my time in front of a computer, but if I had my wish, I wouldn’t even own a cell phone. I’d spend more time outdoors and a lot more time in Montana. Reading, writing, running, hiking, and spending time with friends and family is all I really need to be happy.


The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff, 276pp, RL 4

With The Matchstick Castle, Keir Graff has written the perfect summer read for kids, although anyone who likes adventures with larger-than-life families will love this book no matter what the season. In narrator, soon-to-be-sixth-grader Brian Brown, Graff creates a believable, every-kid voice, drawing you into the story immediately. Instead of a summer filled with soccer tournaments, staying up late and eating junk food, Brian finds himself stuck in Boring, Illinois with his straight-A cousin Nora and his Uncle Gary, who needs subjects to beta-test his educational computer software, Summer's Cool, on. But, a lost soccer ball and a jog into the nearby woods changes Brian and Nora's summer in more ways than they could have imagined.

Hidden in the woods is the Matchstick Castle, a rambling, ramshackle, hazardous seven storey house with a boat perched a top the highest point. Living in the Matchstick Castle are five brothers, the great-grandsons of the architect, Archibald McCulloch van Dash, who happened to find, then hide too well, a chest filled with Confederate gold. Ivar, Kingsley, Roald, Montague and Dashiell van Dash, along with Dash's son Cosmo and Anthea, his missing aviatrix wife, are all adventurers and explorers, traveling by boat, foot, on the fiercest seas and darkest jungles. Kingsley von Dash has even explored what he calls "the depths of the most frightening place: the human brain," and documented it in his book, The Cerebral Conundrum. The brothers van Dash aren't good at more practical things like keeping the Matchstick Castle livable and safe, answering the mail or using a computer, and when Brian and Nora stumble into their crumbling abode, they also stumble into a few serious problems. The Matchstick Castle is just days away from being torn down by the city of Boring for numerous code violations and Uncle Kingsley, who has been missing for over a year, sends word that he is trapped - inside the Matchstick Castle!

Graff does a marvelous job in creating the Matchstick Castle, making it feel just real enough to be believed and imagined, but packed with an array of oddities like a mushroom garden and a candlepin bowling alley along with a grand ballroom and a massive library with a hilarious cataloguing system with directions like, "On the third or fourth shelf above the spot where Roald spilled the bowl of Artillery punch at Christmas" instead of call numbers. And of course, many many staircases in varying degrees of usability and safety. While Brian and Nora lead the battle to save the Matchstick Castle (among many battles, one of which involves giant Amazonian killer wasps) the van Dash family steal the show. Graff wraps up the story nicely, with some surprises and discoveries that help the cast save the day - and the castle. I hope that Graff has another book planned with this setting and these characters - I need to know more about the remarkable van Dash family.

Source: Review Copy