Showing posts from February, 2015

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama by Hester Bass, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama is the newest book by Hester Bass, illustrated by E.B. LewisSeeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama is a superb addition to the genre of narrative non-fiction, and a welcome addition to books about the Civil Rights Movement. Beginning in January of 1962, Bass sets the scene, telling readers that life in Huntsville, known as the "Space Center of the Universe," is good, but not for everyone.

Bass draws the reader in immediately with an instance of segregation that was new to me when she writes of a girl who is not allowed to try on shoes and must show pictures of her feet in order to be sized. Yet, the seeds of freedom have been planted in Huntsville and Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama spends the rest of the book detailing the non-violent, peacefully organized actions that kept the violence that was exploding in other parts of the South at bay. With th…

Capital Days: Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nation's Capital by Tonya Bolden, 96 pp, RL: 4

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, is set during the days before the American Revolution and is narrated by a thirteen-year-old slave girl. It is one of my favorite historical fiction novels and why I was so excited to read Capital Days: Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nation by multi-award winning authorTonya Bolden. For this book, Bolden, who was writing another book when she stumbled upon two pages from Michael Shiner's diary on the Library of Congress's website, shares the events of Shiner's life as recorded in his diary, providing a parallel timeline of events in the growth of the nation's capital.

Michael Shiner was born into slavery in Maryland in 1805 and was brought to Washington D.C. by his owner, Thomas Howard, as a child and leased to the Navy Shipyard. Capital Days: Michael Shiner's Journal and the Growth of Our Nationis visually stunning, rich with primary-source documents and archival photos and illustrations. Bolden begins her book i…

Stanley the Farmer by Wiliam Bee

I don't know how I missed this new series from one of my new favorite author/illustrators, William Bee, but Stanley, the machine-loving, job-exploring hamster made his debut last year in these brilliant, bright, big format books from Peachtree Publishers. Stanley the Builder and Stanley's Garage were the first two books in the series and now Stanley the Farmer joins the series with Stanley's Diner coming this fall!
The text in Bee's Stanley books is perfect - straightforward and descriptive and the names of the characters, from Shamus to Little Woo to Myrtle and Charlie are fun, but the illustrations are the real gems here. Thick black lines and white backgrounds make the simple, detailed illustrations pop off the page. Bee begins each book with a fantastic spread of the tools of the trade needed for each new venture. The text, while simple, covers all the aspects of the job at hand that will feed little listeners hunger for knowledge and enhance their vocabulary. These…

The Baseball Player and the Walrus by Ben Loory, illustrated by Alex Latimer

The Walrus and the Baseball Player by Ben Loory and illustrated by Alex Latimer is such a perfect book! Perfectly paced, perfectly mirrored and perfectly kind of weird - in the best way possible that kids are sure to love. At its most basic, The Walrus and the Baseball Playeris a story about the responsibilities that come with having a pet. But it's also about discovering what you love, finding a way to make it work and picking up the pieces and going on when it doesn't. And The Walrus and the Baseball Playeris about hard work - the hard work of taking care of a pet and taking care of yourself.

The Walrus and the Baseball Player begins, "Once upon a time there was a baseball player. He played in the major leagues, and made lots and lots and lots of money. People came from all around the world to see him play. But the baseball player was unhappy. And no one knew why." A trip to the zoo and some time spent at the walrus enclosure prove to be life changing. That night, a…

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, 237 pp, RL: 4

I am embarrassed to admit that I had The Crossover by Kwame Alexander sitting on my bookshelf for almost a year before it won the Newbery Award this year. I read the blurb about basketball phenom Josh Bell and his twin brother Jordan and couldn't get excited, even though I LOVE verse novels and am continually amazed by them. It's just that I have zero interest in sports and sports stories. Of course, I should have known that The Crossover would be so much more than a basketball story. And, as breathtaking and unforgettable as The Crossover is, had I read it before February 2, 2015, I do not think I could have predicted that it would win the (well deserved) Newbery Award. Of course, that's not really saying much since the ALA awards are rarely predictable. 
So, what makes The Crossoverso much more than a basketball story? First, let me note that one thing that Alexander does in The Crossover that I have not experienced in the handful of verse novels I have read, is write in …

Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lai, 260 pp, RL: 4

I had the good fortune to listen to Thanhhà Lai talk about her new book, Listen, Slowly, before sitting down to write this review. In this interview, Lai talks about how she came to write her first, multiple-award-winning book, Inside Out and Back Again, the semi-autobiographical story of a young refugee's move from Vietnam to Alabama:
I have very specific reasons for writing in prose poems for "Inside Out And Back Again." You know, for years and years and years I could never get the voice right and I was working on this other novel. And finally one day I'm standing on a playground at 110th in Central Park and suddenly all these images started coming back to me. It would be sharp, quick images, like red and yellow hot dogs. And I realized, you know, I'm back inside the mind of that little girl who's standing on a playground in Montgomery, Ala., when I first entered this country. And I thought that's my voice. And I didn't know it was called prose poems…

When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

When Otis Courted Mama, written by Kathi Appelt and illustrated by Jill McElmurry, is a new book about blended families, something that is rare the world of picture books, and even more rarely done well. That said, When Otis Courted Mamais done really well, so well that I almost hate to mention that it even is a story about blended families, preferring to refer to it solely as the great story - magnificently illustrated - that it is. But, since books for young children that touch on these themes are so rare, it must be said. Appelt has a winning way of telling the story of Cardell, the coyote, who had a "mostly wonderful life" before Otis. Cardell had a "perfectly good mama and a perfectly good daddy" who adored him. And Cardell "adored them, too. With good reason." The  "mostly wonderfuls" and "perfectly goods" take the edge off what could be a very didactic, Berenstain Bears type of story. Little listeners and young readers tend to b…

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mulally Hunt, 267 pp, RL: 4

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt will (and has in many advance reviews) be compared to RJ Palacio's Wonder for her portrayal of an outsider on the edges of mainstream education, an increasingly popular theme in middle grade literature. Palacio's main character Auggie, who struggles with a physical deformity, shares narrative duties with a few other characters, but his voice is unforgettable and endearing. Wonder is also an amazing opportunity for readers to experience the thoughts and feelings of someone who is judged by his appearances, his intelligence often overlooked. And in this way, Fish in a Treeis a fantastic glimpse into what it is like for narrator Ally Nickerson, an undiagnosed dyslexic, to have her other intelligences and talents overlooked or diminished. 
With a father in the military, Ally has moved a lot in her short life - seven school in seven years to be exact. Ally's her dad is stationed overseas, her mom works full time and her grandfather, also her …

Hero by Sarah Lean, 196 pp, RL 4

Hero is the newest book from Sarah Lean. I reviewed A Hundred Horses last year and was impressed and moved by her story of a mysterious girl without a family, another girl mourning the absence of her father and a legend about wild horses. Herodidn't quite grab me right from the start, the way A Hundred Horses did, but once I was hooked I could not put the book down.
Herobegins with narrator Leo Biggs telling us that he can "fit a whole Roman amphitheater in my imagination, and still have loads of room. It's big in there. Much bigger than you would think. I can build a dream, a brilliant dream of anything and be the here I want . . ." Living in an English village built on Roman ruins, Leo sees lions, gladiators and the crowds in the stands of the amphitheater, winning the approval of Jupiter, as he walks down the street of the English village he lives in. Feeling like he has no talents that can win him awards and make his parents proud of him, Leo keeps his imaginings …