Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Lanesha lives in New Orleans' Ninth Ward with Mama Ya-Ya who's cared for her since she was born.  Lanesha doesn't really have any contact with her uptown family, but she doesn't let it bother her.  Mama Ya-Ya is all she needs.  Mama Ya-Ya has visions and see ghosts.  When Mama Ya-Ya has a vision about upcoming hurricane Katrina that leaves her unable to take care of Lanesha, Lanesha knows it's time for her to help them both.

This was a beautiful, lyrical story.  It's not told in verse, but the language itself had a poetic, flowing quality to it.  Lanesha is a strange child, and she knows it.  She doesn't have any friends at school, all the kids think she's weird.  Lanesha loves math (she practices for fun) and sees ghosts, like the ghost of her mother who died giving birth to her.  Many people are scared of Mama Ya-Ya and think she's a witch.  Mama Ya-Ya was a midwife, but people stop wanting her to deliver their babies.

Lanesha is happy and secure inside her small world with Mama Ya-Ya, despite her lack of friends and the fact her blood family want nothing to do with her.  She has everything she needs, and Mama Ya-Ya takes care of her. 

As the hurricane approaches, Mama Ya-Ya starts to act strange.  She's had a vision she doesn't understand.  She keeps saying, "the hurricane is not the problem."  Lanesha is worried.  Mama Ya-Ya has never acted like this before.  She's never not taken care of things.  So it falls to Lanesha to prepare for the hurricane, and it's Lanesha that keeps them safe.

After the hurricane, Lanesha's one friend, TaShon, who lives across the street from her comes back, having lost his family while taking shelter in the Superdome.  They are together when the levees break and the water starts to rise.  By this point, Mama Ya-Ya is sick and Lanesha and TaShon must work together to survive.

The ending of the book was hopeful but sad.  We feel Lanesha's triumph at having survived and taken care of herself and TaShon, but we don't know what will happen to her.  And we, the reader, know all the pain that will be coming in New Orleans.  But we're left feeling that Lanesha will be all right.  She is an exceptional child.  She will make it through.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Winners of the 2014 International Latino Book Award.  From SLJ. 

School librarian cutbacks widen digital divide.  From District Administration. 

Maker culture and the library.  From PW.

Carnegie medal row over 'depressing' winner grows, and, why teenagers need bleak books.  From The Guardian.

Why your library needs music.  From SLJ. 

Judy Blume’s first novel for adults since Summer Sisters will be released in summer 2015.  From The New York Times.

The Story of Ferdinand
: talking with kids about the first children's book on gender nonconformity.  From The Huffington Post.

Annie on My Mind author Nancy Garden dies at age 76.  From SLJ.

Children's books given away at food banks.  From The Telegraph.

ALA report confirms negative impact of filtering on student learning.  From The Digital Shift.

American Association of School Libraries announces 2014 best websites for teaching & learning.  From SLJ.

Why J.K. Rowling will always be your favorite author.  From BuzzFeed.

10 best boarding school books.  From PW.

Reflecting on 25 years of The Giver.  From The Huffington Post.

Duncan Tonatiuh wants Latino children to see themselves in books.  From NBC News.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth

Jarrett's mom takes in foster kids.  Usually babies whom need a safe place for a short period of time.  But this time it's not just a baby.  It's a baby and her older brother.  Jarrett hates having to share his room Kevon, a total stranger, and doesn't appreciate people assuming they're cousins or friends.  And since Kevon's father can't be found, it looks like they'll be staying for a while...

I thought this was really well done.  It showed Jarrett's complex feelings about what his mother does.  It's admirable and selfless that his mother takes in babies.  Jarrett knows that.  But sometimes he feels like it's all about the babies.  They can't do anything, or go anywhere.  He feels like he doesn't get as much of his mother's attention as he should.  His mother's been talking about going back to school for years, but hasn't.  And it's hard, getting attached to the babies and then having them leave.

Jarrett is 11 and Kevon is 12.  The start off pretty much ignoring each other.  But it's summer, and Kevon ends up going with Jarrett to the Center, where Kevon instantly makes friends with all the guys and turns out to be awesome at basketball.  Jarrett is a little jealous and wants to take Kevon down a peg.  The two sabotage each other back and forth, until they each do something to each other that is possibly unforgivable.

Kevon situation was realistically sad.  He had his sister, Treasure, end up with Jarrett's family because Treasure is hurt, social services are call,  and their father can't be found.  Kevon insists he doesn't know where his father is, but Jarrett is pretty sure he's lying.  It turns out that Kevon's father is mentally unstable and off his medication.  Kevon has mostly been caring for Treasure on his own.

Other, less serious stuff is going on as well.  There's a girl Jarrett really likes but can't get up the courage to talk to.  Jarrett and his friend Ennis, who has a secret of his own, are making movie trailers.  Jarrett is in summer school and he's afraid he might have to repeat a grade.  All this stuff about Kevon and his father make Jarrett wonder about his own father, about who he knows nothing.

I thought it was a really well done guys-friendship book, and one that might ring true for a lot of kids.

Kinda Like Brothers comes out August 26, 2014.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Brian Biggs

Frank Einstein is a scientist and an inventor.  He's also a kid.  Frank is determined to win this year's Midville Science Prize.  With the winnings, he'll be able to save his grandfather's Fix It! repair shop.  With Frank's invention of two SmartBots, Klink and Klank, he tackles his biggest project of all: an antimatter motor.  But Frank, his friend Watson, and the two robots realizes they have bigger problems to worry about than the science fair: Frank's rival kid-scientist Edison has some evil ideas of his own.

I love the idea of these books.  A series that teaches scientific concepts!  So cool!  This first book looked at the concept of matter, the next book will look at energy, and so on it will go through six planned books.  Really great idea.  And I totally learned things.  For example, on the second page, I learned the correct way to calculate distance between seeing lightening and hearing thunder.  I always thought the number of seconds between them was the number of miles a way the storm was.  Wrong! You have to divide it by five, because there's five seconds between light and sound for every mile.  I've been doing it wrong my whole life.

As for the story itself, I wasn't blown away.  It was a fine lower-middle grade read.  It wasn't quite what I expect from Jon Scieszka, which is really sharp and funny.  I mean, it's quite the undertaking, explaining the entire concept of matter while also making a fun story!  Future books will probably be smoother.  I thought it was perhaps a little clunky, melding the adventure story with the science concepts.  

I liked that along with the story there are diagrams of the scientific concepts.  You can ignore them if you want, but they definitely helped a visual person like me better understand the concepts Frank was using in his inventions.  And aside from the diagrams there were very cute illustrations by Brain Biggs.

I look forward to seeing where the rest of the series goes.

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor comes out August 19, 2014.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


March Book Two coming in 2015.  From PW.

Remembering Mary Rodgers, author of Freaky Friday.  From The New York Times.

A Florida school pulls Paper Towns from its summer reading list.  From Los Angeles Times.

The Amazon vs. Hathett battle goes on.  From SLJ.

College graduates have trouble doing deep online searches.  From The Chronicle of Higher Education.

12 great graphic novel adaptations.  From PW.

Roger Sutton says the Children’s Choice Book Awards are nonsense.  From The Horn Book.

FCC approves e-rate plan to inject $2 billion into wifi for schools and libraries.  From SLJ.

The bench in Amsterdam where Hazel and August kiss in The Fault in Our Stars movie is missing.  From The Huffington Post.

Go Boston!  Boston leads in young adult and children's books.  From The Boston Globe.

Comic Con 2014.  From PW.

Book drive for unaccompanied immigrant children now underway.  From Los Angeles Times.

Gayle Forman's If I Stay coming to theaters this August.  From SLJ.

Should children's books have happy endings?  From The Guardian.

The Brontes made tiny books as children.  From BuzzFeed.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has released its first Banned Books Week Handbook.  And it's free!  From PW.

Soviet children’s literature: The struggle between ideology and creativity.  From Russia Beyond the Headlines.

On adapting The Graveyard Book to a graphic novel.  From PW.

Monday, July 21, 2014

I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached

Zeina Abirached, who wrote the beautiful and poignant A Game for Swallows writes another graphic novel of wartime memories.

In A Game of Swallows, Abirached tells the story of  her time growing up during the civil war in Lebanon.  It was more of a tradition telling of her life during that time.  In I Remember Beirut, Abirached simply tells things she remembers.

"I remember when there was no electricity or gas, we used kerosene for heating."  "I remember traffic jams."  "I remember how to fold a paper boat."  Each of these memories relates to a larger event or experience Abirached recalls from the time of the war.

It paints a detailed picture of everyday life for a child during this time.  It also allows us to see the things that Abirached remembers and considers important as an adult, and in some cases, how they impacted her.

What I've loved about Abirached's graphic novels is that the simple and straightforward way they are told allows them to be appropriate for a middle grade audience.  Her graphic novels are an excellent way to help a younger child understand war the effects it has on the children, or to explore how another child's life can be so different from their own.

The illustrations are impactful.  Done in black and white, and fitting with the story, simple in detail, the panels and full page illustrations further show the impact these events had on Abirached's life.

I Remember Beirut comes out October 1, 2014.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Terror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson

Hilary Westfield, now a pirate and Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates member is hard at work bringing magic back to the land.  However, there are those that question whether she is piratical enough and Hilary must take on an adventure to live up to her name of The Terror of the Southlands.  Before she can engage in a duel or kill a sea monster, the Enchantress goes missing and Hilary knows that her friends must come first.  She sets off on a quest, which might prove she's the Terror after all.

I absolutely loved Magic Marks the Spot, which was Caroline Carlson's first book.  There were many laugh-out-loud moments and I thought the whole things was fresh and witty and just generally delightful.  That of course meant I had very high expectations for the second book in the series.  No pressure or anything.  While I didn't find myself laughing out loud this time around, it was still delightful and a great second book the series.

Hilary has fulfilled her dream of becoming a member of The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, but since her dramatic finding of the Enchantress' treasure and the arrest of her father, Hilary has mostly been helping Captain Jasper bring magic pieces to all the people of the land.  This gets her a letter from the League president telling her that she isn't acting piratical enough and needs to step it up.  Hilary is quiet distressed, because honestly, she isn't sure if she can defeat another pirate in a duel or kill a sea monster.  Before she can try, the Enchantress disappears.

With the disappearance of the Enchantress, who was keeping everyone in line with their newly found use of magic, things start to fall apart.  People are NOT acting very responsibly!  Hilary knows she must try to help the Enchantress, even if the VNHLP president seems suspiciously against it.  And then Captain Jasper is kidnapped!

With her usual crew of first mate Charlie, Claire, her finishing school friend, the gargoyle and her governess Miss Geryson they set off to find them both and soon discover a group called The Mutineers, who write very polite letters, is behind it.

There's great action and adventure.  There's dramatic betrayals and friendships proven.  There's lots of tongue-in-cheek humor.  As with the first, it's all about being true to your friends and to who you really are.  And the girl who will become the new Enchantress is discovered!  As ever, delightful all around.

The Terror of the Southlands comes out September 9, 2014.
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