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Archive for the month “March, 2014”

The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax

The Nazis invaded Poland and bit by bit began separating the Jews from the rest of the population with new rules and regulations meant to control and debase them. Eventually, in 1942, they moved all the Jews in Warsaw into an area now known as the Warsaw Ghetto. As more and more Jews were brought there, the conditions worsened until it was almost unbearable. This is based on a true story of a freedom fighter named Mordechai Anielewicz who fought against all odds to at least let the Nazis know they weren’t going to die without trying to stop them. This is a short book and one that struggling readers in high school who are studying the Holocaust can manage. The words may be understandable but the behavior and demeanor of the Nazis remains as shocking as ever. For a glimpse into a time in history we will always remember with a pain in our hearts, read this book. This book won a Batchelder Honor this year for one of the best translations into English.

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Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

This book has blown me away! I had not known that Mexican Americans were also victims of segregation until I read this book.

This is the extraordinary story of a Mexican American family in the Los Angeles area in 1944 whose children  were not able to enroll in their local school because of their ethnicity. Instead they were shunted over to a poorer, inferior  school that served the Mexican population. Sylvia Mendez was turned away from the “white” school but her parents decided not to accept this injustice. They gathered a group of other Mexican Americans in the same situation, hired a lawyer, and went up against the school district. They won! Of course, appeals were launched but in the end justice prevailed.

The story is well told and the art is fabulous. It definitely shows the heritage of this Mexican artist in the folk art appearance of the art. Yet it is contemporary and very appealing. This is a book that lives up to the standards of strong non-fiction. It has an author’s note, photos of Sylvia and her family, a glossary, a bibliography, an index. How thorough is that? Abrams, the publisher, always takes care with the books they publish. This is a must have for teachers. It needs to be included in all civil rights units and any time Brown vs. the Board of Education is mentioned. The Mendez case preceded that case and laid the groundwork for its success. This is an amazing book.

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Shoe Dog by Megan McDonald

This book is a treat because the author writes with such an ear for sound and rhythm and the illustrator (Katherine Tillotson) dares to do something different with her art. The result is a very terrific book. Shoe Dog is adopted from a rescue center and is delighted to go to a home where he will get pets, kisses, and love. As soon as Shoe Dog gets home, he earns his name by chewing up his owner’s shoe. She tells him no  but in no time at all he has found another shoe to teethe on. Each time she, herself (she is referred to as that all throughout and, read aloud, it’s gorgeous) takes a privilege away until shoe dog finally makes the connection. The fluid illustrations – almost squiggle-like – captures Shoe Dog’s brio and innocence perfectly. In the end Shoe Dog makes a compromise that is very satisfying to readers. This is a real winner.

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The Scar Boys (audio) by Len Vlahos

This audio is definitely a “driveway” audio if there ever was one. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it is used for an audio that you cannot turn off when you reach home. You have to sit in the car and get to the end of the chapter at the very least. This is the story of Harry who as a young boy was bullied in such a way that his tormentors tied him to a tree and left him there despite a thunder storm rumbling in the distance. When the ferocious storm passed through, Harry’s tree was hit by lightning and burned. Harry’s mother found him passed out, ablaze, and still tied to the tree. When we meet him, Harry is writing his college essay which is the conceit throughout the book. He brings us up to speed on what has happened to him between the ages of 9 and 19. The essay becomes an entire bio and completely pulls you in. As a teen Harry joins a rock band called The Scar Boys (named after himself) and his love for classic rock is seen throughout the book. Each chapter begins with the name of a song, who wrote it, and who performed it. The reader/listener can’t help but identify with this damaged boy who is trying to find his way in life. The narration was completely authentic. Get this one – you won’t be disappointed.

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Shenandoah Children’s Literature Conference

Every year Karen Huff at Shenandoah University puts on the most amazing children’s lit conference and this year looks to be no exception. The theme this year is It Takes Two: Fact + Fiction = Perfect Partners. What a great idea! The push in education right now is regularly bringing non-fiction into the classroom and I am thrilled about that. The non-fiction we have now is mind-blowing. This year’s Caldecott medalist, Brian Floca, is coming and he gives terrific talks. One of my very favorite non-fiction writers and illustrators is the great Steve Jenkins. I have never been disappointed by his work. April Pulley Sayre published a wonderful book called Eat Like a Bear this year and Steve Jenkins illustrated it. What a great opportunity to see both of them at the same conference. And Susan Campbell Bartoletti! It doesn’t get much better than that. Her book, They Called Themselves the KKK, was stunning as was Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow. This is non-fiction writing at its best. Reading Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma: The Darwin’s Leap of Faith intrigued me so much that I actually traveled to the Galapagos to walk in Darwin’s shoes. Similarly, I brought Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, The Blue Death and a Boy called Eel to London with me last summer and actually finished it sitting on the bank of the Thames. This story of the horrible cholera outbreak in 1854 in London was a compelling read. Janell Cannon (Stellaluna) should be great and Chris Soentpiet’s talk on his illustrations is always great. I really admire Carole Boston Weatherford’s work, in particular, Moses, Freedom on the Menu, and Remember the Bridge. She has brought African-American history alive to so many children (and me). I have not heard Tony Medina speak yet and am really looking forward to it. His book Love to Langston is a real favorite of mine. Aranka Siegal is best known for her Newbery Honor book on surviving the Holocaust titles Upon the Head of a Goat: A Childhood in Hungary, 1939-1944. I have read a lot of  Holocaust books for children and YA because I think if I keep reading I will finally understand how it all happened. That will never happen. Still, knowing history is a sure way to make certain such things never happen again. Finally is Blue Balliett who has grabbed readers’ interest with her mysteries starting with Chasing Vermeer. Kids love her books!

This is a wonderful conference to attend and you have such access to the speakers. It really is unusual. You also have the option of earning 3 graduate credits while you’re there. For more information contact the Children’s Literature Conference at http://www.su.edu/childrenslit. See you there!

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She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

Laureth Peak is the 16 year-old blind daughter of a writer who has left behind the funny books he wrote to delve into his passion: numbers and patterns. He is having trouble getting this writing project off the ground and his family suffers for it as he becomes somewhat obsessed about the history of patterns and numbers. Laureth tends to his website and receives an email from a young man in Brooklyn, NY who has found her father’s writer’s notebook. But wasn’t Dad supposed to be in Europe somewhere? With Mum away visiting her sister, Laureth leaves London for NY in hopes of retrieving the notebook and finding her father whom she fears has gone way off the deep end. She takes her 7 year-old brother as her “guide” and they are soon in NY. The plot sounds crazy but in the hands of Sedgwick it is entirely believable. It incorporates the patterns and numbers that are obsessing Dad and Laureth tries hard to puzzle it all out. It is so cleverly plotted that is was a joy to read. Sedgwick keeps up the suspense until the very end when he divulges a pattern of his own to the reader. Laureth is a well drawn character who surpasses even her own expectations of her abilities as she negotiates her way through the puzzle clues her father has left behind. Blindness does not make you invisible. This was an amazing read.

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Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh

Edward Hopper’s paintings are iconic and are American through and through. Burleigh’s text brings to life Hopper’s life with particular focus on his youth. Hopper always knew he wanted to be a painter and through hard work and determination he became was he was meant to be. Asking an illustrator to mimic a famous painter is always tricky but Wendell Minor was an inspired choice. In the back matter he refers to how he handled that task. A great way to introduce a great painter to children.

Pub date: This book will be published in August.

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Gravity by Jason Chin


Jason Chin has an uncanny ability to take HUGE concepts and make them understandable to young children. Here he tackles gravity and does an amazing job relating the concept to things children already know and understand. His illustrations turn the world upside down as we imagine a world without gravity. He rights the world by restoring gravity at the end of the book. The last page shows children at a lemonade stand just after gravity forced things to fall to earth. In one child’s hand is a rocket that appears throughout of the book. Young readers will love poring over the details and thinking about the amazing force that is gravity. Teachers will love this book.

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My Bus by Byron Barton

Everything about this book says preschool! From the bright and bold colors that can be seen across a room to the simple story itself, this book will delight preschoolers. The bus driver picks up his passengers, both cats and dogs, along his route. If a child can add there is the opportunity for that as we watch the bus fill up. Later when he begins letting his riders off, readers can count down if they’d like. Or not. It is just as much fun either way. There is one dog left over at the end but, not to worry, he is claimed right away.

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It’s an Orange Aardvark! by Michael Hall

Carpenter ants (wearing hard hats!) are the stars of this fun and engaging book. They are fearful of aardvarks because, well, they eat carpenter ants (hard hats and all!). Before they leave their tree they make holes to look outside and see whether the coast is clear. At the opening of each hole they do see an aardvark! They know aardvarks are grey but the one they see is orange. At least the worrywart thinks it’s an aardvark. Hole after hole a different color is seen and the worrywart cries out in alarm. In the end, they are not seeing an aardvark at but something with the initials ROYGBIV. The design is perfect and the illustrations are bright enough to draw in any preschooler in the room.

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