Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Picture Book Pick: Hedgehog Needs a Hug

Hedgehog Needs a Hug
by Jen Betton 
Illustrations by the author 
G.P. Putnam's Sons 
32 pages
ISBN: 9781524737122

Jen Betton's debut children's book is a true treasure. Captivating art and winsome characters will leave young readers in stitches. 

Poor Hedgehog. He wants a hug in the worst way. He wakes up in a sad state and knows that a hug will make him feel so much better. He approaches forest animals and asks for a hug. No one wants to hug Hedgehog. They are afraid of his prickles, but they give him excuses why they can't hug him. Rabbit, Raccoon and Turtle turn him down, but Fox agrees to hug him. Hedgehog realizes Fox wants to eat him and scurries away. Finally, Hedgehog finds a hug from Skunk and they become fast friends. 

Young readers will love the sound and rhythm of new words not usually present in children's picture books: toddled, scram, scuffle, scoot, scampered, trudged, shuffled, and drawled. 

Each animal has its own way of moving that children will memorize and love to repeat. Rabbit hops away, "hippityy-skippity-scram." Raccoon left Hedgehog  by "scuffle-scoot-scampered." Fox moves by "sly-slide-slinking" and Hedgehog "tip-patter-padded" over to Skunk for a hug. 

This is a fun book to read for read aloud. For children who may not know forest creatures, it's an adventure. Hedgehog Needs a Hug is my favorite picture book this year! 

Highly, highly recommended for every bedtime and story time. You MUST read this book out loud and you MUST read it many times! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Picture Book Pick: The Honeybee

The Honeybee
By Kirsten Hall
Illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
48 pages
ISBN: 9781481469975

This beautiful cover pops and the book's end papers are decked out in the bees' signature colors: yellow and black and will catch your eye, but the happy illustrations and text that follows the production of honey and the bees' lives will keep young readers entertained. The honeybee is one of the world's endangered species and young readers will cheer for the bees after reading all about them. The bees are shown working and on the production line where they, "Chew, chew--we're changing its makeup,/ We're giving the nectar a chemical shake-up." The faces and features of each bee is unique and children will love their personalities.

Did you know that bees can smell fear? The book instructs people to stand still and be calm and the bee or bees will most likely fly away. However, bees are territorial, so it warns not to get too close to the hive.

A page from the author with bee facts and what children (and adults) can do to help the bees and save them is included.

A cute must-read for the budding animal activist, environmental warrior, budding young scientist or beekeeper, or anyone who loves animals and nature.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Picture Book Pick: How Do Dinosaurs Learn To Read?

How Do Dinosaurs Learn To Read?
by Jane Yolen
Illustrations by Mark Teague
The Blue Sky Press/Scholastic
32 pages
ISBN: 978133233018

Available: Jane 26, 2018

The beloved Teague dinosaurs are back and they are amusing and captivating as they learn to read and treat their books with care. Every parent and librarian will love this book for teaching young ones how to turn pages carefully and how to keep their books away from water.

Fans of the dream team Yolen & Teague will love this latest addition to the series. As expected, each dinosaur makes its appearance on the end papers with their names. Reading tips are included.

Highly, highly recommended for every child's personal library. A great addition to any picture book collection.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Graphic Pick: Making Friends

Making Friends
by Kristen Gudsnuk
272 pages; full color illustrations
ISBN: 9781338139211

Available July 31, 2018

Danny had her tight circle of friends in sixth grade but now that she's in middle school, she's a little lost. Everyone has a different lunch shift and different classes than she does. She's feeling a little left out--a lot left out! When she "inherits" her great aunt's sketch book, she discovers that her kooky aunt might actually have had magical powers. Danny accidentally creates her new best friend. Suddenly "Making Friends" is exactly that! Creating a new person!

For fans of graphic novels and ages 8-12 should enjoy this spirited romp.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, May 11, 2018

YA Slasher Pick: There's Someone Inside Your House

There's Someone Inside Your House
by Stephanie Perkins
287 pages
ISBN: 9780525426011

There's a slasher loose in Osborne High School  and more than likely probably someone they see every day. As student bodies begin piling up in their small town in Nebraska, the police investigate all the teens who know each other. The murders don't seem to be connected in any way the police can decipher and they are getting more and more brutal.

Makani is new to town, having just moved from Hawaii to escape a past that is bound to intrude on her present. When she first sees goth boy Ollie, she's in love. The relationship between the two characters make this book special. When Makani is targeted, both Ollie and her grandmother step in to save her life. The killer is nearly apprehended but outruns Ollie (btw, naked Ollie!).

The police are incompetent and Makani and Ollie do more to solve the case and save themselves than anyone else. There are moments of great slasher gore and the book picks up, but so many more moments of promises that are dashed before the reader can enjoy the horror. Makani's BIG secret turns out to be not so big and not so terrifying.

This book doesn't fit the romance genre and it's not horror, maybe horrifying romance? Cover art will sell this one from the shelves and Stephanie Perkins' fans will likely buy it. If you are looking for a solid horror book for teens, this one just doesn't deliver.

Grade 9 and up.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Giveaway and Author Interview: Sayantani Dasgupta (The Serpent's Secret) Middle Grades

I have THREE copies of The Serpent's Secrect (Thank you, Brent!) up for grabs! WIN a copy of The Serpent's Secret! Post a comment  about the interview to the blog. Include comment, your first name, city, state and email address. I will never share your email address with anyone. Deadline for posts is noon MST  April 24. Winners will be chosen randomly by Randomizer. Please check your email after noon MST on April 24 when I notify winners. Winners have 24 hours to respond to my email. Books will ship to winners from New York. Good luck and start posting!                  
                                                               Read my review here

The Serpent's Secret
Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond, Book 1
by Sayantani Dasgupta
Scholastic Press
368 pages
ISBN: 9781338185706

Meeting Sayantani in Dallas at Texas Library Conference in April 2018! So exciting to meet you in person! Thank you for your kind words, your exciting book (s) for children (and adults), and your unflagging generosity. The Serpent's Secret is my favorite MG of the season (as everyone knows!)

Thank you, Sayantani, for agreeing to answer my questions! It's wonderful to have the opportunity to share your answers with your young (and older) readers. They will get to know a little more about you as a person. The Serpent's Secret is a breakout book and I am honored to have met you in person and continue to be honored for your friendship and Tweets on Twitter! 

Interview With Sayantani

1.          The Serpent’s Secret is a planned series. Where are you right now as a writer? Are you finished with book 2 and in edits? Is book three started? Are all of them finished?

Hi Pamela! Thank you so much for having me! I’m honored!

Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond is planned as a series – I have some ideas of how many there will be, but I’m not sure I’m ready to tell! For the time being, I can tell you definitively that Book #2 (title and cover to be revealed soon!) will be out February 2019 and I think it’s safe to say that there may be some more adventures in Kiranmala’s future…

I’ve finished and handed in Book 2 – which means that Scholastic is in the midst of making ARCs/galleys! So that’s very exciting! And I might be working on Book 3 as we speak!

2.          How many edits or changes did your manuscript go through from querying and landing your agent to landing a publisher? Once the publisher got your draft, how much editing was done? How long did it all take from your first draft to published?

Well, this is an interesting story. I wrote The Serpent’s Secret for my now teenage children back when they were middle grade readers. I wrote it because I realized that although books were more diverse than when I was young (and could literally find no representations of myself in books or media) they weren’t still that diverse across genre. My son in particular was a big fantasy fan, and I wanted to give him and his younger sister a heroine who looked like them! I probably finished that very first draft of The Serpent’s Secret back in 2009 or 2010 without an eye initially to publishing it. It was a fun family project in which I wrote a modern day adventure story for my children based on the Bengali folktales I heard from my grandmother and loved so much as a kid.

By 2011, however, when I first took the completed out with a different agent than the one I currently have, we got a long list of very polite rejections. I think now that the story might not have been ready, but also that the market probably wasn’t ready for an immigrant daughter adventure fantasy with humor and space elements. I mean a book with folk tales and string theory side by side might have been a little hard for folks to fathom! Back then, editors kept asking that I keep Kiranmala’s voice but write her story as realistic fiction. I’m so happy to see the market has changed and there is so much more diverse science fiction and fantasy getting published now.

For the next five or so years, I wrote other manuscripts, edited The Serpent’s Secret on my own many times, attended innumerable workshops and conferences, and worked with a critique group. Eventually in 2016, I signed with my current agent, Brent Taylor. Once I signed on with him, the tempo of things changed a lot! I did a very quick round of edits with him, and within a month of signing with him, we had the book at a very exciting six publishing house auction! After so much time thinking it would never happen, I couldn’t believe it. I kind of still can’t believe it! Then I worked with my editors at Scholastic on another very quick round of edits and the rest is intergalactic demon slaying history!

3.          Besides folklore and middle grades, is there another genre you’d like to write? What would it be and why?

When I was young and dreamed of being a writer, I always thought that I would write grown up, literary fiction. Part of the reason is because I started thinking of myself as a writer only after being introduced to wonderful novelists of color like Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, Gabriel García Marquez, Paule Marshall, and Salman Rushdie. But I think I’d also internalized this idea that to write my immigrant daughter story, I’d have to make it very serious, with lots of mangoes, and monsoons, and lots of crying involved. I’d internalized this message that literature from writers of color had to somehow put our pain on display. I’m so lucky I eventually realized that my story wasn’t that, and my fictional voice wasn’t that, and it didn’t have to be. I wanted to tell an immigrant daughter story not about pain, or cultural conflict (whatever that means) but about quirkiness, joy and power! Finding my humorous middle grade writing voice was amazing, like finding a hidden part of myself. (As my own kids will attest, I’m kind of a twelve year old at heart!)

So I do imagine more middle grade fantasy in my future, maybe some middle grade realistic fiction as well. I have a few ideas for YA novels too, one historical and one realistic fiction. There’s a family story of some great aunts who were involved in the Indian revolution from the British I’ve been longing to tell. But no matter what I write, it will probably have a bit of humor. I do love a good laugh! Joy and laughter can be a form of resistance!

4.          Besides writing, what are your other hobbies?

Reading (of course), watching movies and going to the theater with my kids, travelling with family, gardening, cooking!

5.          If you could do anything for a living besides writing and the medical field, what would it be and why?

Children’s literature is already a third career (after being a pediatrician, and then slowly transitioning away from seeing patients and into teaching at the college level)! But I think, if I was to do something besides being a doctor, teacher, or writer, honestly, I’d be a librarian! All of my career twists and turns have ultimately been about storytelling and story receiving. And I still get that fluttery “what should I read first?” feeling when I enter a library. I love talking about books, recommending books, handling books! (Although, confession time: as a teen, I was a library volunteer, but I spent a lot of time hiding in the stacks, reading, when I should have been re-shelving! Maybe that’s why I didn’t go to library school, I knew I’d have a hard time staying away from all that reading temptation!)

6.          What is the last middle grade or YA book you read?

I’m in the middle of reading several right now, but my last YA read was actually a listen. I recently finished the audio book of The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein (it’s a prequel of sorts to her amazing Code Name Verity). It’s a lovely, evocative family mystery set in Scotland, and the accents were scrumptious to listen to! Middle grade, I just finished reading Celia C. Pérez’ First Rule of Punk which I thought was just awesome! Amazing voice, spunky heroine, warm family context, and beautiful, fun zines throughout the text!

7.          This is the first time you’ve been on a book tour. What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you? What is the BEST thing that has happened on tour?

While I obviously love interacting with teachers, librarians, booksellers and fellow authors on tour, for me, the most memorable thing about being on book tour is undoubtedly interacting with kids in schools. They’re the ones who ask the hardest/funniest questions too. One young woman recently got up, after I’d talked all about how I wrote The Serpent’s Secret for my kids and how they helped me edit it, and asked, “If your kids helped you so much with the book, why didn’t you dedicate it to them?” I almost fell over. She wasn’t trying to give me a hard time, she was just being honestly curious! (In case folks are wondering, I dedicated Book 1 to immigrant parents, and my own parents – but Book 2 is dedicated to diasporic kids and my own kids!) I asked another young woman, a sixth grader, the other day what kind of books she likes reading. She looked at me seriously and said, “Anything with an empowered girl protagonist. There’s not enough of that out there, and I feel strongly about that.” I couldn’t do anything but give her a first bump of agreement!

8.          What books would you recommend that EVERY child/teen read before they become an adult?

I’m not sure if there’s any one set of books – I’d say it’s important for children and teens to read, read widely, and read both what they’re naturally drawn to and outside of their comfort zones. I think most importantly all kids should be able to read books that are mirrors – in other words, books that somehow reflect their experiences – and books that are windows – in other words, books that allow them to gain an understanding and empathy for experiences and people unlike them. (For more on mirrors and windows, see Dr. Rudine Sims Bishops’ groundbreaking writing on this!)

9.          What children’s or YA book should every ADULT read and why?

Again, I’m not sure if there’s any one or more books I’d recommend, but I think that adults should read books for young people. For pleasure, for sharing with the young people in their lives, and for a reminder of what it means to be young and in relation with stories. I think that reading books for young people can help adults  awaken their wonder, joy and curiosity again. I think some of the most revolutionary and socially transformative thinking is happening in children’s literature. Particularly now that we slowly (slowly!) see so many more authors from marginalized identities representing their own communities’ stories. As the great Madeline L’Engle said, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children." And that applies to reading too.

10.       What traits do you share with Kiranmala? What traits of hers would you love to have as your own?

When I was young, I sometimes said things before thinking, and later regretted my words, like Kiranmala. I also definitely underestimated my parents’ general awesomeness – I knew they loved me, but like Kiranmala, sometimes wished they could be just like everyone else. It’s a common immigrant kid experience, and it was really important for me to recognize that it was our family’s uniqueness that was our strength, and that it was only by embracing all of who I was that I could find my true self. So even though it’s a story full of flying horses, drooly rakkshosh demons and evil snake kings, Kiranmala’s story really is my own immigrant daughter story, about returning to the land of my ancestors, the stories of my family, to find my own superpowers! Except I’m not sure if, confronted by a giant demon breaking through my kitchen, I could be as brave as Kiranmala is!

11.       What smells or scents bring back your childhood?

Lilac – my mom had a tree right outside our kitchen window when I was growing up in Ohio. Jasmine – the smell always reminds me of my childhood visits to India. And of course the smell of Indian cooking!

12.       What food speaks to your SOUL?

Bengali food – of course!

13.       What is your greatest vacation of all time?

When my kids were younger, I would have said by a beach or a pool so that they can have fun and I can sit by them reading and writing! I still enjoy vacations like that, but I equally enjoy travelling the world with my kids and husband. As a big book and theater nerd, the best vacations are ones that involve some kind of visit to a writer’s home, or to see a great play! (My kids are both in a children’s Shakespeare theater company near our home, so anytime I can see good Shakespeare, I’m happy!)

14.       If you had one wish for both of your children, what would it be?

Oh, just for them to make the world a better and more just place for all. Not too big of a task, no pressure! J

15.   If you have a favorite charity or would like to support one, what is it and why?

I support a lot of conservation, gender justice and social justice organizations. I regularly support Amnesty International, Doctors for Human Rights, and The Southern Poverty Law Center, who all do important work against injustice and hate. There’s too much of that in the world, and if being a children’s author has taught me anything, it’s that we all must keep doing the work of revolutionary love. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Blog Tour: REWIND

Rewind Blog Tour Stops

Win a FREE copy of REWIND. Post a comment here on my blog. Include first name, city, state and email. I do not share your emails anywhere. One winner will be picked on April 23 at noon MST. Please check your email on that date. The winner has 24 hours to respond to my email. The book will ship from the publisher. Thank you and be sure and read my review and interview with the author below.

by Carolyn O'Doherty
Boyds Mills Press 
256  pages 
ISBN: 9781629798141

Thrilling edge of your seat action, killer high stakes, a series of events that lead the main character into desperation, Rewind is one YA debut you cannot afford to miss! Sixteen year old Alex is a spinner and works with the Portland police department using her unique ability to stop and rewind time as a tool to solve crimes. The police, with her help, are able to solve cases that come up, including murder cases. When Alex stops time, she can rewind and watch events in a "rewind." She sees people doing everything backwards: walking backwards, driving backwards, just as if you were to rewind a video or VDR program. When Alex gets to the point in time that the crime occurs, she and her police partner, Mr. Ross, can see events happen and see the criminal commit the crime. When Alex agrees to partner with Ross to stop a dangerous criminal she has no idea what she is getting into and worse, who to trust.

Alex lives in a group setting called the Center with others who share her ability. Spinners are kept there since birth as the populace fears them and their powers. Many people hate or distrust them. Alex is allowed "outside" only on a tether (a leash) so that normal people can control her. All the kids are on meds. They think what they are taking is helping them, but as Alex begins a new secret treatment, she realizes the drugs are killing them. The government wants them to die in their teens. Alex puts her trust in best friend KJ and they escape the center and go on the run.

Readers will be unable to put this one down. A page-turner with high stakes and a kick-butt female protagonist is always a win. Add fighting crime and a HUGE double cross, and you have magic in those pages! /Time travel is always a win, but with the police and crime solving aspect, this is a unique twist. Reluctant readers will find themselves LOVING this one. 

HIGHLY, highly recommended for all YA readers. Grades 7 and up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

                                               Meet Carolyn--My Interview with Carolyn 

Q:  In REWIND, Alex is the main character and hero. In Books 2 and 3, will other spinners become more important, or will Alex continue as the main?

Alex remains the point of view character in all three books, though Jack and Shannon both become more prominent characters in book two.

Q: Rewind is book one in a planned trilogy, where are you as a writer right now? Are you finished with all three and editing? Are you currently still writing? When can readers expect publication of next two books?

Book 2 is almost finished (at least I hope so!). I have one more round of changes to work through but the book is complete so the edits are around tightening the pacing rather than working through the plot. Book 2 is scheduled to come out in the spring of 2019. Book 3 right now only exists as a really terrible early draft. I sketched out what I wanted to have happen in 3 before I finished book 2 to make sure that I wasn’t going to write myself into a corner but the manuscript is otherwise a complete mess. I don’t have a contract yet for book 3, but I hope we’ll have it out a year after book 2 (spring of 2020).

Q: The Portland area seems to be a hotbed of YA writers right now. Does living in the area help a YA writer? If so, why?

I don’t know if living in Portland helps YA writers specifically, but it’s a great place to live for a writer in general. There are wonderful resources here and lots of supportive peers to lean on. I’ve been part of a number of different writing groups, both formal and informal, and all of them have added to my sense of being part of a community. I find writing groups, and individual writing friends, so important, both because it’s hard to critique your own work and because most of my writing time is spent all by myself. It’s endlessly reassuring to have someone to talk to about the difficulties of good plotting, finding inspiration, uncooperative characters, and the challenges of the publishing industry.

Q: How many edits or changes did your manuscript go through from querying and landing your agent to editor? How many edits did it go through at editor stage?

Short answer: a lot. I got my agent for REWIND in the spring of 2014. The feedback I received from her took me six months to work through – I changed the entire book from past tense to present and rewrote a major section in the middle, which then meant more changes in the end to make it consistent. When Boyds Mills Press picked it up they asked for additional changes. Those were less dramatic, but they still took time. After that, we had maybe a half dozen rounds of back and forth with increasingly pickier changes. Boyds Mills’ editors are awesome – they caught all kinds of problems and inconsistencies from a character holding something one moment and then reaching that same hand out to do something else, to a word I overused, similes that didn’t work, and misplaced commas. The final rounds of edits were crazy specific – like, could I remove a few letters from a particular line so that the sentence didn’t look squished on the page? I did not expect that level of editing at all!

Q:When would freezing time be a blessing? A curse?

I think for the person who had the skills it would generally be a blessing, assuming one did not live in the society Alex does, and one was able to use the skill at will. You could do a lot of good in the world: stopping people from dying in a car crash, for example, or, as Alex does in the first chapter of REWIND, defusing a bomb. For us non-spinners, though, the ability to stop time is pretty troubling. A spinner with bad intentions is almost impossible to protect against. It’s one of the tensions I’m exploring more as the series progresses.

Q: Besides YA time travel, is there another genre you are considering writing? For example: MG or YA fantasy?

The very first novel I wrote, the one that lives in the proverbial drawer, was an epic fantasy aimed at adult readers. It’s unlikely to ever see the light of day, though I do toy with the idea of resurrecting it sometimes. Since then I’ve only written YA with some sort of fantastical element. One started out as an adult book, but it ended up turning into YA, so I think this is where I’m staying. I like YA because the stories can be more complex than MG without having to add the additional angst adult novels tend to have (at least the ones I like to read). YA can be really playful and I enjoy living in that place while I write.

Q: What is the last YA book you've read besides your own?

A friend recently gave me the first of the Raven Cycle books by Maggie Stiefvater (The Raven Boys) and I have to admit to being a bit obsessed. I just finished the third one and can’t wait to start the fourth!

Q: What books would you recommend to every YA reader?

Books are so personal. I don’t think there are any must-read books that work for everyone. People should read whichever stories suck them into a fictional world so deeply they never want to leave. One of my older son’s favorite writers when he was a teen was Walter Dean Myers, who writes gritty, realistic novels about inner city boys and young soldiers. My other son is currently immersed in Game of Thrones. A few books I have been sucked into lately (besides the aforementioned Raven Cycle) are: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Feed by M.T. Anderson, and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Everyone in my family adores all seven Harry Potter books. Read a lot, read widely, and discover what you love.

Q: Besides writing, what are your other hobbies?

This doesn’t really count as a hobby, but I have a non-writing job as an affordable housing developer that fills a lot of my time. My position there means building a lot of spreadsheets and I find using such a different part of my brain is a nice balance to the creative/writing side of my life. Outside of work I like reading, cooking, snowboarding, and visiting with friends. My youngest is off to college soon so my husband and I are dreaming up a lot of trips we want to take as empty nesters.

Q: What author (even outside of YA) do you admire most and why?

This is a hard one, there are so many authors I admire for so many different reasons. Of the classics, I’m a big Jane Austen fan because of her precision and beautiful prose (OK, and because I’m a hopeless Anglophile). Toni Morrison’s work always blow me away, especially her novel Beloved, which is one of my all-time favorites. Her writing is poetic and gorgeous and the story is heartbreaking. I also really admire J.K. Rowling’s ability to create such a detailed and immersive world. I’m sure I could go on – there are so many wonderful writers out there.

Q: If you could do anything besides writing for a living, what would it be?

Hah! As I in no way make my living from writing, I’d say developing affordable housing. That said, I recently visited a gallery of an artist (Chris Roberts-Antieau) who makes really gorgeous textile art. I’d love to be able to create something like that!

Q: Every writer has things that appear in every work. For example mine are: a bookstore or library, a dog, food, magic and snappy dialog. What things appear in all your works?

So far the common denominator seems to be Portland. That and weird, science fiction-y elements because I love playing with what-ifs. The book I’m working on now has a character who wakes up looking a different age every morning. I’ve also sketched out a story that involves body swapping – my whole family pitched in on the initial plotting for that one while we were out hiking one day!

Q: What food speaks to your SOUL?

Homemade macaroni and cheese? It’s not very exciting but it’s definitely my go-to comfort food and also the first non-dessert thing I learned how to cook. Sushi is one of my favorite flavors, though. And dark chocolate. I am also very fond of red wine (is that bad to admit in a YA blog?).

Q: What smells or scents bring back childhood memories for you?

The beach – warm tropical beaches, not those chilly coastal places. I lived in Hawaii from ages 7 to 14 and we used to go to the beach every Sunday. The smell of sea-salt and hot sand always take me back.

Q: What was your greatest vacation of all time and why?

When we first got married, my husband and I spent four months traveling around SE Asia. We spent time in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. We saw beautiful places, learned history I never would have absorbed in a classroom, and talked to so many interesting people. It’s easy to think of foreign countries as “different” or scary, but when you’re there you realize we’re all just everyday people living out our lives. Well, “everyday” in some ways, but with exotic-to-me food and scenery and things to explore. I wish everyone had the opportunity to travel because I think then we would live in a kinder and more peaceful world.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Adult Book Club Pick: Dreadful Young Ladies

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories
by Kelly Barnhill
304 pages
ISBN: 9781616207977

Author Kelly Barnhill has proven her talent as a children's writer with the blockbuster middle grades fantasy  The Girl Who Drank the Moon. Now she tackles short stories for adult readers, and she does so with nuanced finesse!

Adult fans of Barnhill's books will revel in this literary feast. The author has lost none of her magic, whimsy or fantastical situations and characters. Short story collections are rare, but this one is worth your time and investment.

Highly recommended for short story fans.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Middle Grades Pick: The Night Diary

The Night Diary
by Verra Hirandani
Dial Books for Young Readers
258 pages
 glossary of terms

A compelling read for middle grades, The Night Diary is a series of letters (diary entries) written by twelve-year old Nisha to her mother who died in childbirth.

The year is 1947 and India is facing freedom from British rule. As the British move out, India struggles with religious upheaval and in-fighting. India splits into two countries with two religious groups. Pakistan becomes mostly Muslim and India mostly Hindu. The split causes millions of refugees to flee their homes.

Nisha's parents come from two religious backgrounds. Her doctor father is Hindu and married her Muslim mother (now deceased). The family  lives in what becomes Pakistan. Violence erupts around them, the kids are forced to leave their school. It is no longer safe for the family to stay in their home. Nisha is forced to say goodbye to the beloved family cook Kazi who is Muslim. Leaving under cover of  the night, her father, Nisha, her twin brother Amil and their paternal grandmother flee and attempt to cross the border into what they hope is a safer life. Along the way, Nisha witnesses violence and murder as overloaded trains carry the refugees across the border. They stay with Nisha's uncle (her mother's brother)  who keeps them safe until the children make friends with a neighbor girl which could put them all in danger. Uncle also tells Nisha about her mother and what kind of a person she was.

Nisha questions why all this fighting is happening. Why are people fighting and getting killed just because of their religion? Throughout the book, her father is closed off from the children. Nisha and Amil are rarely shown attention and never love from him. Nisha turns to her diary where she finds solace from the world around her and love from a mother she never knew.

The Night Diary tells a story probably unfamiliar to most western children. Even in history books, classes rarely get beyond World War I. More recent history, even American history, is never touched upon. The Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War may not even be mentioned.

The book is marketed for an older audience: grade 8 and up, but I question using a twelve year old narrator. I would place this book middle grades and important for its historical perspective.

Grade 5 and up.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, February 16, 2018

YA Pick: American Panda

American Panda
by Gloria Chao
Simon Pulse
304 pages
ISBN: 9781481499101

Tender, heartfelt, and oh, so needed, American Panda delivers a sweet story about learning who you are and finding your voice even if it means disappointing your family or worse, breaking apart your bonds.

Seventeen year old Mei Lu is a freshman at MIT. She is younger than everyone she meets and she doesn't volunteer her age. Her parents have pushed her into studying medicine, but Mei is a germ-a-phobe who carries hand sanitizer everywhere. Her Chinese born parents are traditional and  have sacrificed and worked hard to give Mei and disowned older brother Xing an easier lives in a country of opportunity.

As children, Mei and Xing are expected to be dutiful and respectful. This includes following their parents' life plan for each of them. They must marry a good candidate from a Chinese family. Xing must become a doctor or other profession that can make tons of money. As a girl, Mei's spouse must be able to provide for her. This means Mei must marry a doctor or in the very least, a professor. Not as much money, but the prestige factor is enough. Mei's mother makes matchmaking her first priority (remember Mei is only seventeen). Xing makes the mistake of falling in love with a woman who may have trouble conceiving a child. It is of the utmost importance to Mei's father that his own son has a son to carry on the Lu name. Her parents disown Xing and kick him out of the house.

Living in the dorms at MIT, Mei doesn't have the privacy she had hoped for. Her parents know her school schedule by heart. If she doesn't return their phone calls or texts, they want to know where she is and who she is with. Mei's mother is the epitome of a tiger mom. Mei's roommate is Nicolette, and they start off barely tolerating each other. Mei misses her brother who is now a doctor. She longs to speak with him about her own fears: her fear of germs, her hatred of biology, her fear of speaking up to her father. Mei begins to meet Xing in secret.

When Mei finds herself having feelings for two very different, NON-Chinese boys, she keeps that secret as well. Another secret is that Mei has been teaching traditional Chinese dance classes and she loves it. Dancing is her passion, not medicine. Too many secrets are spilling over until Mei finally tells the truth.

American Panda is the story of many first generation Americans whose parents have immigrated from other countries. It is not an Asian story (although it is). It is an immigrant story that so many teens will find themselves in. Whatever country their parents came from, it is likely their parents are traditional in their thinking and customs. The American born children grow up in America and hear about their parents' struggles, but it is not the children's story.

Highly, highly recommended, American Panda is a MUST read. Grades 8 and up. Some profanity.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Graphic Pick: Baby Monkey, Private Eye

Baby Monkey, Private Eye
by David Serlin
Art by Brian Selznick
Scholastic Press
192 pages
ISBN: 9781338180619

Available February 27, 2018

"Irresistible"--Booklist, Starred review

Brian Selznick continues to amaze readers--both young and old, artists and art lovers with his black and white (and red) illustrations that depict a range of emotions and pack a wealth of  information in each illustration. Baby Monkey, Private Eye reads like a picture book, but the art makes it a graphic novel and an art study. Targeted audience is ages 4 and up, but younger children will love Baby Monkey's antics, his struggle to put on his pants for each case, and his wide-eyed wonder captured so brilliantly by Selznick.

The repetitive nature of the text makes it an easy read and first time readers will guess what will happen before the page is turned. That is fun and also a treat when they discover that sometimes the repetition changes. At 192 pages, it is a longer read for the  youngest readers but they will discover more and more with each reading. Baby Monkey takes on each case, and the decor art in his office changes. For the opera jewelry theft, paintings and art are: singer Maria Callas, A Night at the Opera (Marx brothers), and a bust of Mozart.

Baby Monkey, Private Eye is a joy to behold and a triumph of mixing art, storytelling and elements of both picture books and graphic novels. Selznick continues to deliver books that defy pigeonholes and genres.

Highly, highly recommended and a MUST!

Ages 3 and up. This book is several art/history lessons.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Middle Grades Pick: The Skeleton Tree

Review by Guest Reviewer Lisa Lopez, Library Media Specialist, Lujan-Chavez Elementary in El Paso, Texas. Follow Lisa on Twitter @ LLopez_LCES

The Skeleton Tree
by Kim Ventrella
Scholastic Press
240 pages
ISBN: 9781338042702

 Lisa Lopez reviewing:

The Skeleton Tree is a middle grades book perfect for reluctant readers by debut author Kim Ventrella. Chapters are short making it an excellent choice for reading clubs and classroom reads.

Stanly is dealing with a ton of problems: his parents are recently divorced, his mother works too much,  and his younger sister has a terminal illness. There is comic relief in interactions with their caregiver who is from Kyrgyzstan.

At one of his sister's many doctor appointments, Stanly reads about The Young Discoverer's Prize. He is excited because he thinks he can win with a photo of a weird growth on the tree in his back yard. It appears that the tree is growing bones! Stanly can save his whole family. With the prize money in hand, his archeologist dad will come back home and Mom won't have to work too many jobs. His sister will get more attention and the caregiver from Kyrgyzstan won't have to visit again.

When Stanly's best friend Jaxon takes of photo of the tree, the kids can't believe the bone aren't visible. No one can see the skeleton but kids, and they can't see it in photos. Just what is happening to the tree and why?

Ventrella mixes pre-teen angst, real-life drama, mystery and the supernatural in The Skeleton Tree. This is an angel-of death spin done well for middle grades.

Recommended grades 3-7.This book is available on Scholastic Book Fairs.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review nor did guest reviewer Lisa Lopez.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Middle Grade Pick: The Serpent's Secret

The Serpent's Secret
Book 1: Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond
by Sayantani Dasgupta
Scholastic Press
368 pages
ISBN: 9781338185720

Available February 27, 2018

The vibrant cover catches the eye, but the words inside will captivate and control middle grade readers as they race to finish this one. Book #1 is so much fun and filled with heart and voice that Dasgupta will have to dig deep into her writer's bag of tricks to top this one.

It is her birthday and twelve-year old Kiranmala (Kiran) has no idea that she's about to be the hero of her own destiny. She never believed stories that she is a real princess and that there are demons who will want to kill her. Demons called rakkhosh speak in rhyme no less! Kiran comes home from school and discovers her house has been ransacked. Well, worse than ransacked. It looks  destroyed. Her mother has left her a birthday card with a note telling her to trust the princes, some rupees and a weird piece of paper. In a few minutes said princes show up on her door step and promise to keep her safe. Oh, and it's also Halloween. So, there's that.

A rakkhosh is inside her house and means to devour Kiran and the princes if they don't escape immediately. Kiran finds the courage and spunk and defends herself and the princes. They climb onto flying horses and go in search of her parents even though the note said NOT to look for them. The princes assure Kiran that she is the real deal princess.

They travel into another dimension to find her parents, and Kiran discovers the princes have no idea where to search. As she finds her strength, Kiran becomes the princess her parents always knew her to be.

The voice of Kiran is hilarious and spot on. She is self-deprecating and genuinely funny and a joy to read. This is not a "girl" book. This is an everybody book for readers of fantasy. Give this book to those who love Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. They will have another series to collect.

This book will be on Scholastic book fairs this spring and will likely hit the bestseller list. It's going to be HUGE.

Highly, highly recommended grade 5 and up. Grade 4 readers who are good readers will enjoy this one also.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the ARC from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.