Hamilton!: Books for the Whole Family: A Flight

May 18, 2017

It seems everyone has been hit with Hamilton fever!  And not just Broadway audiences, either.  Our own twins, Molly and Jacob, love to sing the raps and are eagerly reading all they can about Hamilton, Washington, Burr, and the American Revolution.  They even put together special outfits gathered from various thrift stores to create the perfect costumes for their re-enactment of a scene for their school’s talent show.  Who knew the history surrounding the American Revolution could be so hip–and fun for the whole family?!  If you are new to this phenomenon, or want to brush up on your history, here are some books to get you started!

Elementary  and Middle School Readers:

The Duel:  The Parallel Lives of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr by Judith St. George

The parallel lives of the two Revolutionary heroes are shared in alternating chapters to highlight the similarities.  Both had difficult childhoods, including losing their parents while very young.  Both studied to become lawyers, and both served as staff officers under George Washington.  And of course, famously, both met on a field in a duel to defend their “honor.” This novel can serve an both an introduction and a way to pique the curiosity of readers embarking on the Hamilton adventure.


Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider by Jean Fritz

I appreciate the amount of information Jean Fritz includes in her brief yet comprehensive biography.  Hamilton’s writing skills are often glossed over in the more succinct bios–and even the historical fiction about this Founding Father. His essays had an enormous influence, and Fritz shows the way these essays helped frame our early federal government. And of course, she includes other important aspects of his life, including his early years and immigration to the colonies and central role in forming the United States.  His growing feud–and ultimate duel and death at the hands of Aaron Burr–are thoughtfully recounted.  Fritz also shows Hamilton’s flaws in a very straightforward manner. Though the book iswritten for a younger audience, I really enjoyed and learned from it.


Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin, illustrated by Larry Day

Many of us from the pre-Hamilton musical days largely remember Alexander Hamilton for being on the ten-dollar bill and for his famous duel with Aaron Burr.  It’s wonderful to have a greater context for this important historical figure, but it’s also fascinating to highlight the astounding event:  the Vice-President of the United States shot and killed the Secretary of the Treasury in a duel. The author vividly shows how some aspects of politics have not changed over the past 200 years, including negative campaigning and smear tactics. The illustrations are fantastic, and work so well in this picture book format for retelling this infamous incident.

Young Adult:

Alex and Eliza:  A Love Story  by Melissa de la Cruz

Such an entertaining and informative read!  While some characters and events are created, the novel is also a wealth of historical detail about the late 18th century and the birth of the United States.  Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler become real to readers as we learn of their meeting and their romance.  Intelligent and passionate, Eliza is a wonderful heroine, embodying the commitment to the cause of a new nation in the people who fought for independence.  I was intrigued by her work inoculating the troops against small pox, insisting on wearing homespun clothing, and her reliance on wit rather than flirtation. Her father, a General, did not keep her away from the politics of the time, but brought her with him on trips to meet with our allies, the Mohawk and Iroquois.  The focus on the events before the famous pair are married keeps the story more on an upbeat romance level, but that makes it a more light-hearted read.  I predict young adults will enjoy it as much as I did.


The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

The story of Alexander Hamilton’s life is ripe for the kind of sweeping historical novel that Elizabeth Cobbs writes so well.  Set against the American Revolution, the story brings plenty of drama to the romantic (in all senses of the word) tale.  Besides being a novelist, Cobbs is a first-rate historian and includes fascinating details as well as well-spun yarns that enhance rather than detract from her retelling. The larger context of the controversy and disagreements among the Founding Fathers–men like Madison, Jefferson, and Monroe–adds depth to the other readings.  I found her a bit too sympathetic to Hamilton’s infidelity, which is kind of blamed on his weakness in the face of someone really pursuing him.  But the many facets of the man and his enduring relationship with his wife is well-presented.  This novel is a great introduction to the definitive Chernow biography.


Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

As all aficionados  of the Hamilton musical know, this biography so captivated Lin-Manuel Miranda that he wrote his ground-breaking musical to bring his discoveries of Hamilton to a wider audience.  Expect to be similarly engaged.  Might we suggest enjoying the compelling read–and then tuning in to the Hamilton soundtrack?


A TOWER OF GIRAFFES by Anna Wright: Delighting in Playful Words

May 13, 2017

A tower of giraffes.

A drove of pigs.

A scurry of squirrels.

A  new picture book is always a time for celebration for me, but I have been delighting particularly in the children’s book A Tower of Giraffes by Anna Wright. Not only are her illustrations of different groups of animals captivating and whimsical, the focus on a love of words shines through each page.

I knew several of the terms that describe animals, collective nouns like flock or troop or gaggle. But so many were not only new to me, but brought a smile to my face, like: a flamboyance of flamingos, or a parliament of owls. My favorites are terms that fit the animal perfectly: a scurry of squirrels, a mischief of mice, a prickle of hedgehogs. I can’t wait to share these perfect words with the children in my life, in and out of school.

And it’s got me thinking about the power of words for description. I couldn’t help but create some of my own collective nouns for people: perhaps an ambition of politicians? An annoyance of telemarketers?

What about my own profession, teachers? In my quest to create the perfect descriptive term for a collection of teachers, I turned to my colleagues who provided some wonderful terms: how about one to honor creativity, like: an innovation or a bard of teachers. One friend wanted to highlight our profession’s star-like qualities and offered: a constellation of teachers; another wanted to focus on our impact on the future: a destiny of teachers. I’m pretty fond of an enthusiasm of teachers.

My recommendation this week: check out A Tower of Giraffes. . .and indulge in some collective noun creativity.


May 5, 2017

The Trials of Apollo, Book Two:  The Dark Prophecy  by Rick Riordan

It’s hard to imagine the great Greek God Apollo as a contemporary gawky 16-year-old.  But Rick Riordan has just that kind of imagination, and extends the winning new series about Apollo (aka Lester Papadopoulos) and his quest to win back his father Zeus’s approval through over-coming the obstacles of being a mortal.  Not just day-to-day difficulties either.  With his new friends–both mortal and immortal, demi-God and Hunter, Sorceress and blemyae–Apollo/Leo struggles to restore several Oracles that have gone dark. Riordan reimagines Indiana as the home of the evil Triumvirate that adore bloodshed and incredible and gory spectacles.  I love the humor and fantasy, the delightful dialogue, the amazing characters ( including the bronze dragon Festus and the incredible warrior elephant Livie).  A celebration of bravery, friendship, and the spirit of adventure, Trials of Apollo Two is a hit.  Highly recommended.

If this is a new series for you, you’ll want to check out our review of the first book in the series:  The Trials of Apollo, Book One:  The Hidden Oracle. 

STRANGE THE DREAMER by Laini Taylor: Another New YA Series

April 28, 2017

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

It seems that no sooner do we post a list of books than another one in that category hits the shelves.  A few weeks ago, we published a list of new YA “latest in the series” books.  At the time, we hadn’t yet gotten our hands on Laini Taylor’s most recent novel –first in a new series.  (Check out our reviews of her earlier series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone:  here and here.)  Taylor is a master at creating believable fantasy realities and worlds.  Her latest world is tantalizing, colorful, and simply magical.  There is some resemblance to her previous characters with the attributes of winged creatures, the color blue, orphans and adopted families.  But make no mistake, this is a new and different world.  Both Meghan and I (Ruth here) loved the book, though Meghan thought it took a little more time to get into this new world with its special rules and magical realities.

What we both appreciate:  Taylor’s beautiful writing.  I marked so many passages to share with other book-lovers that I probably should just buy them the book.  The descriptions of book-lovers in their own world in libraries made me sigh and nod my head.  The vocabulary words she creates also resonate, like:  thakrar: the precise point on the spectrum of awe at which wonder turns to dread, or dread to wonder; or shathaz: the desire to posses that which can never be yours.  Be assured that both these words have a special place in the novel.

So, what’s it about?  Obviously, a dreamer:  Lazlo Strange by name.  An orphan who survives a rough childhood with monks, then an apprenticeship to a librarian, Lazlo dreams of a world that may be a myth, a world only known as Weep which has been cut off from the rest of the world for two hundred years. When he gets the chance to follow the Godslayer and a cadre of experts to that magical world, his adventures and romance unfold.  Is the blue-skinned goddess of his dreams real?  What ghosts haunt the city?  Is there a way to enter your dreams and nightmares?  We highly recommend this enticing read!  And stay tuned for the next in the series.



TRIANGLE by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen: The First of a New Trilogy

April 22, 2017

Triangle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

So many good reads to recommend for our youngest book lovers!  We recently reviewed Little Red, The Bad Guys, and Baby Loves Quarks, and the hits keep on coming.  Last fall, we mourned the last of Jon Klassen’s Hat series (We Found a Hat ), and fortunately we are now able to celebrate the first of a new trilogy with Triangle.  The latest book is an ode to shapes, especially Triangle himself, the hero of the tale.  He’s a bit of a trickster, out to play a sneaky trick on his friend Square.  The sly humor of the story tricks not only Square, but Triangle, who ends up trapped in his own home.  And there are clever surprises for us as readers, too.  It’s the kind of  intriguing picture book we have come to expect from both of these award-winning authors.  Great for young audiences who appreciate the repetition and delightful illustrations–and a treat for adult readers, who love the wit and off-beat humor of the feud between the shapes, the emotions told only through the eyes.  Lots of fun–and such a delight to know two more are in the works.

TALES OF BUNJITSU BUNNY by John Himmelman: Our New Pick for Early Reader Chapter Book Series!

April 14, 2017

Tales of Bunjistsu Bunny by John Himmelman

We recently posted a list of hot-off-the-presses early reader chapter book series.  But now that we’ve been reading them, we seem to keep finding more and more.  So stay tuned for another list soon.  But in the meantime, I can’t help but share this series that has really caught my fancy.  Not only that, I can vouch for pre-school readers loving being read this series, and early readers delighting in reading it to themselves. But wait, there’s more:  adults I know just love this series, too.  It’s on my coffee table, and is one of the most adored books in my house right now with all ages.

Introducing Isabel, also known as Bunjistu Bunny.  She is not only an amazing Bunjitsu artist, she is a warm-hearted, Zen-loving friend to those in her community.  She is one smart cookie, as she overcomes challenges, solves problems, and works to improve her bunjistu moves.  Each chapter has an adventure–and a message that is told with wisdom and a sly sense of humor.  (Best of all, not preachy at all.) The illustrations are full of movement and expression and keep the book lively and entertaining. Isabel herself, the marvelous Teacher who tells her how to conquer bad dreams and challenges her to defeat a wave, the cricket who brings good luck — all wonderful.  I can already vouch for the second in the series, Bunjitsu Bunny’s Best Move, and a third just came out:  Bunjitsu Bunny Jumps to the Moon.  Happy Reading! 


April 7, 2017

Binging on a delicious series is what some readers love to do (and count us in at Lit for Kids).  When we finish “the latest” in a series we love, you’ll find us scanning the blogs and Author’s Pages to find out when the next installment will be out.  So far this year, lots of popular series have continued their on-going stories, and we have our reviews ready for you.  So pull up a chair and get set for a return to your favorite characters and their adventures.

King’s Cage  (Red Queen Series) by Victoria Aveyard

The saga of Mare Barrow continues in the thrilling third installment. When we last left our heroine, she was stripped of her Lightening Girl powers, and the captive of her enemy King Maven Calor.  In Mare’s world, the Kingdom is ruled by the Silver bloods, with the Reds, like Mare, the serfs and workers for their Silver  Lords.  But despite Mare’s red blood, she has the special powers thought to be unique to the Silvers:  a new breed  emerging in the land.  War has broken out among the Bloods, and intrigue simmers everywhere–at court, in the mountains, and throughout the land.  The revolution and romance continue in The King’s Cage in the midst of almost non-stop action.  I’ll be interested to hear from others about their views on the King’s cage itself. . .is it the prison Mare is in?  The one of King Maven’s making for himself?  Or. . .?


A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes) by Sabaa Tahir

There’s something about impenetrable prisons and YA dystopia novels this spring. . .In this sequel, heroes Tobias and Laia make an arduous–and adventurous–journey across the desert reach the prison of Kauf, where Laia’s brother has been imprisoned for having secret knowledge of Martial weapons. The Blood Shrike, aka the duo’s childhood friend Helen has orders from the Emperor to hunt them down and kill them.  The characters, villains as well as heroes, in this saga are fascinating.  I am intrigued by the Commandant, who is also Elias’ mother, who is scheming to seize power and is willing even to poison her own son to achieve her ends.  Many of the most compelling conflicts deal with emotions, though the fierce battle scenes and twists and turns of plot are also tension-filled.  The second installment is as great as the first!  It will be hard to wait for the third book in the series.


The Last of August (Charlotte Holmes Novel) by Brittany Cavallaro

We met Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes in the first of this trilogy, A Study in CharlotteIn this contemporary setting, the two meet at a private school. in the United States, and become best friends, much as pairs from both families have for generations. (Yes, in this novel’s world, Sherlock and Watson were real human beings, not fictional.) There’s even a Moriarty family that figures in, and as with all families, some are good, and some are, well, villains set out to murder the good guys.  Hard to tell which is which at times.  What about August Moriarty?  Should Jamie and Charlotte  trust him or shun him as they undertake a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague.  In this second installment, Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other. Definitely for high school age at least with some more adult situations.