THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander: Poetry in Motion

May 11, 2015

CrossoverThe Crossover by Kwame Alexander

Just listen to 12-year-old Josh Bell:
“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering.”  That’s right, this ode to basketball is written all in verse by the protagonist.  Clearly, Josh (aka Filthy McNasty)  is a poet with a ear for a beat in both words and music as well as an athlete.  As the story of Josh and his twin brother Jordan  unfolds, we see the struggles of adolescence and family change in a compelling voice.  And it’s a winner:

2015 Newbery Medal Winner
2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Award Winner

Recommended for middle school and older.

May 4, 2015 is Star War Days: May the 4th Be With You

May 2, 2015

Star-WarsThat’s right, Star Wars now has its own day to celebrate, with tongue firmly in cheek.  For more information on how to honor this day, check out the web page for Star Wars Day

According to the official site:

“One of the earliest known records of “May the 4th” used in popular culture is in 1979, as described here by author Alan Arnold while he was chronicling the making of The Empire Strikes Back for Lucasfilm:

“Margaret Thatcher has won the election and become Britain’s first woman prime minister. To celebrate their victory her party took a half page of advertising space in the London Evening News. This message, referring to the day of victory, was ‘May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations,’ further proof of the extent to which Star Wars has influenced us all.”

With this history in mind, we have a fitting book to recommend to all our Star Wars literary fans.

StrikethThe Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

Part of the series Shakespeare’s Star Wars, this second in the series is my favorite.   If you are a dual fan of both Shakespeare and Star Wars, as I am, what are you waiting for?  Get thee to a galaxy far far away!  I know you are skeptical, but this is actually a terrific blend of George Lucas’ story and Shakespearean style.  Actually written in iambic pentameter!   I also appreciate the choruses, asides, and soliloquies.  It’s a great reminder of what a darn good story it really is.  And like one reviewer, I found depth in much of the writing:   “I really love Doescher’s books the best when he shares our cherished character’s innermost thoughts. For instance, how does C-3PO really feel about R2-D2, or vice-versa? Haven’t we all wondered what Obi Wan was really thinking when he told Luke his father was killed by Darth Vader? Speaking of Vader, what are the thoughts behind that monstrous mask? Are Stormtroopers people with ideas and hopes, or just faceless soldiers? How did Luke and Leia feel when they found out they were siblings after their infamous kiss? Is the Emperor all bad?”  Read on, fans!

Celebrating a Love of Words

April 25, 2015

The-Right-WordAnd speaking of award-winners (that’s our theme this month, you recall), have you read this one?

The Right Word:  Roget and His Thesaurus by Jan Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

How about this for piling up the well-deserved awards?  The Right Word is the winner of:

2015 Caldecott Honor Book

2015 Sibert Medal Winner

2015 Orbis Pictus Honor Book

Meet the man behind the handy reference tool for writers.  Peter Roget, a quiet child, had a lot going on inside.  He was a true book lover, compiling list after list of words that he delighted in.   His lists show his passion for classifying things, and for the natural world around him.  Bryant’s writing helps readers appreciate Roget’s love of words and Sweet’s lovely and intriguing watercolors are an ode to creativity.  I especially loved the addition of the vintage biology drawings and  ledger papers.  Well researched, written, and illustrated, this is a superb picture book  biography to add to your book shelves.

Interested in a few more picture books that delight in the wonder of words?  Check these out:

WordsThe Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, illustrated by Giselle Potter

Selig is passionate about everything to do with words:  their sound, their taste, and most important of all, the way they move his heart.   He collects his precious words on little scrapes of paper.  As a lover of magical realism, I appreciate the way he carts his words with him on his journey, only to put them up in a tree where they fall right where they need to–into the hands of a poet who needs them desperately. His journey doesn’t end here; check out the book for the pleasure of learning how this word lover comes to discover himself,  and find fulfillment and true love. The folk-art illustrations are the perfect complement.  (And it’s another award-winner from a few years back, recipient of the Parent’s Choice Gold.)


MissMiss Alaineous:  A Vocabulary Disaster by Debra Frasier

On one level, this is a tale of schoolgirl mortification.  When Sage misunderstands one of her teacher’s vocabulary words, she is embarrassed in front of her classmates (“Obliterate me, send me to oblivion–no one could outdo my stupidity”).  The book becomes an ode to the wonder of words–and the playfulness of language.  The lilting language and hilarious pictures add the book’s engaging qualities.  A wonderful book for word lovers of all ages!


Word-collectorThe Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer

Wimmer has crafted a wonderfully poetic story about the magic of words. Lulu adores words–and appreciates their power.
Children like lulu who are passionate about words that sing and hop, words that are long and complicated, will love this very unique picture book.  I know many children who are “word collectors,” keeping lists of their favorite words.  They will identify with Lulu as she discovers that some of the best words she loves are slowly disappearing from the world–until she does something about it.  The illustrations are delightfully different with collage artwork that dances with the words across the pages.


  MaxMax’s Words by Kate Banks

And speaking of collectors. . .Max’s whole family is very keen on collections.  Karl collects coins and Benjamin collects stamps.  But when the youngest brother Max decides to start a collection, he decides on words. His collection soon spills out into the hallway, and he finds the best thing about his collection is. . .that words create stories.  He not only categorizes his words, but finds they ways they connect to each other–and to the people he gives his precious words to.   It even works as a read-aloud.

And the Winner is. . .VIVA FRIDA

April 18, 2015

VivaThe winners of the 2015 Pura Belpré  Award were recently announced, and we were delighted to see one of our favorite new books was the winner of the Illustrator Award!  Not to mention, it is an honor book for the 2015 Caldecott Award.

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales, illustrated by Tim O’Meara have been deservedly recognized for this fine addition to biographical children’s literature.  Frida Kahlo has been a favorite artist and distant mentor of mine for many year’s (Ruth here). [ I always said that if I had to get a tattoo (still hasn’t happened), I would have an image of Frida Kahlo on one wrist and Zora Neale Hurston on the other.  Stay tuned. . .]

Anyway, this lovely new book celebrates the life and art of this feisty, interesting, creative woman who lived a life of courage and not a little tragedy.  The pictures are the heart of the book, with spare text, in both English and Spanish that capture the mood and essence of each picture, floating dreamily on the page.  I can’t recommend this introduction to Frida Kahlo for young readers strongly enough.  Check it out as soon as you can, and enjoy sharing it with your little ones–and your artist friends, too.

THE FAMILY ROMANOV: Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Non-fiction

April 11, 2015

RomanovThe Family Romanov:  Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

A non-fiction page-turner that reads like a novel.  Reading about the lives of the imperial family of Russia–especially in contrast to the poor masses of Russian peasants–is a wonderful introduction to the compelling power of good biographies.  Middle school children and older will be drawn into the absolutely incredible (yet true) story of the clueless monarchs, the almost unbelievable characters like Rasputin, the heart-wrenching poverty of most of Russia, as well as the intrigue of what happened to Anastasia, the rise of Lenin, and the role of the Russian Orthodox Church.  I especially appreciated the photos  from the period and the family portraits.  These artifacts are in stark contrast to the first person accounts of the non-nobility during the same time period.  Well-written, appealing, and accessible.

New Series for Teens and Tweens

April 5, 2015

Recently, we shared the latest and greatest in on-going YA series.  In our research for recommending great reads, we also found that there are several great new series that promise to be very popular with both adolescents and those of us addicted to the Young Adult field of literature.  So, we start with the following three books, which will lead you into future reading adventures.  We savor the chance to get to know these characters as their lives and worlds unfold in future books.

Glass-sentenceThe Map Maker’s Trilogy:  The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

Sophia Timms is a lover of maps.  In fact, it’s the only way she has seen the world.  In the Boston of her universe in 1891, it is her family that people turn to map the New World–a world that was greatly changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods.  You’re hooked already, right?  Add to this premise an intriguing host of characters, like Sophia, forced to fend for herself when her parents and Uncle Shadrack disappear while on a mission.  With her friend she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation.  Grades 6 and up–especially Phillip Pullman fans–will be captivated by this new world, with time-travel and adventure galore.  And maps have never looked more intriguing!  Stay tuned for The Golden Specific, book 2 in the series, due out this summer.


Red-QueenThe Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Mare Barrow lives in a world divided by color–in this case, the color of blood.  Red-blooded folks like Mare are at the bottom of the social structure, unlike the Silvers.  The pale upper-class Silvers rule by their blood as well as the super-human abilities that are their birthright.  Mare is brought out of her poverty and life as a quick-witted thief when she is chosen to work at the Court, and her own powerful brand of super power is discovered.  Forced to play a role as a long-lost Silver Princess, Mare is brought into a double existence as a noble woman–and as a revolutionary, in the growing Red rebellion.  It’s a world of adventure, intrigue, treachery, and not a little romance.  It’s an imaginative fantasy thriller and wonderful debut for this new series.


ClarielClariel by Garth Nix

Though this novel is often touted as the fourth novel in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series, that’s a bit of a misnomer, as Clariel is a prequel to the world that Garth Nix creates that takes place 600 years after Clariel’s youth.  I loved the chance to revisit the kingdom and see it at the transitional time where the power of the Charter magic began to ebb and Free Magic rose.  We see the world through young Clariel’s eyes.  She is the daughter of one of the most notable families in the Old Kingdom, with blood relations to the Abhorsen and, most important, to the King. She dreams of living a simple life but discovers this is hard to achieve when a dangerous Free Magic creature is loose in the city. Her parents want to marry her off to a killer, and there is a plot brewing against the old and withdrawn King Orrikan. This novel can stand alone–but it’s also a treat for fans of the Abhorsen  Trilogy (Old Kingdom) series.  It made me want to revisit an old favorite. Highly recommended!


April Fool’s Surprise!

March 28, 2015

April Fool’s Day is coming up this week.  Interested in a little history and a few recommendations?  You might start by checking out  April 1st-April Fool’s Day

And to add to the list, we are also recommending a new “twins book “for early readers that celebrates the fun of good-natured April Fool’s tricks.  Perfect for early readers.

AprilDouble Trouble #2:  April Fool’s Surprise by Abby Klein, illustrated by John McKinley

Twin sisters Kelly and Kasey are the stars of this series for early readers.  They are always getting into trouble, so of course, April Fool’s Day is a favorite celebration for them.  They hope to succeed with an “ultimate” prank that will fool their whole second-grade class.  Kids love this Scholastic series as a quick but enjoyable read.  Perfect for April Fool’s Day!


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