FIRSTBORN by Tor Seidler: Must Reading for Yellowstone Visitors

June 23, 2017

Firstborn by Tor Seidler

We just returned from a trip to Yellowstone National Park as well as The Grand Tetons.  Still in a daze, we are remembering how filled with awe we were by the geysers, mountains, wilderness hikes, and the wildlife.  Greeting me when I got home was an email from my niece Hazel, recommending Firstborn. I really appreciate that she is continuing the family tradition of recommending books–and especially that she was remembering our special road trip.  Immediately, I got my hands on the novel and tore through it.  A great read for tweens–and up through adults! Like many appealing novels for children and adolescents, Firstborn has animals that speak to each other, and engage in deep and far-reaching conversations.  But here, they also adhere to known facts about life in the wild.  The story centers on Maggie, a magpie who leaves her home and becomes an unofficial member of a wolf pack. Blue Boy, the pack’s alpha, is her friend and companion, and she serves as both informant and confidant.  It’s a truly magical book that invites readers into pack life. Of course there’s lots of danger, excitement, beauty but there are also things we know from human families, like love and loyalty, bravery and honor. I loved revisiting the geysers, wildlife, and natural beauty of Yellowstone, but from a different perspective.  I don’t want to give away any plot details, so just trust me on this:  you’ll love it!


June 18, 2017

We recently highlighted the first two books in the Bunjitsu Bunny series, and we are delighted to announce the third book, Bunjitsu  Bunny Jumps to the Moon by John Himmelman, is just as appealing.  And just as perfect for early readers just learning the pleasures of chapter  books.  If this series is new to you, you’ll want to check out the earlier books as well.  Isabel, aka Bunjitsu Bunny, returns with more adventures and with more zen-like morals to each of her tales.  The sweetly funny stories remind me of the tone of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad collections.  As the saga of Bunjitsu Bunny continues, we follow Isabel as she makes friends, develops her skills, uses her mind, and faces her fears.  I am hoping for many more in this terrific series!

DRAGONS LOVE TACOS 2: THE SEQUEL by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

June 8, 2017

Dragons Love Tacos 2:  The Sequel by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Just what we need as we start our summer reading wish list!  The companion to the hilarious picture book:  Dragons Love Tacos.  To be specific, Adam Rubin has named it a sequel, and with good reason.  We pick up the story to follow what happens to our dragon friends when there are no more tacos left anywhere on earth!  As we all know, dragons love tacos, so this is a big problem. They have to go back to the past before tacos were extinct.  The cavemen and time travel are a bit more difficult for the youngest readers to grasp, but I think kids 5 and older will be eager audiences.   The illustrations, as usual are terrific and the book is simply laugh out loud funny.  A perfect book to kick off a family read aloud extravaganza.

CITY OF SAINTS AND THIEVES by Natalie Anderson: Highly Recommended YA Novel

May 28, 2017

City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie Anderson

Prepare to be drawn into this novel of intrigue, revenge, suspense, action, and a great deal of heart.  I can’t remember reading anything like this compelling story, set in the contemporary jungles of the Congo.  It’s a murder mystery, and also an action-filled heist.  At the center is the story of Tina and her mother, refugees from the Congo who arrive in Kenya to try to build a new life.  Tina’s mother find work as a maid with a prominent businessman’s family, but this too unravels as murder, vengeance, and discoveries about corruption and crime tear their world apart.

Tina becomes a master thief and plans to use her skills to track her mother’s murderer and expose the corruption that is behind everything.  But she learns that nothing is as she had believed.  As the book progresses the action picks up to become a nail-biting thriller.  Tina is a wonderful protagonist and this well-written novel will compel readers to dig in and learn more about the historical context.  Though the novel is long, the chapters are short and the writing is so engaging, I imagine middle schoolers as well as YA readers will appreciate this book.

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.