Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer M. Holm (Random House, 2014)

Release date:  August 26, 2014

When a strange boy shows up at 11-year old Ellie's house, he looks a lot like Ellie's grandfather, a scientist who's obsessed with immortality. But could it really be Grandpa Melvin? The reader needs to suspend his or her disbelief in this quirky new realistic fiction/fantasy mash-up from award-winning children's novelist Jennifer Holm, as Ellie and her friend from school try to help the suddenly teen-aged Melvin recover his newest invention from the lab--one that has made him young again.  But Melvin has a lot of other problems to cope with--from doing his homework to dealing with his daughter who is now acting as his parent! 

Holm mixes in lots of information about real scientists, and it's nice to see a novel in which the main character is fascinated by science and is a female. Ellie realizes that the great achievements of science, like those of Marie Curie and Robert Oppenheimer, can have their negative aspects as well, and the novel sensitively delves into these serious issues as well as whether immortality would be a good thing or not while maintaining a sense of humor in this appealing middle-grade novel. Back matter includes recommended resources on science and famous scientists mentioned in the novel that are appropriate for middle-grade readers.

Highly recommended!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Blog Tour: About Parrots: A Guide for Children, by Cathryn Sill (Peachtree Press, 2014)

Recommended for children 3 and up.

With the adoption of Common Core nationwide, we are already starting to see increased demand at our library for nonfiction resources for children, particularly for books suitable for kindergarten and first grade.  Animal reports are particularly popular with these early grades, and Cathryn Sill's new book, About Parrots, a new release from Peachtree Press, is ideally suited for that purpose.

The large format book features beautiful full-page paintings of different colorful parrots from around the world by wildlife artist John Sill, along with very brief and simple text that is targeted toward young children (see example below).  Catherine Sill is a former elementary school teacher, and it is clear that she knows her audience well and what will interest young children as well as information they will require for school.  The simple text covers diverse topics such as the parrots' diet, habitat, communication, predators, and nests.  The main part of the book talks only about wild parrots, and does not cover their long history as pets, or their skills at imitating sounds such as human speech.




An afterword features additional information about each illustration, providing further details that would  enhance the book for older children who are interested in going beyond the very basic information covered in the text.  The afterword does touch briefly on how many parrot species are endangered because of both habitat destruction and being captured as pets.


In addition to the afterword, other back matter includes a glossary, suggestions for further reading, helpful websites for children on parrots, and a brief bibliography.  About Parrots is part of the "About...Series," which includes volumes on various animal groups (i.e. mammals and amphibians) as well as particular species, such as penguins and raptors.

At a recent professional meeting for children's librarians, we were advised that with Common Core, we should be incorporating nonfiction books regularly into storytimes for preschoolers and even toddlers.  This is a wonderful example of a nonfiction book that could be easily incorporated into a storytime for young children about birds, since the minimal text and large illustrations make it well suited to reading aloud to young children as well as for school reports.

For more on About Parrots, please see blog tour stops from earlier in the week:

Kid Lit ReviewsJean Little LibraryGeo LibrarianChat with VeraKid Lit Frenzy, and Blue Owl.


Note:  An advance copy of this book was furnished by the publisher.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Book Review: Freedom Summer: the 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, by Susan Goldman Rubin (Holiday House, 2014)


In this well researched book, author Susan Goldman Rubin takes us back to 1964 Mississippi, when the nation was shocked by the disappearance--and discovery of the murder--of three Freedom Summer workers.  The Freedom Summer workers were courageous young people, mostly college students from Northern schools, who travelled to Mississippi, living with black families, trying to register black voters and opening Freedom Schools to educate black children and their parents. 

Rubin follows the story chronologically, focusing on specific anecdotes which make the story more immediate for young people. The book is greatly enriched by personal interviews Rubin was able to do with participants, as well as extensive use of original source material. In addition, the book is handsomely illustrated with archival photographs and drawings. Extensive back matter includes information on the trial of the main organizer of the murders, who did not face justice until 2005. Information is provided on additional resources; there is also a timeline, source notes, reproduction of original documents, a detailed bibliography, and an index. This is an excellent nonfiction book for the new common core curriculum or for anyone interested in the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. Recommended for students in grades 5 and up.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Guest Post by Author Claire Rudolf Murphy: My Country 'Tis of Thee: Matching Subject to Style



My Country ‘Tis of Thee: Matching Subject to Style


Author Claire Rudolf Murphy
Writing my new book My Country ‘Tis of Thee: How One Song Tells the Story of Civil Rights taught me a craft lesson that I am working to replicate again in other nonfiction projects, matching subject to style. When writing for young readers, it is a great challenge how to share one’s research in a style that connects with their lives and brings clarity and enjoyment to new, complex subjects. Stephen J. Pyne’s wonderful nonfiction craft book Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction discusses the importance of identifying a vision for one’s book and that finding the right style and structure to carry it out.

For many years I had been conducting research on civil rights activists throughout American history. I wanted to tell this larger story that began when the colonists first began protesting against the English taxes and continues today in areas like immigration and gay rights. But that is a great deal of material to cover in one book. As Pyne says, “If you’re lucky you have an epiphany (on what structure to use.) But if unlucky, your manuscript crawls and sprawls and never comes together.”

For many years I had been researching people of color and women who had fought for equal rights throughout our country’s history. I wanted to write a collection of stories about them. But editors kept saying the profiles were too dense, not riveting enough and wouldn’t connect enough with younger readers. For several years my project sprawled every which way, growing more unwieldy every week, with new activists and events I had uncovered, but no structure to carry the load.

Until I was knee deep into research on the women’s suffrage movement for my 2011 book Marching With Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage. I ran across suffrage verses set to the song “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Like many protest movements, the suffragists had written verses to well known tunes to support their cause and sing at meetings and rallies. I’ve long known that music can convince and connect with people in a way that words alone cannot.

When I found their verse (that ended up in Marching With Aunt Susan,) something clicked in me. I had that epiphany Pyne talks about. I wondered - did other movements use this same song to promote their cause? Some quick research uncovered several examples. I found more and more, until I found my climax with Martin Luther King, Jr. quoting the song in his “I Have a Dream” speech and the resolution of Aretha Franklin singing the song at President Obama’s first inauguration.



I knew immediately that all my years of research had brought me to this place where I could put this history together for young readers in a format that would connect with them in an inventive way because they already knew the melody. Everybody does. I knew immediately that I had finally discovered the structure I needed, possibly the best structure I’ve ever used in a nonfiction book.  And it brought double pleasure because it also tied into my love of music. Because I had done all that research for so many years it allowed me to realize how this song truly did represent the history of civil rights in our country. I wouldn’t have realized how important these verses were if I didn’t already understand the power and depth and breadth of protest throughout our country’s two hundred plus years. Most of my research doesn’t appear in the book, but it holds up, gives gravitas to the verses I feature, even if the reader doesn’t fully understand it. They get it. And Bryan Collier’s stunning illustrations bring these protest verses to life in a new way, too, for readers to pore over.

I am delighted that I end the book with the line: “Now it’s your turn. Write a verse for a cause you believe in.” Because this invitation to young readers has become the focus of my promotion as I help launch this book. With the support of my publisher, I have started a contest, inviting students across the country to submit new verses. I have books and posters to send to the winners.

Second graders in Spokane wrote this verse:

Schools should be bully-free,
Full of our honesty,
Friends should be kind.
Include us in your game,
Please treat us all the same,
Stop calling us those names,
Friends should be kind.


A 5th/6th grade class wrote this one:

My country ‘tis of thee
So sad the poverty
Homeless abound
God keep them in your sight
Help us relieve their plight
Shelter them for the night
New hope is found
                      
My hope is that teachers will grab onto this way to teach history and music and use it as a writing activity in class. New verses can be submitted on my web site and musical recordings of the verses can be found there too.

Let freedom ring!

Thanks so much, Claire, for writing this insightful and inspirational post for The Fourth Musketeer's readers.  


Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: My Country 'Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights, by Claire Rudolf Murphy (Henry Holt, 2014)

Recommended for ages 8 to adult.

NOTE:  A guest post from author Claire Rudolf Murphy will appear in this blog on Wednesday!

Most of us don't really think much about the "patriotic" songs we are taught back in elementary school.  Before reading this fascinating account, all I knew about the song "America," more commonly known by its first line "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," was that it was sung to the same tune as "God Save the Queen."

In a stunning new picture book by Claire Rudolf Murphy, we are able to follow the history of this iconic American song, which has morphed over the years with new lyrics and versions sung in different times, as our country struggled with different issues of freedom and civil rights.

The book traces the song from its earliest version in 1740's England, when it was sung by supporters of the British monarch George II, to the inauguration of President Obama.  Murphy paints the history of the United States in broad strokes; in an interesting layout choice, the information about the song is in a smaller font, while the outlines of the historical context, written in a terse one sentence format, are in a much larger, old-fashioned font that recalls the look of early printed books and newspapers.  From a special version of the song for Washington's inauguration, to versions that call for liberty for women, slaves, and Native Americans, the song evolved to address the continual quest for freedom and justice in America.

The book is greatly enhanced by striking two-page illustrations from award-winning illustrator Bryan Collier, featuring his signature style, a mix of vibrant watercolor and collage.

Extensive back matter includes the music and lyrics for the song America, source notes, a bibliography, and further resources, including musical links.

Inspired by the book, Murphy has created the My Country Tis of Thee Music Project, which offers a play list with all the different versions of the song mentioned in the book.  In addition, choirs "of all ages and abilities" are invited to upload their own versions of the song, including new lyrics.

With the advent of Common Core around the country, teachers, parents and librarians will be looking for more outstanding nonfiction books to integrate into the curriculum.  My Country 'Tis of Thee is an outstanding book to recommend to teachers and families, particularly of children in elementary school.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review: West of the Moon, by Margi Preus

Recommended for ages 8-12

In this mash-up of fairy tale and historical fiction set in mid-19th century Norway, 14-year old Astri is sold by her aunt to a horrible (and lecherous) goat-herder to serve as his servant and more. Astri manages to not only escape but also rescue her younger sister, so that they can try to get to America,  where her father has emigrated. With the goatman in pursuit, they must travel west of the moon, and east of the sun in this masterful story in which a 19th century immigrant's story is seamlessly mixed with Norwegian folklore and mythology.  The novel features a terrific feisty, no-nonsense heroine very loosely based on the author's own ancestors.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dust of Eden: A Novel, by Mariko Nagai (Albert Whitman & Co., 2014)

Recommended for ages 8-12

This slim historical novel in verse packs an wallop of an emotional punch. It tells the story of Mina Tagawa, a young Japanese-American girl from Seattle who along with her family is imprisoned in an internment camp in Idaho, where they live for three years. 

The author sensitively portrays this shameful period in our history, and the way in which different members of Mina's family react: her stoic grandfather; her angry father, a newspaper reporter who is arrested soon after Pearl Harbor; her frustrated teenaged brother, who joins the highly decorated Japanese regiment that fought in Europe. We also see the reaction of Mina's white best friend and her family, who try to remain loyal to their Japanese American friends and neighbors during this difficult time.  In a particularly moving passage, Mina's brother Nick writes of his experience liberating Dachau, drawing comparisons to the camp he lived in Idaho surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers like the ones he saw in Germany.  

In an afterword, the author explains that she was inspired to write Dust of Eden by her childhood doctor, a second-generation Japanese American who was interned along with his family during World War II.  The afterword gives a short background on the chronology of the internment.