Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Murphy, Gold Rush Dog by Alison Hart (Peachtree Press, 2014)

Recommended for ages 7-10.

Author Alison Hart specializes in writing historical fiction for young people, and her skills at this genre are evident in her newest book, Murphy, Gold Rush Dog, the second in a recent series, Dog Chronicles, which features heartwarming stories of heroic dogs from different historical periods.  

Set in 1900, this early chapter book is told in the first person by our canine hero, Murphy, a sled dog on the Alaskan frontier who's headed to Nome--and the Alaska gold rush--with his cruel master.  He manages to free himself and sets off wandering through the town dreaming of "a home filled with kind words--and maybe even bacon."  Could any dog want more than that?  Murphy has the good fortune to be taken in by a young girl named Sally and her mother, who've come from Seattle to make a new life on the frontier--not as gold miners, but with a typewriter, which Sally's mother plans to use to type letters and documents for the miners.

When the hardships of Alaska's frontier get too much for Sally's mother, she plans to book passage back to Seattle for the two of them.  But Sally is determined to find gold despite her mother's caution that almost no one winds up rich in the gold fields.  Sally decides--without her mother knowing, of course--to set off on her own to stake a claim and raise enough money that they can buy a cabin and stay over the winter in Nome.  She takes Murphy with her, but can Murphy keep Sally and himself safe, with threats from wolves, grizzly bears, and harsh storms in the Alaska wilderness?  As one would expect given the young audience this book is aimed at, there is a happy ending for all in store.  

The book is abundantly illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery, whose pencil sketches evoke the hardships of the Alaskan frontier.  Some examples of the artwork follow:





This book does an effective job portraying the realities of the gold rush in Alaska, particularly how the young reader sees that very few people actually got rich through finding large gold nuggets.  Hart peppers the text with plenty of evocative details of mosquitoes, saloons, dance halls, and n'er-do-wells of the frontier, as well as including some Native American characters who play a minor role in the narrative.  Back matter includes additional historical background about dogs in Alaska, the Nome gold rush, a brief bibliography, and suggestions for further reading.  I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical books such as the American Girl series or the Dear America books or to those who favor books about animals.  

For more on Murphy, Gold Rush Dog, check out these other blog tour stops:


If you would like to win a copy of this book, please leave a comment below with your e-mail address!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Claude on the Slopes, by Alex T. Smith (Peachtree, 2014)


Recommended for ages 5-8.

British author/illustrator Alex T. Smith returns with a winter-themed addition to his beginning reader series about the adventures of a genial dog named Claude and his best friend Sir Bobblysock (yes, Sir Bobblysock is actually a sock, an unusual sidekick--or perhaps it makes sense since dogs love to chew socks?) This is the fourth book in the series.

In Claude on the Slopes, we are introduced to Claude, a small, plump dog who wears shoes, a sweater and "a rather nifty beret,"  and resides with Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes and his best friend Sir Bobblysock at 112 Waggy Avenue.    In each book, Claude and Sir Bobblysock take off on adventures.  One day they go to the library, where they visit Miss Hush, the librarian, who has to remind Claude to use his "nice Indoor voice."  Claude is in for a real adventure when he experiences snow for the first time, and winds up at a winter sports center, where he experiences snowball fights, sledding, and snow sculpture and skiing.  When he forgets he's not supposed to use his loud outdoor voice out in the snow and accidentally triggers an avalanche, his magic beret, which seems to hold everything you can need, helps Claude save the day.

This beginning reader is perfect for fans of gentle humor such as Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant or the Amanda pig series by Jean van Leeuwen.  The cartoon-style artwork, done in black, white, grey and red, adds to the humor of the stories.  As is typical with beginning readers, the author uses a format of brief chapters which can be read independently if a child is not yet ready to read the entire book at one sitting.  The book would also make an amusing read-aloud, although the small size of the volume make it better suited for reading with a small group than a classroom.

To win your own copy of Claude on the Slopes, leave your e-mail in a comment below.  The winner will be selected on November 1.  

For more on Claude on the Slopes, check out these blog tour stops:

·     Monday,10/13- Picture Book to YA The Write Path
·     Tuesday, 10/14- Geo Librarian and  Kit Lit Reviews
·     Wednesday, 10/15- Chat with Vera
·     Thursday, 10/16- The 4th Musketeer
·     Friday, 10/17- Librarian in Cute Shoes




Thursday, October 9, 2014

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Can I Come Too? by Brian Patten and Nicola Bayley (Peachtree Press, 2014)

Recommended for ages 3-8.

British poet Brian Patten and British painter and illustrator Nicola Bayley combine forces in Can I Come Too?, an exquisitely illustrated picture book suitable for the youngest children, in which a tiny but adventurous mouse sets out on a quest to find the biggest creature in the world.

In his gentle and lyrical text, Patten turns to a familiar and beloved pattern for children's books, the cumulative tale, much as P.D. Eastman uses in Are You My Mother or Deborah Guarino uses in Is Your Mama a Llama, to mention just a few.  Here, our mouse heroine meets a succession of larger and larger animals, asking each "Are you the biggest creature in the world?"  A friendly frog, a rainbow colored kingfisher, a sleepy cat, an otter, a badger, a dog, a goat, and a tiger all admit they're not the biggest creature in the world, but ask politely if they can come along on the adventure.  When the story is read aloud, children will enjoy chiming in on the oft-repeated refrain, "Can I come too?"  Finally, the motley group of animals, led by our intrepid mouse, meets a polar bear, who knows just where to find the biggest creature in the world.  They all follow the polar bear to the ocean, where they encounter an enormous and majestic whale.  Satisfied, the sleepy animals spend some time watching the whale frolic in the ocean, and then return home, where Mouse curls up and muses, "I might be tiny, but I've had a very big adventure."

This is a calm and soothing story that would be perfect for bedtime reading for young children; snuggled in a chair or bed an adult and child could not only enjoy the text but also have time to observe the intricacies of Nicola Bayley's meticulously detailed illustrations, rendered in colored pencil.  Her style brings to mind celebrated American illustrators such as Michael Hague and Jan Brett.  Peachtree Press has kindly shared some of her illustrations, which can be seen below:




If Mouse's adventure makes you hungry, you can make a mouse-themed snack with instructions from Peachtree's blog!

For more on Can I Come Too?, check out other blog tour stops:
Monday 10/6 Green Bean Teen Queen
Tuesday 10/7- Geo Librarian and Kid Lit Reviews
Wednesday 10/8- Chat with Vera
Thursday 10/9- Blue Owl
Friday 10/10 Sally's Bookshelf

If you would like to win a copy of Can I Come Too? for your own home or school library, please leave a comment below with your e-mail address! The winner will be selected at random on 10/23/14.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cybils nominations are now open!

I am very excited to be serving as a Round I Cybils judge this year for the Elementary/Middle Grade Non-fiction category.  If you're not familiar with the Cybils, now in their 9th year, here's the mission statement:

The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.

Anyone can nominate titles to be considered for the Cybils!  For information on how to nominate your favorite children's and YA titles, and how to figure out what category to nominate them in and whether the particular title is eligible, check out this link to the Cybils website.  Unlike some other children's literature awards, which I will not name, the Cybils considers not only literary merit but also KID APPEAL.  I find that many of the titles winning our most prestigious children's book awards have little kid appeal, but lots of librarian appeal.  That's fine, as far as it goes, but it doesn't mean that much to those of us on the ground at public or school libraries, or those parents, relatives, or family friends looking for a great book that their favorite child will love.  Please feel free to nominate your favorites (only one in each category per person, please--and the book must have been published between October 16, 2013 and October 15, 2014).  Nominations close on October 15, and then all of us judges start reading in every spare moment (I, for one, plan to make good use of those 15 minute morning and afternoon breaks we're supposed to take at work....)

Happy nominating!



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Review: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & The Fall of Imperial Russia, by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade, 2014)

Recommended for ages 10 and up.

Candace Fleming is a master at writing narrative nonfiction that is entertaining as well as informative, and her newest book on the tragic and doomed Romanovs is a worthy successor to her last foray into nonfiction, the highly acclaimed Amelia Lost

Fleming expertly weaves together the intimate life of Russia's last czar and his family with the saga of the revolution brewing underneath their royal noses, beginning with workers' strikes in 1905 and leading up to Lenin's seizing power in 1917.  Interspersed with her compelling narrative are original documents from the time that tell the stories of ordinary men and women swept up in the dramatic events in Russia. 

Unlike many books for young people, which seem to romanticize the Romanovs, Fleming doesn't try to make the family into martyrs.  Indeed, it is hard to have a lot of sympathy for the Russian royal family after reading Fleming's account.  Fleming describes Nicholas as a young boy as "shy and gentle," unable to stand up to his "Russian bear of a father."  His wife, the Empress Alexandra, a German princess raised to be a proper Englishwoman under the wing of Queen Victoria, never felt comfortable with the excesses of the bejeweled, partying Russian aristocracy, and encouraged her husband to retreat to Tsarskoe Selo, a park 15 miles and a world apart from St. Petersburg.  Fleming brings us inside of their privileged--but also strangely spartan--life (for example the children were bathed with cold water in the mornings and slept on army cots in their palace!), one in which they had almost no contact with outsiders. 

Fleming manages to integrate her narrative history of the Romanov family with the larger history of the turbulent times in Russia, as the czar is forced to resign and he and his family are exiled to Siberia, fleeing in a train disguised as a "Japanese Red Cross Mission" so that the royal family would not be captured by angry peasants.  She skips back and forth from the family's saga to what is happening in the capital, with plenty of original documents such as an excerpt from journalist John Reed's first-hand account of the swarming of the Winter Palace as well as excerpts from many other diaries.

In my favorite quote in the book, Fleming discusses how Lenin nationalized the mansions and private homes throughout the country, while the owners were forced to live in the servants' quarters.  She quotes one ex-servant as saying:
"I've spent all my life in the stables while they live in their beautiful flats and lie on soft couches playing with their poodles...no more of that, I say!  It's my turn to play with poodles now."  

Whatever one's feelings about the Romanovs, one cannot help but be moved by the account of their cruel assassination in the basement of their quarters in Siberia.  Particularly ironic is the fate of the royal children, who did not die immediately because they were hiding the family jewels in their camisoles and other undergarments.  This layer of jewels unwittingly created a bullet proof vest that protected them initially, until they were finally murdered with bayonets and then with gunshots.  The bodies were immediately hidden in the woods, where the remains were not found until 1979 and then kept secret until the fall of communism in Russia.  Ironically, the Romanovs have since been canonized by the Orthodox Church in Russia.

The book is abundantly illustrated with archival photographs.  An extensive bibliography is included, as well as a discussion of primary and secondary sources.  Fleming also includes suggestions of websites on the Romanovs, as well as source notes for each chapter and an index.

Highly recommended for middle school and high school students.




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Pig and Small, by Alex Latimer (Peachtree Publishers, 2014)



Recommended for ages 4-8.

In this laugh-out-loud new picture book from  South African writer-illustrator Alex Latimer, we discover that while it's not always easy to be friends with those who are different from us, the result can be worth the extra effort.

Pig is completely flummoxed when, for no reason at all, his nose begins to squeak.


What could it be? Time to get out the medical book, of course, to look for Squeaky Nose Syndrome.  But it's not in the book (although the book includes Squeaky Knee Syndrome and others).  Finally, after much observation, Pig discovers there's a tiny bug on the end of his nose, waving and squeaking at him.  Pig can tell by the bug's friendly squeaking that he wants to be friends, but the activities they try --a tandem bike ride (with Pig pedaling and Bug holding on for dear life), a game of chess, making matching sweaters--don't work very well.


They are about to give up, when Pig has a sudden inspiration--a movie!  Bug doesn't eat much popcorn, and he can sit right on Pig's ear.  Soon they can think of all kinds of things they could do together!  They even forget that one of them is big and the other little, until, in a surprise twist, an elephant comes along to ask if he can be friends, too.    

Alex Latimer's whimsical cartoon-style artwork is distinctive, with speech and thought bubbles taken from traditional cartoons.  The illustrations are created first as pencil drawings, then digitized and finished with a bright color palette with orange and turquoise dominating.  The colorful artwork meshes perfectly with his witty and engaging text. The theme of the challenges of friendship with someone different is a universal one, perhaps particularly appropriate in Latimer's hometown of Cape Town, South Africa, where the "rainbow nation" of post-apartheid still struggles with issues of equality for all its citizens, as we continue to do in the United States.   This book would work well in a preschool or early elementary storytime, and could encourage discussions about how we get along with others.  I could easily see a writing prompt about imagining activities Pig, Bug, and elephant could do together, for example.  Latimer's earlier work, Lion vs. Rabbit (Peachtree, 2013), in which a clever trickster rabbit outwits a lion, is also a terrific storytime selection.  

For more on Pig and Small, check out these other blog tour stops:


Monday 9/15- Green Bean Teen Queen
Tuesday 9/16- Geo Librarian, & Kid Lit Reviews
Wednesday 9/17- Chat with Vera
Friday 9/19- Sally's Bookshelf 

To enter to win a copy of this wonderful new book, leave your e-mail in a comment below.  Winner will be drawn on 9/30/14.


                                                            

Friday, September 5, 2014

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Stanley the Builder, by William Bee (Peachtree, 2014)

Recommended for ages 1-7.

In this delightful new picture book series from British author and illustrator William Bee, Stanley the hamster is very busy--building houses,  working at a garage, even running a farm.

In Stanley the Builder, Stanley is building a house for his friend Myrtle the mouse.  He'll need his orange bulldozer, his yellow digger, and his green crane. Step by step, he prepares the land and then builds the house. Together with his friend Charlie, he finishes the project by painting the house in Myrtle's favorite colors--red, white, and blue--before returning home for supper, a bath, and bedtime.

In this series, Bee uses very simple vocabulary and minimal text together with very appealing digitally-created images to craft a story that is equally appropriate for two distinct audiences:  toddlers/preschoolers and beginning readers.

There are so many things to like about this book, but first and foremost are the illustrations, with their clean black outlines, flat bright colors, and simple shapes (not to mention adorable hamsters...)  Bee's U.S. publisher for this series, Peachtree Publishers, has kindly provided some artwork so The Fourth Musketeer's readers can get a better sense for Bee's unique artistic style.  I was especially interested to note that Bee trained as a designer (check out his quirky website, which gives little information on his books but tells you all sorts of interesting trivia about his passions for vintage cars and the Queen).  His design flair can be seen in everything from the endpapers (see first image below) to the font chosen for the text.

















While this series is a sure-fire winner with toddlers and preschoolers, it's also ideal for beginning readers, with simple sentences and minimal vocabulary.  Even with the limited vocabulary, Bee uses correct words for different tools and parts of the house, such as "shingles" for the roof, thus providing a rich use of words for the earliest readers.  The book will also allow young readers to practice sequencing, since the steps for building a house are clearly delineated, and they can even re-tell the story using just the pictures as well.

Highly recommended!

For more on Stanley, please see the following blog tour stops from earlier this week:
Wednesday 9/3- Chat with Vera

Thursday 9/4- Blue Owl and Kiss the Book

For a chance to win a copy of Stanley The Builder, courtesy of Peachtree, please leave a comment below (include your e-mail address so I can reach you!)