Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Idea Puzzle

"But just like in your manuscript drafts, your first idea isn’t necessarily your best idea, and it definitely doesn’t need to be your last idea. If you allow yourself the freedom to separate your idea into its entities, you might end up with something better. . . Allowing these partial ideas to have value takes a lot of pressure off you as a writer and creator. It is very hard to have a good idea every day! But just because something isn’t the perfect idea doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you."
-Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen*
Sea plane bookplate by Frank Martin
Courtesy Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie

 *Via Writing For Kids (While Raising Them)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Ten Hidden Gems of 2016

To join in or view other lists,
visit The Broke and Bookish

This week's Top Ten features Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I've Read In The Past Year Or So

See which books other bloggers are listing

Bingo Summer

1. Bingo Summer, by Dawn Malone

Dawn Malone's books are self-published, but she is every inch a writer. The writing in Bingo Summer was mature and well-developed. Malone is obviously dedicated to her craft. Her main character is likable and her family relationships interesting. This is a rare gem amid the culm.

You can read my Goodreads review here


2. Squashed, by Joan Bauer

Joan Bauer is a popular author, but her first book about a girl who raises prize pumpkins is a hard sell. The main character is as good as any of Bauer's other heroines. She struggles with her weight, her relationship to her widower dad, and the ever-present stress of blue ribbon competition.

You'll find my Marvelous Middle Grade Monday review here

Evangeline Brown
and the Cadillac Motel
3. Evangeline Brown and the Cadillac Motel, by Michele Ivy Davis

This book may have been published before its time, because there are dozens of book of this ilk on shelves today which are far inferior, yet this one remains largely undiscovered. Evangeline (Eddie to her friends) and Farrell are genuine characters with realistic problems. The Cadillac Motel in Paradise, Florida is the perfect setting, with its anomalous inhabitants. The plot is by turns sweet and bittersweet. The best thing about underrated books is you can usually find a secondhand copy for pocket change. If you're planning to read the new Welcome to Wonderland series by Chris Grabenstein, maybe you should give this a try.

Read the glowing review on KidsPages

A Coalition of Lions

4. A Coalition of Lions, by Elizabeth Wein

Almost twenty years before Wein wrote Code Name, Verity, she penned a version of Arthurian legend which would take readers across two continents. A coalition of Lions is the second in the series, but works as a standalone novel. This book takes place in Askum, also known as Ethiopia. It introduces a host of exciting characters , brimming with political intrigue, reading like a well-played chess game.

You can read my Goodreads review here

5. Eon, by Alison Goodman

My son loved this book, but it took me a while to get around to it. It was truly worth the wait. If you like high fantasy and spunky heroines, martial arts movies and feudal China, you are going to love Eon. Whether tackling gender identity, disability, love, or duty, the author hurtles forward and leaves the reader breathless with anticipation of the next installment. You might know this book as Rise of the Dragoneye or The Two Pearls of Wisdom, depending which continent you hail from.

I thought Jessica Harrison's review summed it up nicely

When You Reach Me
6. When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead

No one should be surprised at the quality when reading a book by Rebecca Stead, but I was blown away. I didn't think it could possibly live up to the hype, but if anything, the praise fell short. I didn't think I'd ever read another of Rebecca's books which I liked as much as Liar & Spy. Now it's a toss up. So while this gem may not be hidden, it was certainly an unexpected delight.

You can read my Goodreads review here

So B. It
7. So B. It, by Sarah Weeks

Another book I was sure was overrated. While Sarah Weeks's books are always entertaining and skillfully written, this one layers in so much more. It is poetic in its honesty. The voice, the humor, the irony leave me nearly speechless.

You can read my Goodreads review here

The Human Body
8. The Human Body: The Story of How We Protect, Repair, and Make Ourselves Stronger, by H. P. Newquist

Though I love non-fiction, I wasn't holding out hope for this book. The title lacks any draw and the cover promised a read as interesting as Grey's anatomy. What I found instead was a fascinating compendium from an unusual viewpoint, the history of man's efforts to repair and improve the human body. Sometimes gruesome, sometimes incredible, The Human Body is well-researched and well-organized, the kind of book in which kids can graze and ruminate, and even learn something.

You'll find my MMGM review and additional resources here

Poop Detectives
9. Poop Detectives, Working Dogs in the Field, by Ginger Wadsworth

I had to include this book. I don't know if Poop Detectives will get the attention it deserves, but the book was a fascinating account of dog-training in environmental studies which will engage readers of all ages. I would never have believed I would recommend a book with that title. I still think it is both a shameless solicitation and an unfortunate misnomer. However, Wadsworth so skillfully covers her subject, making it entertaining and informative, that I am willing to forgive her anything. A hefty 80 pages, packed with photos and personal accounts of these lovable rescued dogs, this book is perfect for every classroom. And that's not a load of poop.

Jennifer at the Jean Little Library highlights more to love in her review

The Great Leopard Rescue
10. The Great Leopard Rescue, by Sandra Markle

Lastly, I've included a stunningly beautiful picture book. Again, it's not the type of book I would have expected to be riveting, but the subject and treatment are outstanding. The book follows the complex efforts of conserving an entire species, using the specifics of the Amur Leopard rescue to illustrate the various methods and obstacles. Educational and fascinating, this book is an eye-opening read for both adults and kids.

You can see my review for Perfect Picture Book Friday here

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish in June 2010. Everyone is welcome to join. Simply link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post and add your name to the Linky widget on that day's posts. Have fun with it! It's a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

Monday, January 16, 2017

MMGM: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

Lizzie bright and the Buckminster Boy.
Have the box of tissues handy.
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Written by Gary D. Schmidt
Cover art by Scott Cameron

Yearling Books, 2004
Grades 6–9, 1000L
219 pages, 63600 words

Historical Fiction, Racism, Religious Hypocrisy, Forced Relocation

       Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for fifteen minutes shy of six hours. He had dipped his hand in its waves and licked the salt from his fingers. He had smelled the sharp resin of the pines. He had heard the low rhythm of the bells on the buoys that balanced on the ridges of the sea. He had seen the fine clapboard parsonage beside the church where he was to live, and the small houses set a ways beyond it that puzzled him some.
       Turner Buckminster had live in Phippsburg, Maine, for almost six whole hours.
       He didn't know how much longer he could stand it.

Turner Earnest Buckminster III is the new kid in Phippsburg, Maine, the preacher's son, and a constant embarrassment to his father. No matter how hard he tries, Turner can't avoid trouble. As the object of scrutiny for the whole town, he is always getting caught with his pants down—sometimes literally. Even his innocent moments turn into ignominious disasters. Turner doesn't fit in with the local boys, but then he meets a girl. There is no one quite like Lizzie Bright Griffin. She hails from the neighboring community, Malaga Island, a shantytown of racial outcasts. Their friendship is life-altering. The repercussions, community-altering. But this is no fairy tale. The events are harsh and often unfair, in hopes that we will look back with disgust and look forward with determination.

I have a love/hate relationship with this book. Some passages are "sensitively written."* Some are biased and ignorant. But one thing the author does well. That man can write. He can make us root for his characters. He can make us feel the pangs of injustice. He can rip out our hearts and stomp on them. Without this book, I would never have heard of the tragic events surrounding Malaga Island. The racial questions brought up in this book may be the very thing to open someone's eyes to the absurd illogic of racial bigotry. For those reasons, I've decided to review it for MMGM and to feature it during today's celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I highly doubt Dr. King would approve of Mr. Schmidt's conclusions that evolutionary thought will bring an end to racism or science is the force which enlightens us to a higher moral standard. He spoke instead about the moral breakdown caused by elevating science to the standard of truth rather than a means of obtaining the truth. He was not opposed to scientific study, but he knew it was man's heart which must change if he was to change his attitudes and behaviors. Where the "good" characters in the book forsake religious beliefs as they mature, Dr. King believed spiritual maturity was a key to eliminating social prejudices. Dr. King taught social justice, social reform, civil disobedience, but he never taught tolerance. He rightly believed that tolerance leads to moral ambiguity which leads to isolationism rather than unity, indifference rather than brotherly love.**

So, forgive me, Dr. King. I hope I don't offend.

*from a synopsis on Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
**See Martin Luther King's Strength To Love, "A Knock at Midnight", and his Nobel Lecture.

 1. For more books on similar themes, try Color Me Dark, by Patricia McKissack, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, by Christopher Paul Curtis, or Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson.

In some ways, Lizzie Bright reminded me of Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli or Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson.

Though I haven't read them, perhaps Same Sun Here, by Silas House and Neela Vaswani or Lunch-Box Dream, by Tony Abbott, or The Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine would be compatible books.

2. If you are of fan of Gary Schmidt's writing, check out the reviews for some of his other books by fellow MMGM participants.

What Came From the Stars
 Faith on Life's an Art!
Joanne from My Brain on Books

The Wednesday Wars
Violet of Reading Violet
Michael on Middle Grade Mafioso
Gary on Always in the Middle...

Okay For Now
Pam on So I'm Fifty
Greg of Always in the Middle...
Barbara of Reading and Writing and Other Things

3. Random House offers an educator's guide to Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Find more about the deplorable disappearance of the inhabitants of  Malaga Island. I couldn't get the audio clips to play, but the site includes links to dozens of additional resources.

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for January 16, 2017.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?

Friday, January 13, 2017

PPBF: Edgar's Second Word

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Edgar's Second Word, by Audrey Vernick and Priscilla Burris

Edgar's Second Word

Written Audrey Vernick
Illustrated by Priscilla Burris

Clarion Books, 2014
Ages 4-7


  The books Hazel planned to read to her someday-brother waited on a special shelf.
Every night, she imagined the warm-love weight of him on her lap, and how they'd study each page together.
She read to her bunny, Rodrigo, but it wasn't the same.

Hazel is excited about the arrival of her new baby brother, but Edgar is not quite what she was expecting. Although he isn't much different than a watermelon, Hazel sits with him and reads to him, awaiting his first word. When Edgar persists in saying his first word as often and as loudly as possible, Hazel tries a variety of tactics to teach her little brother some new vocabulary. In the end, Edgar chooses his own words, and they are music to Hazel's ears.

What I Love:
Audrey Vernick has proven she knows picture books. The story is sweet without being sentimental. The characters are authentic. The story itself flows beautifully through the page turns and ends with an unexpected yet inevitable conclusion. It even includes that extra little ending-after-the-ending.

Her language is superlative. She isn't afraid of words like "conviction" or "desperate" and when the perfect word doesn't exist, Vernick makes her own. She captures the realities of babyhood. Edgar experiences "tired-baby gravity" at bedtime when he becomes "as weighty as two Edgars." Edgar acts like a real baby. And her humor is kid-friendly, read-aloud gold:

Edgar didn't speak.
Mostly, he pointed.
And grunted. 
Like a pointing, grunting watermelon. 

Specialized sibling tees available
from Purple Aspen Kids on Etsy

1. Kids Health lists some great ways to prepare your child for a new baby in the house.

2. Web MD has posted milestones for infant speech development.

3. Try teaching your baby a second language as well as a first. Basic signs and tips can be found on Baby Sign Language, a language I think all Americans should know. If you're hesitant, Baby Center has posted 5 myths about raising bilingual children.

4. Audrey Vernick offers 7 tips for writers in an interview on The Written Word.

5. Sketchables posted a creative Sketch Interview with illustrator Priscilla Burris.

6. Moments A Day suggests parents host a New Sibling Party to help older kids adjust and to make memorable moments. Include terrific sibling-themed books like Too Busy Sleeping, The Swap, or There's Going to Be A Baby.

7. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Laura

Reviewed by Stacy

Reviewed by Joanne
Reviewed by Carrie

Reviewed by Beth
Reviewed by Tracy

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, January 13, 2017, available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Topic, Theme, Hook

"Every picture book typically has a topic and a theme. A topic is what your book is about on its surface--a ballerina, a dump truck, an alien, a duck, an airplane. The theme is the underlying emotional truth, like friendship, fitting in, the importance of family, being true to oneself, etc. The hook is those two things together."
Tara Lazar*
Saint George and the Dragon bookplate
from the collection of Gustaf Sandstrom

*Via Picture Book Writing With Tara Lazar

Monday, January 9, 2017

MMGM: My Secret War

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

My Secret War, 1941,
 part of the Dear America series
Dear America
My Secret War,
The World War II Diary of Madeline Beck

Written by Mary Pope Osborne
Scholastic Books, 2000
Grades 4-8, 740L
165 pages, 26500 words

Historical fiction, War, Growing up, First Love, Life on the Home Front World War II

Dear Diary,
       A cold rain is falling. The wind blows hard from the Atlantic Ocean, rattling our window pane.
       Mom and I have been living here in Mrs. Hawkins's Mansion-By-the-Sea for a week now, The name's misleading. Really, it's just a run-down old boardinghouse. Mom and I share a drafty room with heavy wooden beds, dusty oil paintings, and a ratty Chinese rug.
       The other people living here are positively grim. Tonight Mom left me to have supper alone with them in the dining room while she volunteered at the Presbyterian Church, knitting sweaters for people bombed out in Britain.
       Mom is good at making new friends. Unfortunately, I'm not. All week the girls at my new school have shown no interest in me at all. I don't know what to do to break the ice.

If you aren't familiar with the Dear America series, they are each written in diary form and feature a main character from a different historical time period. Each has an epilogue telling what happened to the mc after the events of the story, though of course even that is fictional. But the books are full of interesting historical details. Plus the back matter uses photos and reproduction  memorabilia to tell fact from fiction, and to give a concise historical account of the chosen time period.

My Secret War focuses on fall 1941 to summer 1943. The plot centers on the little known landing of German U-boats on Long Island and the Florida coast. The main character, Maddie, is a typical pre-teen of the time. Her dad serves in the Pacific theater while she and her mom sacrifice for the war effort. Maddie must learn to adjust in a new school, making friends and finding first love. She must deal with conflicting emotions: mixing longing for her father with pride over his service, hope with reality, patriotic duty with hatred of war. She meets others who face similar predicaments. The plot is not all emotion. It contains action and intrigue as well.

I found this a moving portrait of the 40's, reminiscent of the stories I'd heard from my parents. It is not heavy-handed, but I did feel it was authentic. I'd recommend this as entertainment for kids, but also as a supplement to historical studies. Despite the romantic elements, It's great for boys or girls.

 1. If you enjoyed My Secret War, don't miss the other books in the Dear America series. My favorites include, Winter of the Red Snow, A Picture of Freedom, and Coal Miner's Bride. Mary Pope Osborne has written two more: I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly and Standing in the Light, as well as numerous volumes in the My America series for younger readers.

Written by Patricia McKissack
Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

2. You might also like the Royal Diaries and My Name is America. Both these series are also from Scholastic. The Royal Diaries feature historical characters from around the world including Cleopatra, Kaiulani, and Anastasia. My Name is America books feature male main characters. Authors include Laurence Yep, Kathryn LaskyJoseph Bruchac, and Walter Dean Myers.

3. Mary Pope Osborne is the author of dozens of books in the Magic Treehouse series, but middle grade readers may enjoy Adaline Falling Star or her Tales From the Odyssey books. For more stories from the homefront, try Richard Peck's fabulous book, On the Wings of Heroes.

Adaline Falling Star,
 by Mary Pope Osborne
On the Wings of Heroes, by Richard Peck
Cover art by Charles Pyle

4. Other MMGM reviewers suggest
Paper Wishes, reviewed by Heidi at Geo-Librarian.
The Last Cherry Blossom, reviewed by Patricia on Children's Books Heal
A Tiny Piece of Sky, reviewed by Jess of The Reading Nook Reviews
The Watcher, also reviewed on The Reading Nook Reviews
Number the Stars, reviewed by Mtrna on Night Writer
Greenhorn, reviewed by Laurisa on her blog
The Bicycle Spy, reviewed by Andrea on That's Another Story
And Karen has compiled several lists of WW II related books on Mrs. Yingling Reads.

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for January 9, 2017.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?

Friday, January 6, 2017

PPBF: Antsy Ansel

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Antsy Ansel, biography of photographer Ansel Adams,
by Cindy Jenson-Elliot and Christy Hale.
Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature

Written by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
Illustrated by Christy Hale
Henry Holt & Co., 2016
Grades K-3

Biography, Photography, Non-fiction

Ansel was antsy.
He never walked—he ran.
When he sat, his feet danced. Even his thoughts flew about like a gull in a storm.
Ansel noticed everything.
And everyone noticed Ansel.
"Pay attention," said his aunt.
"Please sit still," begged his mother.
"Why don't you go outside?" suggested his father. So Ansel did, whenever he could.

Ansel Adams was a restless boy. Fortunately, his father understood his need to burn off energy and encouraged Ansel to spend as much time outside as possible. Mr. Adams even hired private tutors so Ansel would be free from the rigid confines of the classroom. On a trip to Yosemite, his parents bought him a Brownie camera and the rest is history. Ansel fell in love with both photography and nature. His restless spirit drove him to explore the wilds of America and record what he found. His unique vision of the American wilderness spurred people to serious conservation efforts and to appreciate the beauty of our natural resources.  Despite his challenges, Adams built his passions into a life full of meaning and purpose.
Half Dome, Merced River, Winter, 1938, Ansel Adams Via Artsy

What I Love:
You may not know his name, but you probably know his work. I am not a photography aficionado, but I had his image of a snow-covered tree on my wall all through my teen and college years. So I was pleased to find a book which could introduce a new generation to his art. Though, honestly, that's not exactly what this book does. Antsy Ansel introduces readers to the boy and the man he would become. It cements his importance in history, but most importantly, this book shows readers every child can have an impact if he follows his heart.

The author is obviously in love with her subject and her passion flows into every beautiful word. The text is poetic, organically moving from one page to the next. The collage illustrations convey the majesty of the outdoors and the same beauty and attention to detail which Adams himself pursued.
I was disappointed to read several criticisms of this book, namely that the publisher chose to illustrate the story with art rather than photography. Sadly, I think these readers missed the point. This is not a photo essay or retrospective. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Cindy Jenson-Elliott says, "to get an entire life into 500 words is a challenge. So choosing a focus is really choice was to focus on what he called his hyperactivity and his connection with nature...What I really wanted to get across is what it felt like to be him. What it felt like to need to move and to be restricted from that by your circumstances."

This is a story about a boy who found his calling despite his challenges. Jenson-Elliot says, "The one thing picture books can do that a longer biography can’t do is really capture the emotional essence of a person." This book does that. I think Antsy Ansel is particularly valuable because, while it's been nearly one hundred years since Ansel Adams was born, educators and parents still struggle with hyperactive kids, kids with ADHD, or autism spectrum disorders. This book is as much about Ansel's emotional journey as his career and influence. I am putting it into the hands of kids who have yet to find their place and calling. I hope it will speak to them as it speaks to me.


Ansel Adams, An Autobiography,
by Ansel Adams with Mary Street Alinder 
1. Somehow I neglected to check the previous PPBF reviews for this title. Last week, Leslie Goodman  added a personal touch to her review of Antsy Ansel. I hope you'll stop over at her blog and read both the glowing review and the charming anecdote.

2. Learn more about the artist through his official website,

3. Author Cindy Jenson-Elliot has compiled excellent teachers guides on her website, aimed at getting children out of the classroom and into the outdoors. She has designed projects which incorporate photography, writing, and science to encourage students to be life-long learners.

4. Illustrator Christy Hale has also posted Ansel Adams related activities on her website.

5. Visit Yosemite National Park and see for yourself some of the wonders of nature which Ansel Adams helped to preserve. Too far? Visit the National Parks Service to find a preserve near you.

6. Use this opportunity to get readers interested in photography and GET THEM OUTSIDE!
  • Digital Photography School offers 13 lessons for beginning photographers.
  • The National Wildlife Federation suggests 11 tips for kids about photographing nature.
  • Canadian Nature Photography posted an amazing array of detailed instructions and activities for young photojournalists.
7. You can read my thoughts and resources for nature journaling on my review of Welcome to New Zealand. For an excellent guide to the intricacies of photographic composition, check out my post on Seeing Things: A Kids' Guide to Looking at Photographs and other kids' books on photography.

Welcome to New Zealand, by Sandra Morris
Seeing Things, by Joel Meyerowitz

8. Check out these and more Perfect Picture Books at your local library.

Reviewed by Patricia
Reviewed by Joanne

Reviewed by Vivian
Reviewed by Jarm

Have you reviewed a Perfect Picture Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!
Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday
for Friday, January 6, 2017 available on Susanna Leonard Hill's blog.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher as part of the CYBILS Award judging process.